By Karen R. Smith*

…but were afraid to ask!
Truck signage is as old as trucks themselves, and the first motor truck was built in 1896 by the German automotive pioneer Gottlieb Daimler. (Daimler’s truck had a four-horsepower engine and a belt drive with two forward speeds and one reverse – it was the first pickup truck). Back then, the business name was painted on by an artist, either onto the vehicle door panels or on the wooden or canvas sides of the truck bed. Stencils came next, then decals. Now they are all being pushed aside by film.

Eye-popping graphics
You already know why, if you think about your last ride on a crowded thoroughfare. What no doubt caught your eye was a graphic-wrapped vehicle of one sort or another. Film wrapped vehicles are visually arresting, with photographic quality graphics that completely wrap the bus, car or truck in imagery that captures and holds the eye.

Wrapping a vehicle in graphic film is the newest form of outdoor advertising. According to a recent 3M trial using a Seiko ad created with Scotchprint® Graphics, a single truck in Chicago, IL reached an estimated 40,585 people in one day, where a billboard in that city reaches about 48,000 people daily. That makes fleet advertising a significant bargain as compared to billboards, because the price is about half that of a billboard campaign. Right now, 3M estimates fleet graphics at a cost of 70 cents per thousand impressions; whereas billboards are $1.40 per thousand.

Types of film
There are basically two types of films, according to SB&T Graphics of Fullerton, Calif.: calendared and cast. Avery Dennison defines calendared vinyl film as a flexible, matte vinyl film for applications requiring premium durability combined with permanent or removable adhesive performance. Available in different qualities, calendared films are most often used in indoor applications (think trade show displays). Cast films are designed for durable outdoor use. 3M and Avery Dennison share market dominance here and both companies produce a variety of different grades of products. Graphics produced on these films have an impressive life span that may be seven years or more, depending on the product and the climatic conditions in your location. Obviously, higher grades are necessary in more exacting conditions (like the heat of Arizona summers, or the cold of Dakota winters).

Both varieties come on rolls and are digitally printed with solvent-based inks on equipment that literally can print mile-long images from your high-resolution computer file. Jim Hingst of R Tape Corporation in South Plainfield, NJ, notes that film manufacturers perform a variety of tests so as to properly rate their products for different applications. Your professional installer will ask a host of questions to determine the best product for you.

Other characteristics
When selecting, be sure to note that often the same product grade is available in removable (residue-free removal during the warranted life of the graphic) and non-removable versions. If you keep your fleet forever and then have the trucks compressed into coffee tables for your lobby, you needn’t look for removability. But if, like many owners, you routinely retire and replace fleet vehicles, being able to remove your corporate identity at time of sale is a distinct advantage.

Films are available in either matte or gloss finishes and are either clear or opaque. A colored film, whether calendared or cast, will normally have two different durability ratings, unprinted and printed, with approved inks on approved equipment, overlaminated or clear coated. Window graphics, for example, might be best accomplished using a flexible, glossy, clear calendared film. There is actually a product called Buswrap used for exactly that; some films are best used when image quality is non-critical…well, you get the idea. Again, a professional will determine the best fit for your fleet.

If you decide on a photographic image, this is the time to hire a professional. Each manufacturer has different guidelines for what will work best with their film, but in general, it is viewing distance that dictates how much resolution you’ll need in the scanned image you want to reproduce. A truck that looks wonderful from about 15 feet away might appear fuzzy when you’re standing next to it at the curb. The proprietary software of some manufacturers ensures that you do not see larger or smaller dots with low-resolution images, as is common in the world of print. Instead, you’ll get less or more pixilation.

Obviously, the price range is as wide as the difference between a yellow happy face and the Mona Lisa! The folks at 3M tell us that Scotchprint graphics, in general, cost anywhere from $8 to $20 per square foot. That doesn’t include the cost of design work, scanning and installation.

Use a professional
In 1976 by the owners of eight independent vinyl installation companies founded the Professional Decal Application Association, Inc. (PDAA). Their intent was to learn from each other and to network on large nationwide installation projects. Over the years the association has grown in numbers, professionalism and strength.

Today, the PDAA is comprised of America’s finest vinyl installation companies, ready to serve your application needs.  They are a non-profit corporation and made up of individually owned, independent, decal installation companies.  Many member companies have been in business for more than 25 years. The public can use their website,, to find a professional installer in their area.


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