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Design Collisions, Take Two

Steering clear of small issues that can lead to big mistakes.



In March of 2011, I wrote an article about vehicle wrap designs that cause issues in alignment, making the install nearly impossible to get right. Since then, I have experienced a few more pitfalls that aren’t necessarily common sense, but small details that can cause a vehicle wrap project to lose margin, add frustration, and cause delays. Here’s how to steer clear of these situations.

Life in the Rear View
The rear of almost every vehicle (other than a box truck) poses a unique challenge. While the rear of the vehicle allows for the most viewing time in traffic, it typically has the most difficult, live-area shapes. If we look at the back of a standard cargo van with barn doors, we can start to identify the challenges.

The area that seems to cause the most drama is the space between the two rear windows. Going from the left window to the right window, any potential graphics will be trimmed back a quarter of an inch so the installer can seal the window perf to the exposed glass, then the 3/8-inch rubber, then the 2 inches of painted surface on the left door, then a half-inch gap between the doors, the 2 inches of painted surface on the right door – followed by the same obstacles in reverse after crossing a 1/2-inch gap between the doors.

With all of these obstructions, I’m amazed when designers present a proof that shows small text going across these areas. I’ve even seen van wraps that are missing an entire digit in a phone number. Unless the element or logo you are bridging across this area is at least 12 inches tall or 44 inches wide, I recommend that you treat these two windows as separate live areas. Put the logo in one window and the contact URL and phone number in the other.

One guess as to why this error pops up so often is that the problem is minimized when shown on a PDF proof with a wireframe template. It appears more readable in the proof than it will in real life. Stay clear of this issue by communicating the fact that it’s a known problem to your entire design team and actively look for this when reviewing proofs. As you can imagine, it’s best to catch this before the proof is sent to the client. Sometimes, the client will fall in love with a design that contains a potential issue, and that’s a new problem.

The window area on the back of a van is not the only issue. You will also have to contend with the license plate on one side. Maintaining symmetry in the design is tough when your “canvas” is not symmetrical. At bluemedia, we like to use very large design elements on the rear, contain the copy to the windows, and leave the space opposite the license plate blank with only background elements. This leaves a clean, intentional look that’s easy to read and communicates the client’s message well.


If you find yourself needing to include elements such as Department of Transportation or unit numbers on the rear, in tight spaces, think about producing those elements as ready-to-apply, weeded, and masked cut vinyl. This technique will maximize installation options and bleed area when installing the background wrap, and will ensure a perfect placement of the small add-on numbers.

Another troublesome issue with rear wraps is that most passenger vehicles have a manufacturer’s badge right in the middle of the trunk lid. Many also contain model name or number badging on the left, right, or both sides of the trunk lid, yet many wrap designs try to shove a URL or phone number in there anyway.

My recommendations to avoid issues on the trunk lid are threefold. Whenever possible, encourage your customer to allow you to remove any badging that is simply applied to a flat surface with adhesive. With some heat and patience, those letters will come right off. Let your clients know that replacement badges and lettering are much cheaper than most people think. I bought a Porsche 911 hood emblem last week for $19, for example. As an expert and as a value-add to the customer, you can charge a small fee to put the replacement badges back on after the wrap is removed. On average, we find they take 10 minutes to install and you can easily bill for one hour if you so choose.

I recommend leaving text off the trunk lid unless you’re wrapping a race car with sponsors. It looks forced, tacky, and gives the appearance that there was little effort and creativity put forth. And it’s with embarrassment for our industry that I tell you I still see designs where the contact information is on the top of the trunk lid so that only viewers in a helicopter can clearly read it. Please keep viewing angles in mind. Think about where the viewer is and position the content for maximum delivery without sacrificing style points.

We’ve learned a few interesting, and even bizarre, attributes about rear window perf at bluemedia. Vehicles that have rear windows placed at extreme angles, such as older Chevy Camaros, are nearly impossible to see through from the inside if they are wrapped in perf. This causes quite a blind spot for the driver, and it’s one they may not have anticipated. Window perf was designed to have good visibility when vertical or near vertical. Once you start to slant the graphic away from vertical, the holes in the perf become ovals, and if you slant it enough, the holes disappear. It’s also important to note that the intended viewers of the content you printed will be located behind the vehicle, and if the slant is too much, they won’t be able to read the message either. So, going forward, pay close attention to the angle of the rear glass to decide if the added cost of window perf is worth it.

Our shop is located in Tempe, Arizona, where it reaches 115-plus degrees F every summer. This may be old news to many of you, but it was new news for us: Apparently, ice and snow build up on window perf a lot faster than on glass and are harder to remove. This makes sense, but it was something we overlooked when pitching our design concept for cars headed to cold climates. The lesson here for us was to be sure to look at environmental conditions when designing.


One Direction
We all know that you can’t really see the hood when in moving traffic. It’s also obvious, though, that a hood contains a large live area that begs for cool content and design. Most shops will design a background only or maybe a cool logo treatment for the hood, and I think that’s a great idea. The trick here is that many hoods are bigger than 60 inches in both directions. This means the graphic will need to be tiled into two pieces, at least. So, where to put the seam? There’s no magic bullet here, but a few factors can help you chose.

The first is the shape of the hood and its specific measurements. The preferred approach in most cases is to have any seam going bottom to top toward the windshield, as that seems to flow best with the body lines and direction of travel. Other hoods can almost be wrapped in one piece but just need a small strip going from the driver side to the passenger side up by the windshield. Occasionally, air scoops in the hood might also help define where the seam should land.

After you decide on the direction and location of the seam, it’s time to think like an installer. If the seam is going to go “there” and this logo goes from “here to there,” then think of what type of bleed and overlap should be added to ensure these pieces will align well. Also, keep in mind the direction of your print. While we all strive to avoid printer artifacts such as banding, sometimes these lines do appear in the print. If this could be the case, consider printing the panels in the same direction on the printer – even if that creates more waste material. That scrap will always be less costly than redoing the hood if a client points out the misaligned lines in the print.

Trust me, I do recognize that we’re all busy. Slowing down to address these small details and communicating them to the members of your team can actually increase your productivity. Results always seem to be more important than speed – not just for you, but for your clients, too.



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