How to prepare and clean your car for wrapping

Vehicle wrapping started to become popular in the 1990s, one of the first companies that started using wrapping frequently was a German taxi company. In Germany, by law, all taxis had to be beige but painting these meant they had very low resale value. So instead of painting the vehicles, they were vinyl wrapped, and when it came to selling they could easily remove the wrap to reveal the original paint underneath.

Today vinyl wrapping is a much cheaper alternative to painting a vehicle. It’s a popular option for people who want to change the colour of their vehicle, the options are endless for colours and accents such as glossy, matte, chrome, satin or metallic. It’s also great for companies who want to advertise their business. The printed wrap can make a big impression on the road, helping to make companies stand out.

Our expert trainer Jason Davison has created this car wrapping guide:

To complete a successful car wrap attention to detail and preparation are key. Before a car can be wrapped it needs to be thoroughly cleaned, this will help you get the best results and reduce the chances of bubbles and tears in the vinyl. Many car wraps fail due to the cleaning process not being carried out thoroughly enough. This guide will talk you through the products and tools you will need and the steps to complete before you start wrapping your car.

car wrap preparation

Products and tools to wrap a car

Ensure you have the correct tools before you start and when storing the vinyl keep away from heat sources and direct sunlight and store the roll vertically.

  • Lint-Free Cloths
  • The Surface Preparation and a Squeegee specific to the wrapping film you’re using
  • Knifeless Design Tape
  • A Retractable Bladed Scalpel
  • Masking tape
  • Gloves
  • Snitty
  •  Heat Gun – long cable so you don’t need to plug into an extension lead
  • Digital Infrared Thermometer
  • Magnets to hold the material up

blue car wrap cleaning & prep

Vehicle wrap preparation and environment

Before you start the job check the car for any damage or re-sprays and ask the customer if the car has been ceramic coated as vinyl won’t stick to this. Take photos of any paintwork defects before you start the job so these can be referenced if needed at a later date. If any areas will be hard to wrap due to scratches or imperfections then let the customer know beforehand.

You will need to ensure you are working in a well-lit and dust-free environment and that you have easy access to a power supply. The room will also need to be at the correct temperature. If it’s too hot this can lead to the material overstretching and if it’s at a low temperature this can cause shrinkage. Most products will require room temperature for application usually around 18-22°C. Try and avoid rooms with a draft as this can affect the temperature and could also blow in dust. It’s a good idea to pull the vehicle inside overnight so it isn’t coming in to be wrapped cold.

If you are applying printed vinyl make sure this has been outgassed, it can take up to 72 hours to outgas dense colour prints. If this step is missed then the vinyl may shrink along the edges.

blue vehicle wrap

Car wrap cleaning tips

  • Remove any jewellery or loose clothing to avoid damaging the vinyl film or the vehicle.
  • If possible take delivery of the vehicle the night before so you can get started on cleaning the vehicle and let the vehicle adjust to the temperature of the room.
  • Taking off handles, wing mirrors, spoilers, indicators and headlights/taillights can make wrapping easier. By removing these there will be no seam or patching which will help to give a neater finish. If you have any issues doing this then you can find advice online or go to the car dealer directly for more information.
  • We recommend wearing gloves to avoid oils from your skin getting onto the surface of the car and to protect your hands from the cleaner.
  • Clean with car wash soap, avoid using cleaners with waxes as this can reduce the film adhesion. Then proceed to rinse the surface with water.
  • Areas such as wheel wells and fog lights accumulate a lot of road grit, so make sure you clean these areas thoroughly.
  • Ensure the vehicle is dry before you start wrapping.
  • Start applying the film as soon as it’s dry to reduce the amount of dust and contaminants that may accumulate on the surface over time.
  • If using a knife to cut the vinyl make sure you replace the blade with every cut to stop it from being blunt.

Seek specific advice from Spandex when applying to difficult surfaces or in extreme environmental conditions, to ensure that you select the correct material. We are also able to provide detailed specification sheets and advice for most products.

After completing the wrap keep the vehicle in overnight to give the adhesive time to bond, as big temperature changes can lead to the vinyl shrinking. Make sure you avoid using harsh cleaners and waxes or polishes on a wrapped car.

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