It’s been around for quite a few years now, but car wrapping, or vinyl vehicle wrapping, is still a bit of a mystery to many car owners. What is it, what does it cost and why would you do it? They’re all topical questions, so here are the answers:
What is wrapping?
In its simplest form, car wrapping is the process of adding a flexible vinyl film to the exterior of a car. By stretching the film taut over the car, the car’s original shape is still distinct, but instead of paint, the car’s outer skin is now the vinyl.
The original film method is the oldest process, but in recent years, a new type of spray-on wrap has emerged. This involves a liquid form of the vinyl coating which is sprayed on like conventional paint rather than applied in sheets and stuck down to the car.
There are plenty of car wrapping pros and cons to think about, regardless of which route you take.
Generally speaking, wrapping a car will cost less than repainting the same car in the conventional way with conventional materials. Liquid wrapping can be even cheaper, so wrapping is a way to give a car a new look (or cover tired paint) without the expense of a full respray.
Car owners who have grown tired of their car’s colour also often choose to wrap it, because they can then change the colour again in a few years if they wish to.
Sometimes, a car owner will elect to wrap just the bonnet, mirrors and/or roof panel to give the car a new look on a budget.
The other reason for wrapping a car is to protect the vehicle’s factory paint from damage due to UV radiation and contaminants such as bird droppings or industrial fallout.
The idea is that when the car is ready to be sold on, the wrap can be removed and the original, pristine paint will still be there.
A lot of companies are also attracted to wrapping as it enables them to specify a printed vinyl film with corporate logos to be applied to a car and then easily removed when the car is replaced by a new one.
The one thing a wrap can’t do is hide damaged panels or blemishes on the surface of the car. Thanks to the sticky nature of a wrap, these imperfections will always be visible as contours beneath the vinyl.
That said, panel repairs can be made before the wrap is applied to fix these imperfections without needing to refinish the repairs in the car’s original, matching paint.
The advantages of wrapping a car include speed and cost. While a conventional paint job can easily take weeks and cost tens of thousands, the cost of wrapping a car is likely to be between $3000 and $6000 and could be done in about two to three days.
Some special-effects wraps and graphics might cost more.
Obviously, just having car roof wrapping or a car bonnet wrap done will be much cheaper and quicker.
A spray-on wrap can be even more cost effective and can cost as little as $1000 or $1500 for a plain colour on a really small car. The spray-on wrap is also very easy to touch up if the surface is damaged.
But a wrap also offers that protection we were talking about as well as the chance to individualise or corporatize a car’s look.
For many companies that will change their car or their corporate look, car wrap vs paint is a no-brainer.
Unlike automotive paint which can last decades with proper care, wraps have a finite lifespan. This is reckoned to be between five to seven years before the vinyl starts to degrade and the wrap needs to be removed and reapplied.
But you can stretch the wrap’s lifespan to the upper limit of that by keeping the car parked out of direct light when possible, only ever hand-washing the car (no power-washing or commercial car washes) and always trying to park the car in a cool place.
How is it done?
There are three major steps here, starting with a seriously thorough wash of the car’s exterior. The installer needs to remove every skerrick of dirt or anything else that will show through the wrap, as well as any contaminants that will attack the car’s paint from underneath the wrap.
The installer will then remove any parts that need to be wrapped individually (typically, exterior mirrors and such).
Only then will the wrap be applied in sheets large enough to reach the edge of every panel, and then with the application of heat, the wrap will conform to the shape of the car before it cools. After that, the edges of the wrap are trimmed and tucked away into the panel gaps or contoured around fittings such as door handles, lights etc.
The ambient heat and humidity are crucial factors at this stage of the process. Getting the wrap to lay down properly also takes skill and experience, and while some car owners have successfully applied their own wrap finishes, plenty more have decided to try DIY car wrapping, bought a car wrapping kit but given up and thrown the crumpled car wrapping film in the bin.
Basically, unless you already know how to wrap a car, you could waste a lot of money, time and materials learning the hard way.
Where to get it
Because it’s still fairly a specialised field, capital cities are much more likely to offer car wrapping services than regional centres.
So, given that you’ll need to travel from many towns to get this done, the best online searches involve cities, such as ‘car wrapping Melbourne’, ‘car wrapping Adelaide’, ‘car wrapping Perth’ and ‘car wrapping Sydney’.
Alternatively, you can search ‘car wrapping near me’ but don’t be surprised if you get locked into a capital city supplier anyway.
Is car wrapping legal in Australia? Yes it is, provided you don’t add anything offensive in terms of graphics or lettering.
You might also find some authorities have a problem with a car that was fully wrapped in a highly reflective wrap which could make it harder to see or dazzle other motorists.
Does wrapping a car damage the paint? It shouldn’t provided the wrapper has used the correct type of film and has applied it properly.
Damage could start to creep into the paint, however, once the wrap starts to break down over time, allowing contaminants and water on to the paint below.
And finally, what are the best wrap colours? Arguably, the ones that allow you to do something that paint can’t do or would be very expensive to achieve.
That includes fades, bold metallic looks or reflective colours that even the best car painters can’t achieve easily or cost-effectively.