Here are some guidelines to help you clean and care for your vehicle wrap to keep them looking great for years.
What are Vehicle Graphics Panels?
First you need to understand what is a graphic panel, so you are able to appreciate whats involve in caring for and protecting them.
Vehicle Graphics is printed on a special cast vinyl material that is designed to stretch and conform to the contours of your vehicle, and will not shrink with temperature changes. It is also designed to be removed form the vehicle even after five years, without leaving any residue on the paint.
After printing, the panels are laminated with a special film, so that the prints are sandwiched between the vinyl and the laminate. Some companies use a liquid laminate to reduce cost, but the liquid does not offer the same durability and protection as a cast laminate. A liquid laminate may be acceptable for some trucks, to reduce cost or allow the vinyl to better conform to the irregular corrugated bodies.
We use a cast laminate since we prefer the extra protection for or our clients over the cost savings.
Vehicle Graphics Vinyl has an adhesive backing which allows it to be applied (stuck to) to the body of the vehicle by skilled professionals, using a squeegee and a heat gun and a lot of patience. The vinyl is skillfully stretched and applied to contours and crevasse, to make it look like it was painted on. Any excess vinyl from crevices, folds, around door handles, and moldings are cut to precision.
Since the maximum width of the panels is approximately 50″ wide (some may use smaller panels) so it may be necessary to tile the panels together to form one big graphic. The panels are overlapped approximately 1/2″ when tiled.
Experienced Vehicle Graphics Companies are able to minimize the number of overlap, or plan for overlap in areas where it is least noticeable. This requires communication and planning between a skilled installer and clever production personnel. This process takes more time and may result in more wastage in overprinting, but the result is well worth the additional cost.
Sometimes it is necessary to stretch the vinyl significantly, but this can cause the vinyl to weaken and it will have a tendency to lift in these areas, shortly after installation. On some vehicles a significant amount of stretching is unavoidable so good installers use special techniques to minimize premature lifting. These are their tricks of the trade and are usually guarded secrets.
If the vinyl lifts in groves shortly after an installation it should be looked at immediately. Small bubbles may be reapplied by applying pressure to it with your finger or pricking it with a pin to release any trapped air and then applying pressure with your finger to reapply. If it is left over a long period the adhesive will dry out an lose its ability to be reapplied.
Graphics wrapped around the inside of doors may lift, if special care is not taken to clean and prepare the area. We use special solvents to remove any grease or residue that would reduce the bonding capability.
Graphics do not stick well long term to rubber around windows, or some moldings. It may be important to cover these areas for graphic impact, so you will need to take special care when cleaning these areas, to reduce possibility of premature lifting.
Most companies will not warranty these areas but it may be best to cover it anyways, as you can always remove it at a later date if it becomes an issue.
Now that you know a bit about the vinyl, and how it is applied, the question becomes, “How do I extend the life of the graphics and keep it looking great”. The answer is in proper cleaning and care of your vehicle graphics.
Most manufacturers of vehicle graphics vinyl will warranty it for 5 years provided it is laminated with their approved laminate and is printed with an approved ink, so the chances are excellent that you will never have to worry about the vinyl failing within that time.
We use 3M Cast Vehicle Vinyl and Laminate and print using an approved Environmentally Friendly Solvent Based Ink, so our panels meet the manufacturers requirement and therefore are covered under their warranty.
The finished panels are fairly durable and will handle even the most extreme weather conditions, but they still need to be protected from scratching, just like the paint on your vehicle.
The second concern is to avoid peeling or lifting of the graphics at edges or seams.
Here are some guidelines for cleaning your vehicle wrap, to avoid scratching and peeling.
What to avoid:
1.1. Avoid any abrasive car washes, as the brushes will create swirls in the surface of the laminate, the same as it does to the paint of a new car. The brushes may also lift the edge of the vinyl, in crevices, seams, or moldings and cause them to lift prematurely. The same caution applies to cloth car washes that move from side to side.
1.2. Avoid “Touch-less” Spray Car Washes as the force of the jet spray may also cause the vinyl to lift in crevices. Some also use powerful solvents that are not good for your graphics or the paint of your vehicle. The sprays also beat sand or grime into the graphics causing a sanding effect over time.
2.1. I recommend using a Coin Operated Spray Car wash, but stand back to reduce the pressure of the spray hitting the vehicle. Be very sensitive to areas around door handles moldings, mirrors and glass. Use a sponge or rag to soap and clean the panels. You don’t need to baby it.. but be careful to avoid accidentally lifting the graphics in sensitive areas. Be gentle with window graphics, especially window perforated film.
2.2. Use a regular bucket of soap and water in the summer time and hose it down the old fashion way.
Vehicle Graphics tend to hold its luster and sheen and will look like new every time you clean it for many years to come.
Remember that the graphics is actually protecting the paint beneath it.
1. Avoid using the rear windshield wiper and only use when absolutely necessary, as it will scratch the laminate over time and reduce visibility. It is best to clean any grime and sediment off of your rear window with a wet squeegee to avoid scratching.
2. Avoid using your rear defroster, use only when absolutely necessary as it can potentially reduce the lifespan of the see through perforated window film.
3. Avoid winding the rear side windows up and down frequently to avoid scratching, if they are covered with graphics.
4. Do not use an ice scraper on any window that is covered with vinyl especially perforated window film as it could scratch and damage the graphics.
Remember that these are simple guidelines for extending the life of your window graphics, but common sense should prevail in matter of safety, to ensure maximum visibility at all times.
Remember that it is relatively inexpensive to replace window graphics.
Please note that any vinyl applied to the windows is only warranted by the manufacturer for one year. The reality is that it will hold up and look great for many years under normal conditions but it is only warranted for one year.
Now you are an expert on cleaning and caring for your vehicle graphics, so your vehicle will look like new for years to come, and you will avoid any costly mistakes.