Written by Joe Christ

Driving

As many changes as there have been in the print and signage industry over the years, some things remain the same. Nowhere else has it been possible to get the same return on investment with your marketing dollars as it has been with vehicle graphics. Whether applying a simple door set or wrapping the entire vehicle, a company can inexpensively get their brand out to tens of thousands of customers in no time at all. That being said, there are best practices when it comes to the task of designing, producing and installing your graphics. In the end these can save you hours of work (and countless headaches).

Design

  • Come to a consensus on your strategy. Whether you are a sole proprietor or have a marketing team, first and foremost, come up with a clear idea of what you are trying to get across to your customers.
  • Consider the life of the branding campaign. Vehicle graphics can last from one to seven years depending on the type of vinyl used, so make sure to pair the timeframe of your message to the life of the vinyl. The design may fit the units you currently have in your fleet, but consider that your fleet mix may shift over the life of the campaign. Consistency is paramount to a strong brand. Having your old pickups look different from your new vans sends a muddled message.
  • Consider the life of your vehicle(s). Did you lease or buy? Are you installing graphics on new vehicles or existing fleet vehicles that may already have thousands of miles on them? How long will you be keeping them in your fleet? The answers need to match the life of the vinyl as well.
  • Procure an accurate template. There are half a dozen templates for a simple Ford Transit or an F-150. Make sure you know what canvas you are working with before you start to design. For cargo vans, make sure you know the wheelbase, if it is extended, where the windows (if any) are, whether it has sliding or swing doors, etc. A door handle going through the name of your company or a face falls on the designer to be cognizant of where to place elements. For pickups, cab style and bed length are imperative. For box trucks, buses or trailers, go out and measure. Rarely are there templates for many of the larger vehicle types, and nothing beats putting an actual tape measure on the side of the bus or box to ensure your graphics fit properly. Reprinting a bus wrap because you are off by a few inches is a very costly mistake.
  • Choose the right type of graphics. Do you prefer cut vinyl graphics, a partial wrap or full wrap? There are great reasons for each of these. Cut vinyl graphics can definitely keep costs down and work in a pinch if you cannot come up with a full wrap design that justifies the expense. A simple door may only cost $100 to produce and install which amortized over the life of the vehicle would only be pennies a day. On the other hand (based on a five year lifespan), a $3000 full van wrap may seem steep as an upfront expense, but where else can you touch thousands of people for only $50 a month? Keep in mind that the longer the cut vinyl graphics are on your vehicles, the more pronounced the ghosting will be when you eventually remove the vinyl. With a full wrap, ghosting would not be an issue as the vinyl will actually protect the paint and give a “like new” appearance once removed (even after years of being on the road.)
  • Keep it simple. Your design may have DayGlo zebra stripes, but keep the actual message simple. Loading up the side of the van or service vehicle with a dozen bullet points listing your services will be hard to read and will get lost in the overall design. Stick with fewer colors (ideally using your own company’s) and a simple message, if any. Sometimes using just your company name is the best way to go (think of the fleets of most Fortune 500 companies.)
  • Utilize the back. This is the most important area on any vehicle, as you will have captured the attention of everyone behind the vehicle when you are waiting at a light.
  • Keep text/copy away from edges, handles and window seals. Once again, you don’t want to lose your company’s tag line along a railing on a sliding door.
Red car driving along a sunny road

Production

  • You get what you pay for. Why skimp on something that may be on your fleet for five to seven years? Buy quality material produced by a company with years of experience producing vehicle graphics. Cheap calendared vinyl should only be used for the shortest term graphics. Invest in premium cast vinyl and make sure it is paired with the appropriate laminate. This will ensure the longest lifespan with fewer issues during installation. Many sign shops say they can produce fleet graphics, but unfortunately have little experience with them and may prove frustrating to deal with when problems arise.
  • Ask for a proof. What your design looks like on your screen may not translate exactly onto the adhesive vinyl. Every printer prints differently (even within the same shop) so it’s best to get a reduced sized and sectional proof so you can know what your colors will look like, whether any elements or text have dropped out, if anything appears pixelated, etc.
  • Installation

    • Experience counts. Door sets may be installed by almost anyone, but a partial or full wrap should only be attempted by an experienced installer. Paying hundreds of dollars to produce graphics and have them end up as a crumpled wad of sticky vinyl is bad for everyone involved.
    • Utilize a controlled environment. Try your best to install the graphics indoors, under cover, and away from the elements as much as possible. Having debris blown and trapped under the vinyl will eventually provide fail points, greatly reducing the life of your wrap. Installing in a warehouse, garage or even under a carport/tent can provide reprieve from the sun or light rain. Otherwise, a strong wind can make even a simple door set installation a nightmare.
    • Inspect the vehicle. If you are installing graphics on an existing or used fleet vehicle, make sure there is no existing rust or large dents. The vinyl will not adhere properly and will begin to fail almost immediately.
    • Clean the vehicle. Spend $6 on a car wash before installing hundreds of dollars worth of adhesive vinyl.

    As to be expected, there are more things to keep in mind on the front end of any project involving vehicle graphics. Design is of the utmost importance, but nothing should be taken away from the production or installation elements, as a misstep in any one area can be costly. In the end, your vehicle design can become a lynchpin of your brand with the capability of touching more people than any mailer or tradeshow ever could.

    Good luck, and get designing!

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