Date: Thursday, July 08, 2010

All that blank space on the outside of a van can be put to good use as Steve Banner discovered when he delved into the hi-tech world of the modern signwriter.

Covering your van in a vinyl wrap that broadcasts a message about your business and the products and services it provides has a number of key advantages say leading signwriters.

If your corporate colour is say, deep purple or mint green, then you can buy a white van and have it smothered in the tone of your choice. It will be a lot easier to sell in a few years time when the vinyl is removed than a factory-sprayed purple or green one will.

Vinyl also protects your paint. When it’s peeled off the colour underneath should be as fresh as it was when the vinyl was first applied several years previously; good news for used values.

Wrapping a van typically takes a day to a day-and-a-half says Luca Cabano. He runs Redhill, Surrey-based Boss Dog , one of the South East’s leading light commercial signwriters.

Wrapping requires the use of what is known as cast vinyl, which will remain in all the groves and recesses typically found on a van’s body once it has been put on. Use calended vinyl, which constantly tries to pull itself back into its original shape, and you’ll find that it will shrink away from them.


Heat Helps

“Don’t forget that once a wrap has been applied it has to be heated to ensure that it conforms to the vehicle’s shape,” Cabano says. “A lot of people who claim to be able to wrap vans properly don’t realise that this is the case.

“You can of course print full colour photographs onto vinyl,” he continues. You could, for example, decorate your vehicle with pictures of kitchens if you’re a kitchen fitter or tasty crusty bread if you happen to be a baker, along with your name and contact details. Opt for white vinyl and you can have colours printed on it that fade into one another.

Properly-executed, a wrap should be more than capable of withstanding the whirling brushes of a forecourt vehicle wash or a cleaner with a bucket and a sponge. Be careful about pointing a pressure washer at it, however, warns Gary Stanley, marketing administrator at Eastleigh, Hants based Stewart Signs. Under some circumstances it could cause the vinyl to lift; especially if the pressure has been turned up to the absolute maximum. Stewart employs vinyl fitting teams that operate nationwide.


If you’re worried about the vinyl and the images on it fading over the years, then have the wrap laminated when it’s first put on, he advises. That should protect it. Laminating also means that the vinyl will be at less risk of being scratched as well as giving it an eye-catching sheen.


Partial Wrap

Vans can always be partially wrapped, a route chosen by shop-fitters O’Sullivans, which runs 100 of them. It’s had a partial wrap developed by the Cambridge centre of nationwide vehicle graphics specialist Signs Express.

The design has been formatted to fit the different shapes and sizes of the vans O’Sullivans runs. They include Volkswagen Caddys, Caddy Maxis and Transporters, and Mercedes-Benz Sprinters.

Based in Norwich, Signs Express has around 80 centres across the UK and the Republic of Ireland. Its centres have faced some interesting challenges over the years, not the least of them being applying vinyl to a Citroen H-van from the early nineteen-fifties. Its cargo body has a corrugated surface. The van is owned by Pebblebed Vineyards of Topsham in Devon and the work was carried out by Signs Express’s Exeter outlet.


Simple Approach

Not everybody wants or can afford vinyl wrapping, however. Many firms want something simpler, but nonetheless effective; and again signwriters can help through the dextrous use of computer-cut adhesive vinyl. Available in a vast range of colours, it can be used for lettering in a bewildering variety of styles and to depict your firm’s logo.

“What we do is ask the customer to send us the details of their van — make, model and so on — together with their logo if they have one plus details of whatever else they want applied to the bodywork,” says Cabano. “We also try to find out if they want a subtle treatment or something bold.”

“We’ve got a disc that holds the outlines of all the vans seen in the UK today,” he continues. “We use that plus the information we’ve received and email the chosen design to the client drawn on the vehicle to scale. They come back with any amendments and once the design has been finalised we agree on a date for it to be applied.”


Vinyl Grades

No matter whether you’re going for a partial or full wrap or simply want your name on the side of your Ford Transit, you should always ask about the grade of vinyl that’s being used, how long it is guaranteed for and the make. Cabano, for instance, uses vinyl made by Avery and 3M; both well-known companies that produce quality materials.

The more expensive, high-quality vinyls are typically produced in a wider range of colours than their cheaper counterparts. Vinyls are available that can last for up to 10 years. Equally, short-life vinyl can be specified if a vehicle is being used to highlight a special promotion that will only last for a few weeks.


Repeat Business

One big advantage of using computer-cut vinyl for your van’s livery is that the design is kept on file by the supplier. If the vehicle is damaged in a collision, and the signwriting has to be reapplied, then it can be reproduced faithfully.

“Where big fleets are involved we literally keep livery kits on the shelf ready to send out,” says Stanley. That’s because if a company runs, say, 500 vans, then statistically several of them are bound to suffer bumps and bangs every year.”


Price Point

So what does getting your van signwritten cost? “Go for a full wrap on a short-wheelbase standard roof panel van and it will set you back about £1,500,” says Cabano. “If all you want is your name and logo on the back, front and sides however, then it will cost you approximately £200, designed and fitted.”

Using your van in this way is one of the best investments you’ll ever make reckons Richard Clark. He’s managing director of Edenbridge, Kent-based vehicle wrapping specialist Raccoon.

“Remember that all the space on your vehicle is completely free,” he points out. “You don’t have to pay for it; all you’ve got to pay for is the cost of getting whatever you’re going to have put on your van designed, produced and applied.”

He believes in keeping the design simple and not making it over-fussy. “Go for strong colours and not too many of them,” he advises. “Don’t use too many images either. “The approach Sky has used so far as its vans are concerned makes good sense,” he believes. “They’ve used one image and made it as big as possible.”


Listen & Learn

Taking the advice of experienced van graphics specialists when it comes to deciding on a design makes sound sense. What looks great on the side of a warehouse or the front of a shop may not work so well on a van’s curved surfaces.

“We recently had to wrap the nose-cone of an aircraft,” says one sign-writer. “Unfortunately the design that was chosen by the client caused some of the lettering to disappear into various crevices and become illegible so the whole thing had to be rethought.”

“It’s often the case that people who do design work on packaging are good at doing design work on vans because they’re used to taking images around corners,” Clark remarks.


Removal Time

How do you set about removing vinyl when the time comes for your van to be sold? Usually all you need to do is warm it up with, say, a hair drier, then pull it away. It should come off in several large pieces.

If it’s not a full wrap then the outline of the lettering and logos will be clearly visible because the paint around them will have faded. An adhesive residue will be left behind too, as will be the case when a wrap is pulled away.

That’s going to involve a lot of cleaning and a lot of hard working with a cutting compound if your name and address are still visible before the van looks presentable and the same colour all over. Unwrapping a van properly can take a day. Remember, however, that removing vinyl is a lot easier and cheaper than removing traditional painted signwriting; and leaves much less of a mess.



The combination of computer and vinyl technology has really opened up the potential for van livery. These days, just about anything is possible.


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