Many vans UK-wide will now be displaying a distinctive, and to some deeply-unwelcome, sign in their cabs; a sign that says 'No Smoking'.

From 1 July smoking in enclosed workplaces such as vehicle cabs has been banned in England. The law was already in force elsewhere in Britain. Fail to display the necessary sticker and you face a fine of anything from £200 to £1,000 on conviction warns Stewart Signs.

There's just one crumb of comfort for inveterate puffers; the fact that smoking is only forbidden if the vehicle is going to be used by other employees of the firm they work for, either as drivers or passengers. If you're self-employed then you can carry on with your forty-a-day habit.

No matter whether you're slapping a No Smoking sticker on your van's dashboard, or congratulating yourself that you don't have to, you may want to consider the state of the vehicle's exterior signwriting at the same time.

Loud & Proud

Unless you are carrying something that's highly flammable, it doesn't have to incorporate a 'No Smoking' symbol. What it should do, however, is publicise the name of your business in a distinctive way and give other road users an idea of what it is you do.

That's a message that's been taken to heart by Iron Mountain. It looks after company data and records and offers a secure shredding service, and has just had its vehicles re-branded by the Glasgow centre of vehicle livery specialist Signs Express.

Signs Express has 80 centres spread UK-wide and Iron Mountain has been employing its services for getting on for ten years.

Image Conscious

“Iron Mountain is using an image of a vault on one side of each vehicle, with a circular saw on the other side to promote its shredding service,” says Glasgow centre owner, Carol Fraser. The full-colour vault is up to 2m high and up to 2.2m wide, while the saw's dimensions are 2m and 3.2m respectively.

Further south, last year saw the sign specialist's Dartford centre apply signwriting and images to 37 Mercedes-Benz Sprinters on behalf of Associated Newspapers — it publishes the Daily Mail, The Mail on Sunday, the Evening Standard and Metro.

Aside from promoting what they are carrying, the graphics applied to some of the vans include the driver's name and a light-hearted piece about the individual concerned. There's an image to match.

Another operation that's been busy re-liverying its vans is Reliance Patrol Net, the mobile response division of Reliance Security Services. Its activities include responding when alarms go off at offices or factories in the middle of the night and patrolling industrial estates.

Better by Design

It's replacing its fleet of over 100 vehicles with Ford Transit Connects, and entrusted Stewart Signs with designing the new livery as well as implementing it. Patrol Net director, Mike Webster, is clearly delighted with the result.

“We spent our money wisely in placing our brand image in the hands of Stewarts,” he says.

The Connects have been sourced through leasing company Inchcape Fleet Solutions. In passing it's interesting to note that for every new vehicle that Reliance adds to its fleet, Inchcape will provide vouchers that can be used to offset its carbon emissions through a number of projects in the UK and worldwide.

They include tree-planting. Expect to hear a lot more about carbon emission reduction initiatives like this over the next few years. (If you're not already bored with this latest marketing bandwagon, you soon will be, have no fear – Ed)

Asking the signwriting company to get involved with the design of your van's livery makes sound sense. Companies such as Inchmere Design are well-aware of what works on a vehicle; and what doesn't.

Signs Express has been working with Iron Mountain Europe to adapt the designs referred to earlier so that they can be reproduced in several European languages.

Sticky-Back Plastic 

Like the No Smoking signs now decorating so many vehicles and all enclosed public spaces, almost all signwriting these days is created out of adhesive vinyl.

You can have virtually any colour you fancy and it can be made to fade from one shade to another. Your chosen wording will be cut out in the style and size agreed on a computerised plotting table accompanied by any loops, squiggles and exclamation marks that have been specified.

The computer will record all the details so that the signwriting and associated logos can be faithfully reproduced if the van is involved in a collision and they suffer damage.

All sorts of ready-made logos are available; a saw for a carpenter for instance. If you want maximum impact, however, you should select an appropriate picture — a leaping salmon for a fishmonger, — and have it reproduced on the side of your vehicle.

That's what Iron Mountain did. Its vault and circular saw were digitally printed onto three vertical vinyl panels on Signs Express (Glasgow)'s wide-format Mimaki JV3.

The pictures on the Sprinters employed by Associated Newspapers were digitally printed too.

Body Wrap

There is of course no reason — other than cost — why a vehicle shouldn't be wrapped completely in vinyl. That's the direction Worcestershire County Council went in last year when it commissioned Sign Express (Worcester) to do exactly that to two of its mobile libraries.

The wraps feature the work of the unlikely-sounding Korky Paul, who illustrates books targeted at children; the 50-plus titles include Captain Teachum, Sanji and the Baker, and Mookie Goes Fishing. It's part of a campaign to encourage kids to read more.

One individual who has had his vehicle wrapped — by Stewart Signs — is Ray Foulkes of Basement Systems. His business involves making cellars waterproof, and he's more than happy with the result.

“Everyone who has seen it is absolutely gob-smacked,” he enthuses. “I am sure the vehicle will serve us well as an advertisement.”

Paintwork Protection

Wrapping a vehicle has the advantage that it protects the paintwork underneath. Peel the vinyl off when you come to sell your van and the paint will be as good as new, boosting its second-hand value.

Such an approach has the added advantage that it isn't immediately apparent to the used buyer, his customers, or other road users what the van used to be used for and who used to own it. Some fleet operators — the Royal Mail for instance — have distinctive paint schemes.

Price Guide 

So what does get a van sign-written actually cost? Use a digitally-reproduced picture big on the back and the front of your Sprinter and you'll typically be facing a bill for from £1,200 to £1,500. Restrict yourself to slapping it on the rear doors and it will set you back nearer £450 to £650.

If that's too expensive, then you can get your business name, address and telephone number applied for anything from £75 to £200.

When you're thinking about the price, just remember that any pictures and information could be in place for from five to seven years — always assuming you want to keep your vehicle for that long — depending on the quality of the vinyl used and the signwriter's skills. Viewed in that light, it's really cheap advertising.

Corporate Branding

Businesses don't just need their vehicles signwritten. They need signs for their buildings too, and hopefully both sets of signs will work together to promote a seamless company image.

Earlier this year Signs Express (Warwick) made and installed five big internal and external signs at the Modec factory in Coventry. Modec is becoming increasingly well-known for its battery-powered commercial vehicles, with Tesco one of its early customers.

Spanning over 8m, the biggest sign includes silver acrylic moulded lettering. It's internally illuminated by low-energy blue LEDs – light-emitting-diodes – in tune with the environmentally-friendly nature of the plant's products.

Experience Counts

It's usually better to have an experienced signwriter put the vinyl on rather than do it yourself because he's likely to do a better job — it's more difficult than it looks — in half the time.

While applying vinyl isn't easy unless you know what you're doing, removing it is usually a doddle. You fetch it off by pointing a heat gun — or maybe a hair drier — at the edge, then tugging hard.

That's the easy part. Once you've removed it all you'll realise that the paint beneath hasn't weathered to the same extent as the paint covering the rest of your vehicle. As a consequence the outline of your name will still be there, and somebody will have to get busy with cutting compound to fetch it off.

Never make the mistake of selling your van with its livery still in place. The last thing you want is the next owner using it to commit a crime; and the police knocking on your door first thing the next morning because they think you're the culprit.