Conducting A Vehicle Graphics Survey

Vehicle SurveyAn onsite vehicle survey is critical, because it affects many aspects of the job — design, material selection, estimating, production planning and installation. Important details can be overlooked when you rely solely on customer-supplied information.

Job surveys are especially valuable when planning and scheduling graphic applications for programs where facilities and vehicles are in multiple locations. For fleets like these, your scheduling requires that you determine the number of vehicles and when they are available.

Thorough examinations enable you to spot conditions that could cause vinyl failures. Then you can engineer solutions. Cement-truck graphics, for example, are subjected to regular splattering of caustic cement, along with washing solutions containing a mild acid. Without the protection of an overlaminate, their printed markings are quickly damaged. Markings for such vehicles should be edge-sealed.

Checklist of Questions

A survey’s success depends on the quality of both your questions and the answers. Compile a checklist of questions prior to the survey. For a proper survey, have a camera and tape measure, as well as a notepad and pencil or tape recorder.

To meet a company’s design objectives, ask targeted marketing-related questions which get to the heart of these goals. A company’s president or marketing director is usually a good source for this information.

Budget is critical: How much money has the prospect budgeted for the program? You should spend less time with a contractor with 10 vans and a $2,000 budget than with a bread company with 20 van trailers and a budget of $40,000.

Here are some suggested marketing questions:

  • What are their sales goals?
  • What advertising and marketing programs will be implemented to achieve those goals?
  • How do customers, employees and (if applicable) stockholders view this business?
  • How would they like to be viewed by the public?
  • Who are their competitors?

Color is critical to any program; obtain color samples from the company if possible. If vinyl swatches are not available, get the Pantone numbers.

Determine whether liberties can be taken with the existing color scheme. To approve color matching, the customer should examine the color sample under lighting similar to how it will normally be viewed. Colors appear different in sunlight than under fluorescent lighting.

Similarly, before attempting to reproduce an image as either an enlarged, screenprinted decal or digital print, evaluate the customer’s expectations and explain the technology’s limitations. Supply the designer with corporate logos, typefaces and slogans, along with reprints and information concerning advertising and marketing programs.

For new designs, photograph the vehicles or building and provide the designer with the necessary sketches and dimensions of the useable space.

Approximately 15 years ago, I was installing graphics for a pizza chain’s “show” trailers. The graphics were designed to cover 75% of the trailer with reflective sheeting. After taping the markings to the vehicle’s side, we realized that they wouldn’t fit. Luckily, we modified the design to make it work. A salesman’s negligence caused what could have been a disaster, because he guessed the trailer’s dimensions rather than measuring.

To ensure that markings fit a vehicle, many fleet-graphics companies produce full-size paper drawings or production art before manufacturing. By taping a paper drawing against the side of a truck, you give the customer the opportunity to see the scale of the graphics and ask for changes.

Artwork approval provides you with a signed record in the event of questions and disputes. Make sure that the person who approves designs and colors has the ultimate authority to sign off on the job.

Potential Problems

Pay careful attention to the vehicle’s obstructions, such as locking bars, mirrors, windows, louvered vents and rub rails. Hopefully, the designer will avoid these obstructions.

During your inspection, note vehicle details, such as surface smoothness, rivets, corrugations or exterior posts.

Check for rust, peeling or chalking paint, and surface damage requiring repair. By recommending corrections, you will distinguish yourself as a professional rather than just another shop that prints vinyl graphics.

If the substrate will be painted just prior to installation, determine the paint’s curing time. Curing times vary and are affected by the environment. A polyurethane paint can take three days to completely cure under normal conditions. During winter, however, that same system could require weeks to completely outgas.

Removals and Applications

Questions regarding the removal of old vinyl graphics and the application of the replacement vinyl graphics are important. In most cases, the customer will want you to provide these services. But in some cases, the customer has his personnel perform the work. You need to know whether they will require training.

Environmental concerns

Before choosing materials or manufacturing methods, examine the environmental conditions to which the graphics will be exposed. If the vehicles are kept in service for only a few years, a less-expensive calendered vinyl may be an appropriate choice.

If you’re developing a graphics program for a tanker fleet, find out if the graphics will be exposed to spillage. Acids and caustics will rapidly erode a screenprinting clearcoat, and then attack the ink system.

Even pigmented vinyl is not immune to chemical deterioration. Chemicals can leech the plasticizer from the PVC facestock, making it brittle and prone to cracking. Tanker graphics usually need an overlaminate and require more time, because the graphics should be edge-sealed.

Improper cleaning causes some graphic failures. Some cleaning solutions for fleet vehicles contain harsh chemicals, such as hydrofluoric acid.

Sometimes, the fleet operator’s cleaning system causes problems. Municipal buses are frequently washed daily with gigantic nylon brushes that subject graphics to a beating. In a few months, these brushes can grind a clearcoated print down to the base vinyl. Bus graphics washed in this manner should be overlaminated.

When bidding on an existing program, learn how the existing graphics were fabricated. If the graphics were screenprinted, ask for a set of the markings. You may be able to “nest” the graphics and save on materials usage. If vinyl samples are not available, tracings along with good photography can eliminate guesswork.

As an alternative to tracing paper, try using a premium-grade paper with an ultra-low-tack adhesive. Squeegee the mask, and, with a soft drawing stick, rub over the edges to reproduce the image.

When surveying, note whether the graphics are pigmented vinyl, screenprinted, painted or digitally printed. Also determine whether they have a clearcoat or an overlaminate, and whether they are computer- or die-cut. Indicate the type of vinyl used: cast, calendered, polyester, metallic or reflective.

If job specs have been written, obtain a copy, along with any design boards and installation prints. Take plenty of photographs to document graphic mistakes such as fading or shifting colors, as well as vinyl failures such as edge peeling, tenting around rivets and channeling in corrugation low points.

Hopefully, the time that you invest will reward you with greater success in selling fleet graphics.