That's A Wrap, Folks!

January 16, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — There’s really no point in having a Hot Tub Party Bus if no one can tell it’s a Hot Tub Party Bus. On the inside, there may be benches with built-in coolers, a giant hot tub, an audio-video system with flat-screen TV, and even a brass pole, but no one can tell that from the outside. That’s why Erick Hodge, owner of mobile spa rental company Wheel-b-Tubbing in Byron Center, makes sure that his Hot Tub Party Bus looks as wild and raucous from the outside as it does when there’s a party going on inside.

“Dude, it’s unbelievable,” Hodge said of the recently decorated bus-to-mobile-party-unit conversion. “There’s not one person that drives by this bus and doesn’t look at it. It’s just unbelievable.”

To give his bus its eye-catching visuals, Hodge turned to nearby Extreme Graffix Signs & Designs for a full vehicle wrap.

“Wrapping” is a technique that affixes images printed on special adhesive vinyl material to a car, van or other vehicle. Depending on the extent of the wrap, the printed images may cover a small section — like traditional vinyl vehicle graphics seen on doors or tailgates — or the images may cover the entire vehicle. The vinyl is applied in slightly overlapping sheets, similar to wallpaper. Even windows are covered, using a special perforated vinyl material that allows passengers to see out but maintains the look of a solid printed graphic from the outside. For safety reasons, windshields and front windows are not wrapped. Depending on the complexity of the design and the unique contours of the vehicle, it usually takes between one day and one week to apply a wrap.

Extreme Graffix is one of several companies in West Michigan that have invested in the large-format printers necessary to create wraps. Owner Tim Sterk has been designing traditional vehicle graphics for nine years. Six months ago he invested in a printer that is capable of producing images up to 60 inches wide. Since then the wrap business has really taken off. The graphics are attention-grabbing, Sterk said, and they are often a good investment for business owners.

“There’s not a whole lot of disadvantages, other than the upfront costs,” he said. To put those costs in context, he compares the price of vehicle wrapping to advertising through more traditional means. When compared to television or print advertising, Sterk tells his customers, the $1,800 to $3,000 investment in a wrap seems affordable. “And you can have that on the road for five years.”

Maurizio Vozza, vice president of sales for Grand Rapids-based Nordic Products Inc., is pleased with the partial wraps that B&B Graphics in Wyoming applied to Nordic’s delivery vehicles. The trucks feature a dramatic, full-color rendering of a forest scene, complete with images of the company’s spas.

“The graphics on our trucks have proven to be a great investment,” Vozza said. “The return has come not only from the visibility we receive as our trucks are en route to our dealers, but also as a sales tool at event sales we sponsor. It also means that we are proud of our company and the products that we manufacture, and we are willing to let everyone know about it.”

Wraps of that scale can run well over $5,000. However, most smaller vehicles can be wrapped for $1,000 to $3,000.

“A lot of it depends on how much actual artwork is involved,” said Sterk. “It’s kind of like building a Web page. You know, you can start with this, but you add hours and hours and hours onto it — that’ll make a big difference in the price. But if we can keep the design end of it down, we can keep it around $2,500 for (a full wrap on) a cargo van.”

Wraps are removable. That means that the wraps on leased vehicles not only serve the business’s advertising needs during the lease, but they also protect the vehicle’s finish. That can mean higher resale value when the lease is up.

Like all forms of advertising, vehicle wraps can present some unique design problems. Many wrap designers have to adjust to creating images for three-dimensional surfaces. Some companies use three-dimensional computer models of vehicles in order to visualize how the designs will fit. Others take photos of the vehicles and use imaging software to mock up how the final design will appear. One common design problem with wraps is clutter. Clients see their vehicles as empty canvases and try to cram as much information and imagery as possible onto their surfaces.

“You could write a book on it. But that’s not what you’re trying to do,” said Sterk. “You’re just trying to get noticed. You want people to know what you’re doing really quick, but you don’t want to gaudy it up to the point that they don’t want to deal with you.” 

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