sign writing - the vinyl frontier

looking to make a cost effective impact with your commercial vehicles? modern materials and technology have revolutionised the signwriting business. andy enright reports

Picture this scenario. You need to make a bold statement with your company vehicles, building your brand identity and bringing in new business. This used to involve visiting a professional signwriter and having a custom paint finish which not only costs a fortune but also made the vehicles difficult to dispose when the time came to sell on. Nowadays there's a more efficient method available. You simply wrap the vehicle in a full vinyl jacket.

This way you can make your boring fleet of white vans dayglo yellow and then return them to their pristine white state after however many years you intend to keep them. Not only does this boost the resale value, but the vinyl coverings also help to protect the paintwork from stone chips, superficial scratches and rust. The cost depends on a number of factors including the complexity of the artwork, the grade of vinyl used and, naturally, the size and type of your vehicle.

Some vehicles are easier to wrap than others. The Mercedes Sprinter van is notoriously tricky due to its deep panel indents and hammered textured finish, whilst smart cars are one of the simplest and most cost effective options to wrap. The challenge of a fleet of Mercedes Sprinter didn't faze market leaders Signs Express, a nationwide company with over 80 branches. When Mercedes-Benz Service 24h wanted reflective markings on a large fleet of Sprinters it turned to Signs Express. The result was a Sign Industry Award for best vehicle livery project in return for the job done.

Group Marketing Manager Dan Archer notes, Demand for vehicle livery has grown in recent years as people realise its full potential as a promotional and communication medium. Vehicle wrapping has become more popular as customers increasingly want to stand out from the crowd. With recent advancements in technology we are able to apply full colour graphics and even photographic images to vehicles - the opportunities are limitless."

At a conservative estimate, vehicle wrapping works out at about 70% of the cost of respraying but it requires similar precision. Preparing the vehicle in advance is key and removing the exterior mirrors and door handles is essential for a professional job. It's advisable to wait a few days before applying vinyl to a freshly painted surface as the paint can emit gases as it bonds which can then cause bubbling. In most instances the vinyl is gently warmed to soften it for application and then heated again to cure the adhesive all performed in a climate-controlled bay.

Some vinyls are supplied with eight to ten year guarantees, although flat surfaces are a good deal more durable than awkward recesses. The average life span is around five years. It's a very durable finish although commercial car washes and higher power jet washes should be avoided. If you don't want to go the whole hog with vinyl wrapping, self-adhesive vinyl numbers, letters, stripes and logos are also available. Most companies will be able to help with a custom design by using a computer-controlled plotting table.

If you're still driving around in a plain white van, the signs are that your company's missing a revenue building opportunity. Do the maths, consider the benefits and you'll appreciate why you need to be seen to be successful.