How to Bungle a Vehicle Wrap

Common wrap mistakes ranging from lessons learned the hard way to almost comical happenings.

As we approach our 9000th vehicle-graphic installation here at bluemedia, I think I can safely say that we’ve made just about every mistake in the book – and our list of things that have gone wrong is pretty extensive. But from our many errors, we have learned a lot.

Just as with anything in life, things won’t always go your way, at least not on the first try. From time to time, or sometimes even daily, life pitches you a curve ball you just didn’t see coming – and strive as we all might to be perfect, mistakes happen. The best you can do is to try to not beat yourself up about it; take the high road, make it right, and learn from your pig-headed “whoops.”

What follows are a few errors we’ve faced, ranging from lessons learned the hard way to almost comical happenings that make for a few funny stories. Maybe these lessons can help your own shop prevent some of those disasters.

Typical rookie mistakes
Let’s first discuss the most obvious of errors: rookie errors. These are defined as mistakes that any seasoned professional should have been able to easily avoid.

One of the most common rookie mistakes is producing graphics for “almost” the right vehicle by getting the year, make, or model wrong. Once you’ve been in the vehicle-wrap game for any length of time, you quickly learn that “Ford Econoline” is not enough information from which to design, much less print, a wrap. Numerous body styles include different window and door configurations, and sometimes even different wheelbases. To avoid this disaster, we now require a client to either stop in for a quick survey or to send a photo from each side of the vehicle so that we can compare the images to our templates before guaranteeing the quote or designing the wrap.

Then there are customer-mix-up mistakes. We once had a rookie install a radio station’s wrap onto the pest control guy’s van. While this might sound humorous in retrospect, the mistake was extremely expensive and all too easy to avoid. Lesson learned: We now check in all vehicles and use rear-view mirror and key service tags to keep straight the “who’s who” when it comes to those ubiquitous white vans.

Another rookie error is using heat on a cold window during a removal. Since we’re located in Arizona, it took us longer than it probably takes most other shops to learn this lesson. But once we heard the big, loud cracking sound, the message was immediately clear. Come to find out, it’s simply not a good idea to use a weed burner, torch, or heat gun on a frozen piece of glass. To be fair, most of our staff knew this already – but one employee (who no longer works here) apparently never learned that trade secret.

‘Even experts’ error
Advanced errors are errors that only a true expert has the knowledge to avoid – hence, these can happen more often and to anyone, at any time. Causes for these errors run the gamut, from work overload, disorganization, rushing, or simply just bad luck.

We all tend to move pretty fast. Sometimes, we move so fast that we don’t catch that the RIP is set to use the wrong media profile. Printing a vehicle wrap using something like a banner RIP profile will throw the whole project off. Getting the RIP wrong can lead to problems like color that is noticeably off target to ink just dripping right off the media. To avoid a RIP disaster, use quicksets or checklists that will help your staff ensure they get the RIP right.

No matter how trained you become, however, there are always those mistakes that even the best can’t avoid. Like forgetting to add an overlap – this is an easy mistake to make because a tile done with correct overlaps looks almost identical to a tile done incorrectly. It’s almost impossible to spot. Many times, it isn’t found until after lamination and trim, or even after the client is already in your lobby and the installation has begun. I’ll tell you one thing: It isn’t fun to find out that you need to throw away hundreds, if not thousands of dollars worth of material. But, what’s even worse is when your client is waiting in the lobby expecting to drive out of the lot with a wrapped ride by the end of the day. To make sure this doesn’t happen, we employ quicksets in our RIP software to automatically add our standard ¾-inch overlaps between tiles for all wraps.

At one point in time, our shop blindly trusted every vehicle-wrap template we came across. But after forgetting to compare the template to the actual wheelbase measurement – and ending up with a print only 90 percent of the actual vehicle size – we now double check even the most “accurate” of templates. When a designer or print operator is looking at files for a vehicle wrap, a 5- or 10-percent size discrepancy doesn’t exactly jump off the page. By the time you add in the necessary bleed, it’s very difficult for anyone to catch that a driver’s side might need to be 187 inches when the file is only 174 inches. The most vital factor we manage when doing wrap surveys is the wheelbase. It doesn’t guarantee that the rest of the template is correct, but it absolutely indicates whether or not your template is to scale. Get the wheelbase from the vehicle and compare it to the template – every single time.

Errors to laugh at later
Sometimes, errors happen that you never even thought were possible, which can be frustrating and hilarious all at the same time. Three cases in point:

* One of our funniest mistakes happened when we designed a shuttle bus for a news radio station, without noticing that the gas door landed right on someone’s mouth in the graphic. Here’s a hilarious visual: The poor radio station’s intern who had to fill up the van with gas as passersby took pictures of the scene to send to not only their friends, but to post on social-media sites for the whole world to see. This had to be a one-in-a-million occurrence – and it had to happen to us. To make matters worse (or funnier, depending upon your political bent), the image featured our nation’s very own Hilary Clinton. Luckily, we never received a call from Washington.

* I once saw a TV special about how surgeons take inventory on all of their equipment and consumables to ensure that nothing gets left inside the patient after they stitch him/her closed. Little did I know that our shop needed to take the same precautions. After getting a call from a customer asking us if we wanted our torch back, we began enforcing a simple checklist that requires the installer to do a post-job sweep of the vehicle’s interior, which has seemed to cure our former inventory issue.

* “We locked the keys inside the vehicle” is never something you want to hear, especially when the vehicle is an armored SWAT car. The vehicle’s doors were clad with ¼-inch steel and didn’t even have door handles – just a dead-bolt lock. To make matters worse, we had a bad experience with this client in the past: We had burned their fireproof suites with our screen-printing equipment back when we used to print t-shirts. Luckily, we found a ladder on the rear of the vehicle that led to the roof, where we found an unlocked escape hatch that enabled us to drop in and hit “unlock.”

Lessons learned
While these mistakes can provide a lot of frustrations as well as a few laughs, they can also teach your company some invaluable lessons. We treat every one of these mistakes as a chance to learn and an opportunity to sharpen our skills, and we then come up with a plan to prevent the same mistake from happening again.

Mistakes also present an opportunity to fine-tune our client relations. If your team makes a mistake, immediately steps up, admits their faults, and informs the client that they are going to quickly and efficiently make it right, you might actually impress the client more than if you had gotten the job right in the first place.

We are human and mistakes happen. What matter most is what we do about them.

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

View more from this Big Picture issue