For years now wrapping your vehicle has been a great way to cost-effectively and comprehensively change the look of your car. Cheaper and less permanent than a respray, when done properly, it can also protect your original paint underneath too. But what exactly is involved during the whole process? Paul Cowland visits EcuTek to watch their GT86 get the full 3M treatment!
Vehicle wrapping is one of those knife-edge modifications. Done perfectly, with good quality film and expert craftsmanship, it can elevate the look of your ride from ‘good’ to ‘unbelievable’. Done badly however, and you’ll drive around in the automotive equivalent of leprosy, with peeling bodywork, wrinkles and bubbles. But how do you make sure that your supplier is going to do a good job?
Like many thing in life, you generally get what you pay for. Higher quality films and higher quality fitters may initially tax the wallet, but without doubt, this route leads to savings – and a nicer ownership experience – in the long run. As the old adage goes, “Buy cheap, buy twice.” … and you really don’t want to be doing that with the fundamental external appearance of your pride-and-joy.
As a true exemplum of all aspects of the craft I was invited to join ECU-boffins EcuTek as they transformed their once bland GT86 into something that could stop traffic at twenty paces. Keen to avoid any potential longevity problems, they went straight to the top of the pile, hitting up two of the biggest and most trusted names in the UK wrapping world.
3M should really need no introduction. This chemical giant makes everything from stethoscopes to sandpaper – but it also makes what many wrappers regard as the holy grail of wrapping vinyl. I have been to see a lot of cars get wrapped, and this is the name that all of the pros go for time after time. It is colour fast, it doesn’t shrink and it is work workable than many of its competitors. Once it’s fitted by a pro, it stays on too. And when you think a decent wrap can run up to a couple of grand – you’ll want to get years out of your investment.
Fitting this quality product would be one of 3M’s most highly recommended dealers too. Nic Bessent and his talented team at WrapCube have literally been there, done that wrapped and got the T-Shirt. You name any big, blue-chip brand you can think of, from High-Street insurers, through records labels and even supercar manufacturers, and chances are, at some point they’ve trusted Nic and his team to lovingly apply some kind of colour, texture or logo to some kind of vehicle, building or item. In short, these guys are the Jedi Knights of vinyl.
The WrapCube team offer a full design service, but can also accommodate any artwork supplied by the client – as EcuTek had done in this case. This design was notable in the fact it was wild! Single colour wraps can be done straight from a roll, but in the case of this job, the whole design would need to be printed in-house on WrapCube’s simply enormous printers – each of cost the equivalent of a very nice car!
With the artwork loaded and printing, the team spent an entire day removing the old dealer-applied graphics and surgically scrubbing and detailing the paint in readiness for the wrap. Remember, every tiny imperfection would be trapped and exacerbated by the wrap on top, so this was time very well spent, to ensure that the finished article looked like the car had been dipped in a flawless finish.
The guys then carefully worked around each panel, constantly referencing the original artwork to ensure that they were creating an exact facsimile. The care and attention to detail here was mind-blowing with every man present demonstrating scalpel skills that would shame most heart surgeons. It was all so unbelievably precise. What I really noticed though was how slowly and carefully each panel was worked, with the vinyl being much less stressed and stretched than on other cars I have shot being wrapped. So why was that? “The wrap material has glue interspersed in strips to allow it to stretch,” explained Nic. “If we stretch it too far, we effectively spread the glue too thinly, and we lose adhesion. If that area happens to be on an edge or a return, then the vinyl will peel back very quickly. That’s simply not acceptable. If we take a little longer in our prep and application the job will look much better for much longer, it’s as simple as that. Most customers expect a wrap to last a year or two, based on previous experience, but we aim for five, simply by taking a little more time and trouble, and using the highest quality 3M vinyl”
As the pictures show, the level of detail in even the most un-noticed areas was simply incredible, particularly in the areas where panels were joined around the front wings, bonnet and bumper. Here, faultless scalpel joints were run along natural break lines in the artwork, so that each joint simply disappeared. It was mesmerising to watch, and seeing this team at work made me realise that not all wrappers are created equal! No wonder 3M were so quick to recommend these guys! Watching them work together was utterly poetic.
In all, including prep, application and the final detailing (which even included having the weirdly-shaped rear spoiler painted in a precise match for the vinyl as Nic wasn’t happy with how it looked wrapped) this whole process took over 3 days. But the result is literally flawless. I have had cars wrapped before for work, but never felt that it would stay on for very long… and often I was proved right, but these guys are on another level in terms of anally retentive detail, including junking and re-printing a whole side for a blemish that I certainly couldn’t see. An amazing display and an outlet I would heartily recommend. The 3M vinyl too is impossible to fault. It has a high gloss finish and looks and feels very similar to paint.
Done well then, wrapping is a fantastic way to change the look of your motor. As the reveal shot shows, EcuTek’s GT86 now has far more presence on the road than in had in standard trim, making it a great mobile billboard for the brand.
And my parting advice? If you want to do this yourself, save a little more, get the 3M vinyl and go and see the WrapCube team. Are they the cheapest or quickest? Absolutely not… But are they the best vehicle wrappers I have ever been to? I think the results in the pics speak clearly for themselves.
Words and Photos by Paul Cowland