It’s tough out there, and while the recession will eventually come to an end, we’re not out of the woods yet. That’s why it makes sound sense to employ every available opportunity to promote your business, and that includes making full use of the sides and rear of your van. They represent free advertising space that will potentially be seen by thousands of people daily.

Nor is there any reason for you to stop at simply displaying your name, address and telephone number. Modern signwriting techniques mean that some truly stunning effects can be created that will put your firm on the map.

While traditional signwriters are still in evidence with their brushes and little pots of paint, these days most liveries are applied using adhesive vinyl. The design is drawn up on a computer screen, it is submitted to the client for approval and the vinyl is cut out accordingly on a plotting table.


Multiple Choice

If there’s any problem with producing a vehicle’s livery in this way, it’s that there is too much choice. You can have any pretty much any typeface you fancy and in virtually any colour you care to name. What’s more, colours can be made to fade into one another.

Fancy, swirling, complicated typefaces are probably best avoided, however, on grounds of legibility, and so are certain colour combinations. “For example, you wouldn’t use yellow text on a white van, but if you chose yellow text for a black van then it’s likely to stand out as the vehicle goes by,” says a Signs Express executive. “Equally you wouldn’t use dark blue text on a dark-coloured van.” Based in Norwich, signwriting specialist Signs Express has 80 centres across the UK and the Republic of Ireland.


Digital Age

There’s no reason why you shouldn’t have symbols on your vehicle that illustrate the nature of your activities; a saw for a carpenter, say, or a tap for a plumber. You can go one better than that, however, and ask the signwriter to employ digital print technology to reproduce a photograph of the products you sell, or — if you’ve got one — your firm’s logo.

Ensure, however, that any graphics you specify are laminated to help then resist fading and general wear and tear. Bear in mind too that if you carry valuable tools, you may not want to draw attention to the fact in your livery; indeed you may conclude that it is more prudent not to have your van signwritten at all. After all, thieves can be remarkably observant.



Vinyl graphics are best applied by professionals. Amateurs tend to end up tearing them or wrapping them around themselves rather than attaching them to their vehicle.

If you do decide to do it yourself, then bear in mind that the job must be done under cover in a clean, warm, dry environment. The vehicle has to be clean and dry too.

Putting a company’s name and address on the sides of a panel van usually takes a signwriter about an hour. A more complex design may involve taking the vehicle off the road for a day.



Because the design you’ve chosen is held in the computer’s memory, it can be reproduced faithfully if your van is involved in a collision and part of the livery needs replacing. It’s not impossible for this to be achieved with painted sign-writing, but it will be a challenge for even the most skilled practitioner.

Being able to replicate the design accurately is useful too if you acquire more light commercials and want them all signwritten in exactly the same style.



Once in place, vinyl signwriting requires little looking after. Avoid washing your vehicle for at least a week after it’s been applied, however, and if you use a pressure washer keep the jet at a 45° angle to the bodywork.

What about brush washes? While some signwriters are reluctant to see them used and argue that it makes more sense to wash the van with a soft sponge and a mild detergent, the practicalities of day-to-day operations means that some firms may have no options but to submit their livery to those whirling brushes.

If the livery has been correctly applied and a good-quality vinyl has been used, then little immediate damage will be done. Over a longer period, however, then there is the risk that the vinyl will start to show signs of wear.

Vinyl grades vary, with different grades used for different purposes. A one-year vinyl for instance is intended for short-term promotions, while a five- to seven-year vinyl is designed to stay in place and look good after thousands of miles of city centre and motorway runs.



One of vinyl’s big plus-points is that it is a lot easier to remove when it comes time for a van to be sold second-hand than it is to fetch off painted lettering. All you need to do is carefully warm the edge of the vinyl using a hair-drier then peel it away.

One difficulty you will face is that while the paint beneath the vinyl will be pristine, the paint around it won’t be because it will have faded over the years. As a consequence you will be left with the outline of your name, logo and so on. The only way to deal with this is to get cracking with a cutting compound such as CarPlan’s T-Cut and a lot of elbow grease.


Full Body Wrap

There’s a way you can avoid this problem, however, and that’s to have the entire van wrapped in vinyl. It’s a service that a number of signwriting specialists can provide — Raccoon and Boss Dog both spring to mind — but it doesn’t come cheap.

Raccoon points out that wrapping a medium-wheelbase Ford Transit will set you back an eye-watering £1,700, falling to a still-hefty £1,400 if you want to wrap a Transit Connect. That is considerably more than the comparatively modest £150 it may cost you to have some simple text applied across the sides and rear, and a full vehicle wrap usually takes up to a day to complete.

Encase your van in vinyl, however, and its paint will be completely protected from the elements. That could do wonders for its price when you come to sell it second-hand because it will, quite literally, look as good as new.


Good as New

It’s an advantage that has long been appreciated by cab drivers in Germany who often have their taxis wrapped to keep the paintwork underneath still looking fresh after thousands and thousands of miles. German taxis tend to be coloured cream, so when the cream vinyl is whipped off before the car is sold second-hand to reveal, say, a blue or white paint finish underneath, then it’s less immediately obvious that the car has been used as a cab.

From a van operator’s viewpoint it’s possible to order a white van, have it covered in shocking pink vinyl, then return the van to white by removing the vinyl when disposal time rolls round. A white light commercial is likely to appeal to a wider audience of prospective purchasers and thus be easier to sell than a shocking pink one.


Special Effects

Wrap a van and you can enjoy some outstanding effects as well as practical benefits. You can include pictures and colour fades, for example; the only limiting factors are your imagination and that of your chosen signwriter. But price of course remains a concern.

Signs Express points out that some businesses have opted for a half-way house and partially wrapped their van, which of course works out cheaper. “The contrast between the graphic and the vehicle’s own colour can create a bold statement and make for a really eye-catching design,” it observes.



Signwriting can play a major role in the complete re-branding of an organisation, as Stewart Signs is happy to confirm. It was instrumental in changing the identity of Parceline’s vehicles to that of DPD at the behest of owner La Poste; the French post office.

It involved switching the livery of almost 2,000 vans and trucks at depots throughout the UK in just six months, scheduling the work out-of-hours in order to avoid fleet downtime. At the same time Stewart produced almost 400 trailer liveries to be applied by bodybuilders and refurbishment companies and changed the signs on the company’s depots too.

“We worked in partnership with the old Parceline for many years,” says client relationship manager, Sharon Longman. “We are of course delighted to have successfully delivered their new DPD identity on time and within the agreed cost.”


On Reflection

Stewart Signs also owns safety markings specialist Highway Visibility. Vans work at night as well as during the day and it can make sound sense to incorporate reflective and conspicuity vinyls into their livery. That’s especially the case if they’re involved in roadside rescue services, which could result in the driver working on a vehicle marooned next to a busy carriageway in the small hours.

The headlights of oncoming cars will pick up these vinyls, making it much less likely that their drivers will be unaware of the rescue van’s presence. If they don’t see it, then the consequences could be catastrophic.



From a simple name and phone number to a fully illustrated complete body wrap, just about anything is possible these days when it comes to a van’s livery. The only limiting factor is the budget.