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Fanning the Vehicle-Wrap Flames

Six projects to help you re-ignite your passion for vehicle graphics.

It’s all too easy to get bogged down with the details of running a successful print shop. Head to the office each morning, work with your nose to the grindstone, initiate departmental meetings, issue the payroll report, etc. And so on each week.

Somewhere, though, mixed in with the day-to-day humdrum is a very cool vehicle wrap rolling out of your install bay. This is, after all, the reason that we decided not to get “normal” jobs. This is the reason we work the hours we do. For me, it’s the feeling I get when the sun shines just right on a completed vehicle-wrap project. Or when a customer acknowledges our good work. Sure, banners and signs pay the bills and keep us busy, but there’s just something about working on cool cars or making cars better than they were yesterday that just does it for me. That’s what makes me want to come into the shop. And it’s what makes all of us want to show off, spend the extra time, and challenge ourselves to go over the top with a job, as if it were our own vehicle.

What follows are six fun and challenging projects we took on at bluemedia, all of which have helped keep our creative flames brightly lit. Every project displayed here was printed in our shop in Tempe, Arizona, where inks dry fast on the media and on the printheads. Most were designed by our own in-house creative team and installed by our install crew. I’ll hit on certain technical aspects of each project, as well as some fun, non-tech details, and finish each project with bullet points on the most challenging—and easiest—aspects of each job.

Challenging Templates for Custom
Geiser Bros. Design & Development builds some of the most amazing off-road vehicles I’ve ever seen. When the youngest son, Sean Geiser, needed to get his Unlimited Buggy wrapped to race in the Lucas Oil Short Course series, it gave our company the opportunity to show we would be a great vendor. Naturally, we jumped at the chance.

After meeting with the client, we headed back to our shop with their objectives in mind. One of their main requests was to make this vehicle as “matte” as possible while still prominently displaying the sponsors. We spent a lot of time working out the exact color values and materials to get the look the customer was after, ultimately settling on a tone-on-tone, black-on-black, step-and-repeat pattern. It took about three weeks to get from the original meeting to the finished product. The inset photo you see here was taken only three days after install, but Geiser Bros. is so good at its craft that Sean walked away unharmed, and we hear the wrap actually held up pretty well. They fixed the vehicle and completed three more races with that same wrap, mostly intact.

• Challenges in this job: Custom-built vehicles like this are, by far, the most difficult to survey and build an accurate template. It took about four hours of measuring, snapping photos, and determining the shape in Adobe Illustrator CS4.

• Easiest part of the job: The actual print and installation took very little time once the color values were solved. Using our HP TurboJet, this wrap took 4.5 minutes to print on 3M IJ180Cv3 with 3M 8520 laminate. The installers only clocked 4 hours to complete. (Photo A)

Problems with Plaid
Allow me to introduce you to a hip, up-and-coming restaurant/bar concept: Tilted Kilt. The first location opened in Phoenix a few years back, and more new stores are being built as we speak—and, importantly, the orders for innovative signage and wrap projects keep rolling into our shop.

As you might guess from the establishment’s name, one interesting parameter involved in all Tilted Kilt projects is working plaid into the designs—it’s a staple element in the client’s brand. If you have never worked with plaid, it can be a little tricky to line up where you need it to, particularly on a “canvas” like an H1 Hummer, such as this one, which the company asked us to tackle.

After the final designs were chosen, we had to do some extra work to figure out how to tile and print the panels to end up with the most ideal plaid pattern directions. This is best done by involving your senior installers and walking around the vehicle with the final proof in hand to develop a good plan of attack. Plus, H1 vehicle wraps are a little more difficult to install than the average vehicle wrap due to all the hinges and hardware; those issues multiply when you introduce a geometric background pattern.

Printed on 3M IJ180Cv3 with 3M 8518 using the HP Turbojet and installed by our crew, these wraps came out way beyond our client’s expectations. To deliver one of these vehicles is a lot of fun as you watch the other drivers stare; and it’s doubly rewarding when the client buys you a cold one when you get there.

• Challenges: Making plaid work on an H1—from design through print to the final install—proved to be quite challenging and took longer than we originally estimated.

• Easiest part: Finding an in-house designer willing to work with the client-provided images of the Tilted Kilt wait staff. (Photo B)

Anywhere and Back for Baseball
I believe this is the only TomCar we have wrapped to date. Fast, tough, off-road vehicles, these versatile machines carry the tagline, “Anywhere and back.” A program was put together by one of our clients, an authorized TomCar dealership, to cross promote TomCar and the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team. The combination of the unique branding elements provided by the D’backs and the fun body lines of this vehicle made it very entertaining to work on.

Following our standard process, we presented several design directions, made a few revisions, and ended up with an approved look. The final was printed on 3M materials with our HP TurboJet and took less than five minutes to print. The install went quickly as well. But just to make sure everything was installed correctly, of course, we had to take it for a test drive or two. The result? The graphics stayed put, along with the memories of ripping around in this vehicle.

• Challenges: With no template in hand, the challenge here was to correctly identify the size and shape of each printed panel. With careful measuring and some vector skills, you can avoid issues related to positioning and fit. On vehicle shapes like this, measure three times.

• Easiest part: The production of the materials on projects like this is simple because so little material is required. (Photo C)

Designing for the Loudest of the Loud
We love the opportunity to work on vehicles that have been heavily customized. For car-audio specialist Rockford Fosgate, we were contracted to design, print, and install five special vehicles: two Sprinters, a Suzuki Kizashi, a Nissan Sentra, a Suzuki motorcycle, and this Mitsubishi Evo—a show car billed as “the world’s loudest rally car” with a huge audio system including a light bar with speakers where the lights would typically go.

We headed into the design process with the pressure on to create a show stopper. Bluemedia’s Chris Keal was the creative director on this and opted to execute the design himself. Following a few rounds of proofs¬—PDF onscreen, Epson matchprints, and proof swatches off our HP Turbojet—we had a great look featuring a pattern that used actual photos of the Fosgate speakers. After getting the green flag from the client, we headed in to complete the color testing; with so many neutral gradients and effects contained in the design, however, three or four rounds of color tests were necessary to get the look we wanted. The print on our HP TurboJet on 3M IJ180cV3 with 3M8518 gloss laminate was pretty straightforward and took just minutes.

Next up was the install. If you inspect the photo, you can see the challenges we faced in lining up the art content in multiple panels, including the roof and bumpers. Once that was sorted out and installed, we took on one of the most difficult items we have ever laid vinyl on: the hood-mounted light bar. To call this “complex curves” is an understatement—this shape was like four eggs mounted to a surfboard. But, by combining heat with a decade of skill, our installers managed to contain any seams to the underside of the fixture, resulting in a mind-blowing effect that honestly looked like it was airbrushed. I have never been more impressed by our install crew than when I went looking for the seams on that light bar—I couldn’t find any.

This project was extra-special to us because Rockford Fosgate’s headquarters is in our home town of Tempe. The client was ecstatic and more orders soon followed.

• Challenges: Getting the design to the exact spot; it took some exploring and some proofs not being approved before we got there, but in the end we hit the mark. Additionally, allotting for the time it took to get the correct design was not easy. And, of course, there was the light bar; that piece was not for rookies.

• Easiest part: The actual printing of the graphics. Our HP TurboJet is fast with brilliant color and resolution; knowing that it will only take minutes for output makes it easier to take the time required to get the survey, design, and color testing done right. (Photo D)

Hidden from the Public Eye
It never ceases to amaze me how many unique opportunities we’ve received just because we are “the sign guys.” This project was no exception. The call came in: “This is SMA Hummer [a Hummer specialty dealer] and we’ve designed a custom rack that features a ramp and storage system to allow a Hummer SUT owner to carry his motorcycle with him. We want you to design, print, and install a wrap and, if possible, drive this SUT up to Anaheim and deliver it to Travis Pastrana at the first Supercross event of the year.” Being big fans of Supercross, Nitro Circus, Red Bull, and the X-Games, we knew exactly who motorcross racer Travis Pastrana was, and gladly took the job.

After the quote was accepted, we presented a few design options that fit the shape of this rare SUT while representing Suzuki’s brand to company standards. Once the client chose the final design, we output the graphics on our Mimaki JV3 onto 3M IJ180C with 3M 8519 laminate. It was a very cool truck, a fantastic wrap, and a road trip filled with great memories.

• Challenges: Since this was a new vehicle, with an “unreleased” motorcycle ramp, we had to make sure that photos didn’t get out to the public during the project. Even Pastrana didn’t know he was going to get this truck prior to the event.

• Easiest part: Deciding to personally deliver the vehicle hundreds of miles away. (Photo E)

Making a Good Trade
We have a client that specializes in eccentric vehicles—specialty vehicles with models ranging from 1930s roadsters and mini Hummers to golf and utility carts. He approached us at one point and asked if we would like to do some tradeout work. He had such cool stuff we said, “We’re listening.”

Eventually, we were able to strike a good barter deal for graphics for other work, and ended up with this Cart-Rite all-electric two-seater. It features two full-size seats, a stereo, and a bed to haul stuff in; best of all, it’s completely street legal with seat belts, mirrors, turn signals, and a horn.

We knew it needed some graphics, however, so we stared at it for a while until we all agreed to create a mascot. The name Mean Mug just stuck. We decided to brand it in bluemedia colors, make use of the headlights for eyes, and flamed fenders seemed right for it as well.

After a two-minute print on the HP TurboJet to 3M IJ180Cv3 and some 3M 8518 laminate, we had the graphics ready to slap on. Our installers found an opening in the schedule one afternoon and spent an hour or two finishing up our new mascot. Now, Mean Mug drives supplies and clients between our four buildings.

• Challenges: Remembering to plug it in after each use and figuring out how to use Mean Mug on the golf course have been the biggest challenges to date

• Easiest part: This entire project was easy. Since we were the client and the vendor, we could design whatever we wanted; the print took just minutes, and the install was quick and painless.  (Photo F)

Jared Smith is president of bluemedia (bluemedia.com), a leading provider of design and printing for use in vehicle, large-format, and environmental applications, in Tempe, Arizona. 


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