Moving and Wrapping Around the World

Are wrapping techniques any different in London than they are in Los Angeles? Find out from one of the United Kingdom’s top vehicle wrapping companies.

From the U.S. to the U.K. sign makers are making more than signs wrapping vehicles. They are making profits. Find out how to turn a vehicles into a rolling advertisements.

People often read newspapers in taxis. But have you ever read a newspaper on a taxi?

That was the vision of Associated Newspapers in London. The newspaper group commissioned Taxi Media to transform 100 cabs into moving billboards for the London Evening Standard.


The Beatles’ favorite “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” inspired the moving advertising campaign that set out to recreate a verse from the song that chants: “newspaper taxis appear on the shore waiting to take you away…”

The idea was to dispatch 100 “newspaper taxis” on the streets of Central London on which people passing by could actually read the entire publication, from headlines and bylines right down to stock prices and weather reports.

Of course, London cabs are traditionally black and total vehicle wrapping was hardly a traditional solution in 1989. So Taxi Media turned to vinyl expert Mike Philips to help overcome the challenge of temporarily transforming 100 black taxis into 100 moving newspapers.

Philips realized that spraying the vehicles with a white base color only to later re-spray them black would be too costly. He theorized that vinyl could be applied to the entire vehicle for a fraction of the cost of spraying and re-spraying.

Just as the Beatles led the United Kingdom’s (UK) rock ‘n roll revolution with its musical styling, Philips led the UK’s vehicle wrapping revolution with his vinyl application strategies. Indeed, Associated Newspapers’ fleet was just the beginning. Philips has since managed more than 148 livery campaigns and 3,000 taxis.

Designing for Dollars 
But whether it is a fleet of taxis or one white van, the process starts with designing artwork. “The first step in vehicle wrapping is to make a jigsaw,” says Philips. “We do that by creating a line drawing of the actual vehicle.”

Philips stresses the importance of creating the line drawing, noting manufacturers’ sketches are often not accurate enough for detailed wrapping. His crew takes measurements and photographs to create a template that clients use to produce a mock up.

This step allows for maximum creative experimentation, and also saves time and money by ensuring the design scheme is realistic and meets the needs of the client. Clients approve the mock up before the first graphic is ever printed. The key with the graphics, says Philips, is producing the highest possible quality on the most durable material available.

With the Taxi Media job, for example, the graphics were screen printed to ensure maximum consistency. But lower volumes or single jobs can be produced using an industry-leading digital printer with solvent inks. After the graphics are printed, a lacquer laminate is then screened, roller-coated or sprayed on the vinyl to offer additional protection from weather elements.

Removing the Bugs
Once the graphics are printed and protected, Philips goes through several additional stages of preparation before actually applying the vinyl to the vehicle. First, the vehicle is pressure washed with soap and water. Next, the vehicle is washed with a solution of white spirits or turpentine and water to bring dirt or dust particles to the surface where it is wiped clean with tissues.

Finally, just before the adhesive-coated vinyl is applied, the vehicle is slowly cleaned with methanated spirits. “You have to wait until the very last minute to apply the methanated spirits because there are lots of airborne particles flying around,” noted Philips. “If you cleaned the vehicle a half an hour before there would be visible bits underneath the final product.”

Philips developed a proprietary material that is one millimeter thick. The soft hybrid film, called Vehicle Wrapping System, was formulated using the latest advances in PVC technology. The result is a pliable material that flows in and around body contours and trim. The vinyl conforms to minor dents and stone chips. VWS carries a three-year warranty and comes in 12 colors.

Avoiding the Bump(ers) 
But despite the strength and pliability of the film, Philips does not recommend wrapping any part of the vehicle ­ such as plastic molding ­ that is not painted. “Polymers keep coming out of recycled plastic for years and it has an affect on the adhesive,” he says. “It may stick today but in a week it could come off.”

With prep work completed, the vinyl can be applied to the vehicle. A typical total vehicle wrap takes about 12 man-hours. Philips always applies the vinyl dry and in the largest possible sheets, noting that the most common rookie mistakes are using an application fluid and applying the vinyl with a piecemeal approach, which can leave unwanted bubbles.

VWS wrapped a Terrano vehicle for Carlsberg, for example, with a green bottom, a yellow top, and the Carlsberg logo printed on both sides and the hood. While many signmakers may have tackled this piece by piece, fitting together the sheets like a puzzle, Philips achieved a seamless display by using large sheets of vinyl and working from top to bottom.

Top to Bottom Profits
“We usually completely wrap one side of a vehicle with one piece of material,” says Philips. “We try to aim for the high points and ridges of the vehicle first of all, then look to work into the more convex or concave shapes on the vehicle using a simple hair dryer.”

For all of Philips’ eye-popping work, some of his projects produce results that are invisible to the naked eye. VWS has wrapped BMWs and other police surveillance vehicles to temporarily change the appearance for undercover operations.

In the commercial realm, VWS turned a blue Volkswagen Beetle into a black Volkswagen Beetle with a company logo on the front and sides in just a few hours.

Why not just start off with a black Beetle? The answer, says Philips, is to protect the vehicle. The vinyl actually protects the vehicle from stone chips and minor scratches and leaves the paint job in its original condition when the vinyl is removed. Since many commercial vehicles are leased, dealers welcome the added protection.

“With a wrap they can just peel off the vinyl and, if anything, the value is enhanced,” says Philips. “The value has actually improved over the past three years because it hasn’t suffered a lot of ‘supermarket dents’ or exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. It is a great selling point.”

It’s a Wrap
VWS also removes the vinyl it applies ­ sometimes after only one day. Philips says the crew uses a propane gas blow heater to loosen the adhesive and then peel it off ­ without any damage to the paint. Philips and his crew removed the vinyl from two coach buses ­ more than 100 square meter of material ­ in half a day with a propane heater.

VWS has wrapped taxis for the Cartoon Network, race carts, jeeps and trailers and trucks for Coca-Cola, and limousines for Barcardi, to name a few. But VWS does not just wrap vehicles. They also wrap shop counters and even entire buildings.

For signmakers exploring wrapping, Philips says the future looks bright. “Wrapping opens up a lot of opportunity for advertising, PR and promotions,” he says. “We are just scratching the surface of the future potential and growth of vinyl wrapping.”

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