Applying Vinyl Over Curves, Body Creases and Molding

Installing graphics on vehicles ­ or wrapping entire vehicles for that matter ­ presents some unique challenges rarely encountered on other substrates. Find out how to get around these difficult issues.

Need some practical tips, tricks and techniques for applying vinyl over curves, molding and body creases? Read on for information that will add to your business’ bottom line.

In a perfect world, we would avoid molding, curves and body creases altogether. Unfortunately, it’s not a perfect world. But the good news is you can make money tackling projects others aren’t willing ­ or qualified ­ to perform.

Of course, if it is at all possible to avoid molding, curves and body creases, then by all means avoid them. But sometimes the client wants a graphic installed in an area where these obstacles cannot be evaded.

So read on for some practical tips, tricks and techniques for applying vinyl over molding, curves and body creases and add to your business’ bottom line.

Dealing with Molding
Before you get to the top of the mountain, you may have to apply through some valleys. When you encounter a valley, approach it with a squeegee’s edge at a 90-degree angle to push the graphic into these difficult areas. Then hold the squeegee horizontally when moving over the molding.

“The most important thing to remember here is to take your time. Look for a plan of attack,” says Michael Dickman, president of Ashville, N.C.-based custom graphics manufacturer SpeedGraphics & Sign Design. “Each situation will require a slightly different technique.”

Dickman offers a word of wisdom about molding: Some cars have a gap of one or two inches between the door moldings ­ and it is almost impossible (and certainly not worth trying) to run vinyl over the gap.

“If you begin to see a problem occurring stop immediately,” he warns. “If you continue past the problem area too far, you will probably never recover. Snap back the graphic to just before the problem area and try again.”

Dealing with Curves
Curves are another issue. Since curves can extend in compound directions, you need to be cautious in approaching them. Problems can occur because the graphic is two-dimensional and curves can be three-dimensional.

Dickman says your best approach (besides avoiding severe curves altogether) is to first try to position the graphic in the area you want. Then cut the transfer tape to release some of the tension to ease placement. Of course, you have to be very careful not to cut the vinyl or wrinkle it.

“Always have a back-up plan,” Dickman suggests. “If the area you are attempting is too difficult to pull off without problems, then move it to another pre-selected area or placement while it’s still wet and ready to go. You can always use a different style graphic (thinner or smaller) in the problem area down the road.”

What About Severe Compound Curves? 
When you have no choice but to install a graphic on areas that involve severe compound curves it is impossible to install the graphic wet. It must be done dry. This requires practice, but it is the way the pros install all graphics. Dry installation causes the graphic to stick firmly to the substrate.

“When you need to conform around a curve you can pull and stretch the graphic slightly to mold it to the curve,” Dickman says. “If you find yourself in this situation, going slow and in very small steps is the way to go. Use the edge of the squeegee to push the vinyl out 1/8 of an inch at a time using an arching motion, sort of like a windshield wiper, keeping the graphic very taut. Then apply heat with a heat gun or hairdryer if necessary.”

Heat causes the vinyl to soften, which allows for even more play. Dickman stresses, however, that you must go slow and squeegee in very small increments when doing dry installations over curves. Once again, stop immediately and back up if you see a problem area occurring.

If you find that heat is needed, Dickman says the application tape should be removed so that just the graphic is exposed. You won’t find much success trying to use heat while the transfer tape is on the graphic.

Some Insider Secrets
Now for some tips and tricks that Dickman has learned over the years…Call them insider secrets.

“When placing a graphic across body panels, pretend they are not there. Also, be sure to clean inside the body panels thoroughly. Open the door, trunk, or hood and make sure those little curves are just as clean as the more visible surface,” Dickman reveals.

After you have removed the transfer tape, and gotten rid of any air bubbles, Dickman suggests using your razor knife to carefully cut between the body panels. When you do this, be sure and cut the vinyl at the edge of the front door panel, leaving the excess vinyl on the following panel. Wrap the excess panel inwards by opening the door (or using the squeegee).

The idea is to try to make the vinyl less susceptible to air and rain when the customer is driving his vehicle. Murphy’s Law says that nature’s elements will hit a solid strip of vinyl that you pressed inwards instead of an edge.

“Before installing the graphic, trim away any excess application tape and release liner. You can leave about a quarter inch around the graphic. Just be sure you don’t accidentally cut your graphic,” Dickman reminds.

Anti-Wrinkle Revelations
The smaller you can make the graphic, the easier installation is, according to Dickman. If you followed his process, then hopefully you did not get any wrinkles. But if you did, you can tap into another of his secrets: remove small wrinkles with your fingernail by pushing toward the edge to redistribute excess material.

This little trick does not work, however, with more severe wrinkles. “Severe wrinkles should be slit to overlap material if they can’t be redistributed. This is preferred to leaving an air pocket in the vinyl,” Dickman says. “If the wrinkle is at the very edge of the graphic you can carefully lift the edge and use a hairdryer or heat gun to heat the vinyl very gently. This will allow you to gently pull the vinyl removing the wrinkle and reapply.”

Avoiding Gummy Transfer Tape
What if the transfer tape starts to gum up? Dickman has an answer for that one, too. If the transfer tape begins to turn milky white and the adhesive begins to come off while you are squeegeeing, then you first of all need be careful not to let any of the adhesive get under your graphic.

“If you see the milky white adhesive forming, you have usually squeegeed long enough and you’ll need to wait or apply a little heat if the graphic has not begun to stick,” Dickman says.

“If the vinyl sticks together after you have removed the release liner you can use a little application fluid at the juncture where the graphic is sticking together and carefully snap small portions at a time, or pull gradually if the vinyl is not distorting.”

Finishing the Job: Some Final Tips
Now that you’ve applied the graphic, Dickman suggests washing it with a mild soap and water solution. Never wax vinyl. Many chemicals may interact in harmful ways with the vinyl.

Dickman advises warning customers of the following issues:

  • Be careful of high-pressure car washes, they can peel your graphics right off your car.
  • Watch out for bird droppings because they can stain the vinyl.
  • If the customer has RainX on your windshield, use ActionTac or a citrus cleaner with limonene as the active ingredient.
  • If the customer has gone through a car wash and selected the “wax” treatment this could hamper graphic adhesion.
  • If you install chrome or specialty vinyl, then make your customers aware that it only lasts about a year. If the customer still wants it, it is best to install the chrome on glass.
  • “If you want to apply special vinyl on a different surface, put a piece of regular vinyl underneath it. When it’s not looking so good after a year or three, it makes it much easier to remove,” Dickman says. “This vinyl does not conform well at all to curves.”

Armed with this information, you should be ready and able to tackle even the most intimidating moldings, curves and creases. So what are you waiting for? Have fun!

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