We've all seen them: The minivans advertising Aunt Flo's day care, the hatchbacks trumpeting maid services, notaries and plumbers. But there's a growing niche in the vehicle wrap business: Drivers who are customizing their cars with personalized graphics.
"Only 20 percent of the public has started to understand this is not paint. These are stickers," said James Naccarato, general manager of Iconography Studios in Los Alamitos, Calif. The vehicle wrap company has, in recent months, outfitted a Nissan Cube in wood-print vinyl to emulate a vintage woody wagon and a Mazda Miata with a Japanese anime design.
A decade ago, vinyl graphics were single-color cutouts mounted on a car door or window.
"Now the guy who owns a Maserati and a couple small businesses can dress up his personal car. He doesn't have to own 100 fleet vehicles to make it affordable," said Iconography president Sarah Naccarato.
Personal full-vehicle wraps cost between $3,000 and $4,000 and require two to five days to complete. Partial wraps, such as a custom graphic on a hood or side panel, typically cost less than $1,000.
"It's a relatively inexpensive, noninvasive process for an automobile mod. (Vinyl) allows people to really play around with what they have without devaluing their cars," Naccarato said.
While vinyl wraps have been around for almost a decade, what's new is an explosion of colors and textures. Vinyl comes preprinted in hundreds of colors and finishes that can be customized into personalized designs printed on enormous digital printers that are laminated in finishes ranging from matte to metallic and applied to the car's exterior. They stick with microscopic glue bubbles built into the vinyl's backing that, when removed, in most cases leave the car's paint intact and without damage.
Personal vehicle wraps are "a very quickly expanding area," said Dan Marx, vice president of markets and technologies for the 225 companies that make up the Professional Decal Application Alliance in Fairfax, Va. "I think we're on the edge of seeing a lot more of this in the consumer area," he said, especially as prices come down due to increased competition.
The growth in vinyl wraps is due in large part to the technological advances that have dramatically reduced the amount of space needed to make and apply a wrap. Still, the process can be complicated.
Matt Richart teaches semiannual Born to Wrap workshops in Irvine, Calif., to show aspiring wrappers how to use the large-format Roland printers that have become the industry standard. Richart is a former sign maker who switched his Louisville, Ky., business to vehicle wraps when he "noticed customers who put lettering on a work van were getting more business off their vehicles than the banners and signs."
While 85 percent of Richart's Digital EFX Wraps customers are commercial, 15 percent of his business is personal.
"The wrap industry is moving toward the retail side more and more each year" as the world becomes more custom, said Richart, who recently applied a racing stripe to a Maserati emblazoned with the owner's initials.
At Iconography, 97 percent of the business is commercial, according to the Naccaratos. Just 3 percent is personal, but it's the personal side of the business that's seeing the most interest and growth.
The Naccaratos have recently fielded calls from a woman requesting her Smart ForTwo be wrapped in argyle print, a man who thinks his Ford Mustang would look better dressed in anime, and another customer who had asked about mimicking Scooby Doo's Mystery Machine.