Wrap advertising

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A streetcar in Toronto wearing a temporary wrap, advertising CBC Radio 2.

Wrap advertising or a vehicle wrap describe the marketing practice of completely or partially covering (wrapping a vehicle in an advertisement or livery. The result of this process is essentially a mobile billboard. Wrap advertising can be achieved by painting a vehicle's outer surface, but an increasingly ubiquitous practice in the 21st century involves the use of large vinyl sheets as "decals". The vinyl sheets can later be removed with relative ease, drastically reducing the costs associated with changing advertisements. While vehicles with large, flat surfaces (such as buses and light-rail carriages) are often used, automobiles can also serve as hosts for wrap advertising, despite consisting of more curved surfaces. Wrap advertising is also used in the magazine and publishing industries.


Until the age of the automobile, train companies were the largest industry to paint company names and logos for distinction on their locomotives and railcars.[1] [1] For approximately 60 years the only choice was to paint to advertise or change the color on a vehicle.

In 1872, German chemist Eugen Baumann discovered polyvinyl chloride (PVC). In pure form, PVC was brittle, difficult to process, and the synthetic polymer had no constructive applications. In 1913, German inventor Friedrich Heinrich August Klatte took out a patent on his research with PVC. His method used polymerization of vinyl chloride with sunlight. The material was still difficult to work with and no one mastered the challenge of commercial applications.

The first attempts at using the plastic in commercial applications failed as a result of being too fragile. In 1926, Semon invented the vinyl still used today by introducing additives to PVC that made it flexible and easier to process. [2] Soon after the discovery, vinyl was being used in the manufacture of everything from wire insulation to raincoats and shower curtains. Initially commercial-scale production of vinyl chloride (PVC) did not provide enough design and color options for it to become a viable alternative to traditional painted advertisements. Through the 1960s, the cost of vinyl advertising was largely prohibitive, and small businesses continued to use paint. However, government agencies and the select branches of the military gradually provided the industry with clients that could afford the production costs associated with the use of self-adhesive vinyl graphics. By the early 1990s, the consumer market’s primary method of marking vehicles was transitioning from paint to die-cut vinyl. Around this time new technologies were emerging that allowed printing on vinyl with wide electrostatic printers. The capabilities were extremely limited in design color and image quality. A few companies experimented with covering full vehicles, but with little success.

A large milestone in the shift from small production vinyl lettering to a full vehicle vinyl color change took place in Germany in 1993 when the vinyl manufacturer Kay Premium Marking Films (KPMF) was asked to produce a film to be used in place of paint for the purpose of converting cars into taxis. At this time, German taxi companies were required by law to paint their fleets in a government mandated color, beige. KMPF provided an alternative to painting, which allowed taxi companies to bring a large fleet of vehicles into compliance with German law while maintaining the future resale value of the vehicle. Prior to this point, decommissioned taxis were heavily discounted or had to be completely repainted. With the use of vinyl vehicle wraps there was no need to repaint them or discount them as the vinyl could be removed without damaging the paint underneath. KPMF documented after 3 years of taxi service was complete, the vinyl was removed leaving a pristine and unscratched paint surface.[3]] The conversion of German taxis was just the beginning for the use of vinyl for vehicle wrapping.

The first commercial advertisement vehicle wrap is thought to have been created for Pepsi Co in 1993, which used vinyl to wrap a bus promoting its Crystal Pepsi product. It wasn’t long before bus wrap advertising was everywhere and the new form of vehicle graphics trickled down to smaller businesses and consumers. Wrapping whole vehicles was still challenging. Majority of the difficulties came from premature adhesion and air bubbles under the vinyl. As technology improved, companies like 3M and Oracal developed the use of air-channels that made the vinyl repositionable and allowed for bubble-free installation. Air-channel, created using microscopic glass beads incorporated into the vinyl’s adhesive, prevented the vinyl from fully sticking to the substrates surface thereby permitting air flow between adjacent sections. In addition, these beads allow for the vinyl to be repeatedly be removed and reapplied until the beads are broken by firmly pressing the vinyl using a small hard squeegee. Once the beads are broken the vinyl will be firmly adhered to the substrates surface. Proprietary company blends of polymer in the vinyl allowed the material to conform to compound curves, recesses, and corrugations through the use of heat guns and torches. [4]

The ability to wrap vinyl around complex curves allowed consumers and businesses to wrap vehicles from bumper to bumper with new colors or advertisements. Companies around the word began developing their own varieties and finishes and the revolution took off for the use of vinyl wraps in an ever-increasing number of interior and exterior automotive applications. As the technology improved, the colors and finishes of vinyl wrap films expanded, and have come to include varieties like high-gloss, matte, carbon-fiber, velvet, chrome, holographic, wood-grain, glow-in-the-dark and even temperature driven color-change films. Vinyl wrapping is being employed worldwide based on its ability to be applied and removed without damaging the structural body of the vehicle/substrate. This application has become popular where color and advertising messages are changed frequently.


This train bears GNER's standard livery rather than an advertisement, but as it was on lease from Eurostar, the livery was applied using vinyl.

Using what is known as a "conformable vinyl wrapping" material, a high-quality print or protective clear wrap can be molded to almost any and every part of a vehicle. Typically, conformable material is used because it is the easiest to work with, especially on contoured surfaces. Using the proper adhesives when applying the material to the surface of the car is essential, otherwise the wrap can lead to adhesive failure in a few months after the application.

Advancements in plastics have led to new types of vinyl designed specifically for wrap advertising, including vinyl sheets that feature bubble-preventing air channels. Microscopic glass beads are used to prevent an adhesive from functioning until the user is ready (the beads allow the material to be repeatedly lifted and reapplied during the wrapping process, without compromising the longevity of the wrap). The vinyl is heated with a heat gun or torch for the purpose of molding the material around objects.[5]

Decals can be made to cover side and rear windows on a vehicle, but for safety reasons, the front windows used by the driver are not covered. The decals on side windows are typically perforated, so that it is still possible for passengers to look outside. This See-through graphic technology originated in the 1980s, with the first dominant patent registered by a British company called Contra Vision.[6] Wrapped advertisements must often be divided into a number of smaller pieces to appropriately cover any movable panels on the vehicle, such as the fuel tank cover, trunk (boot) openings, and other doors.

Wrapping is also sometimes used instead of paint as a less-permanent way of applying its operator’s standard livery. This has become particularly common in the UK where, since the privatisation of British Rail, it has become quite frequent for trains to be transferred from one company to another, requiring many changes of livery. Wrapping can also be used for vehicle customization, and race cars often get vehicle wraps as they are lighter than paint.

Types of Vinyl[edit]

Vinyl film can be produced as either a cast or calendered film. Most films are made from nearly the same basic raw materials. Polyvinylchloride (PVC) polymer, a basic plastic, is relatively rigid by nature. Other ingredients are added to the PVC, including plasticizer to make the film flexible, pigment to make the desired color, heat stabilizers, fillers, and processing aids. These raw materials can be chosen from a wide range of quality levels. Apart from variations in the raw materials, the manufacturing process along with the type of plasticizer accounts for the main differences of vinyl films. Vinyl films can either be made by calendering or by casting.

Cast Vinyl[edit]

Cast vinyl films are manufactured using a blend of liquid PVC and other proprietary ingredients. While the ingredients are suspended in solution, the mixture is poured into a casting sheet. The casting sheet travels along a conveyor and through a series of ovens that heat and evaporate the solvents from the mixture, leaving behind a solid vinyl film. The vinyl film is cooled, wound, and later coated with an adhesive.

Calendered Vinyl[edit]

Calendered vinyl film or Calendered vinyl sheeting, is manufactured by mixing powdered PVC, liquid softener and coloring agent into a molten dough-like mixture. The mixture is then extruded through a die, and pressed into an increasingly thin sheet using a series of hard pressure rollers, called calendering rolls. When the material reaches the calendaring rolls, it passes through a series of decreasing gaps, which, in turn, increases the temperature and uniformity of the mixture. After each pass, the film becomes thinner and wider until the material is formed into a thin sheet of vinyl. The vinyl is then cooled, wound, and later coated with adhesive.[7] [6]


Shows how wet bus wrap distorts the view from inside through wrapped bus windows. The window on the left has a wrap advertisement on the outside whereas the window on the right does not.

A significant problem associated with wrap advertising is that it can distort the view from inside the wrapped vehicle, to the extent that passengers may be unable to see where they are, especially in certain weather or light conditions.

Maintaining an uninterrupted view for the driver is also a concern with vehicle wraps, and windshields and side windows near the driver should never be covered. State and county authorities have devised particular regulations in order to deal with those safety concerns.[citation needed]

A problem for advertisers is that printing the information on vinyl wrap can make it more difficult for people to clearly see what is there. This particular concern has been dealt with by ensuring the hole sizes in the perforated vinyl film are appropriate. Smaller perforations increase the visibility of the advertisement, and a 70/30 pattern[further explanation needed] allows for 20% more picture. Another problem is that the vinyl may wrinkle or separate from the glass on curved windows because the polyester laminates are designed for flat windows.[contradictory]

While vinyl wrapping can temporarily protect a car’s paint job from superficial damages, like sun fading and scratching, it does not provide any additional protection against physical impacts (dings or dents) that can cause the paint to chip. Damages can occur to the underlying paint, particularly if it is not properly cured before adhesives and/or vinyl wrap is applied. If a vehicle is repainted prior to installing a vinyl wrap, the paint must cure to manufactures specifications before a vinyl wrap can be applied safely. Failure to wait for the paint manufacturer’s cure time may result in paint or clear coat damage when the vinyl wrap is removed from the vehicle’s surface. [8]


A number of municipalities have introduced strict laws in order to mandate against mobile advertisements; this has partially been due to the fact that wrap advertisements are purposefully circulated throughout high-density areas. New York City is a notable example, where any sort of motorized advertisement is outlawed. Mobile billboards have been identified as a contributing factor in the city's already-problematic traffic congestion.[9] In areas such as New York City, non-motorized mobile advertisements ("adbikes") are often employed.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Hershey Chocolate Company: On the Road". Hershey Community Archives. 
  2. ^ "The history of PVC". Retrieved 2016.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  3. ^ "KPMF, History of Vehicle Wrap". KPMF. 
  4. ^ "3M Controltac Graphic Film and Comply Adhesive". 2009-09-28. 
  5. ^ "3M Controltac Graphic Film with Comply Adhesive" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2007-09-19. 
  6. ^ US Patent No. RE37,186 “Unidirectional Panel” (Hill).
  7. ^ Waters, Molly. "Cast vs. Calendered Vinyl". Retrieved 15 October 2016. 
  8. ^ "Viking Vinyls, Vehicle Vinyl Wrap Installation Guide" (PDF). Viking Vinyls. 
  9. ^ Gotham Gazette (9 June 2003). "City Council Transportation Legislation". Gotham Gazette. Retrieved 2 July 2012.