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How to DIY Full Car Vinyl Wrap?

Apr 23, 2022

If you ever tried to apply vinyl lettering or graphics to your car in the past, you likely found the job difficult, even if you prepared the surface and yourself well. Tears, bubbles, stretch marks, and wrinkles may have convinced you a full vinyl car wrap to be firmly in the realm of professional installation. A lot has changed: more resilient vinyl, better adhesives, and air-release technology. Even a do-it-yourselfer can get great results. Ready to get started?




1. Consider your canvas, the surface you’re wrapping. Is the body and paint job smooth? Minor scratches don’t pose a problem, but chips, dents, gouges, and rust can cause problems with vinyl wrap. If the wrap sticks to the defect, it’ll greatly increase its visibility. If the wrap doesn’t stick to the defect, it’ll bubble or tear, ruining the wrap job. Take care of these imperfections before wrapping your car.


2. Choose a location. You don’t need a medical research cleanroom, but a clean and controlled environment will keep dust out from under the wrap. As with paint and body defects, dust, debris, and bugs will mar your finish. Sweep, vacuum, and mop if you must, and close the doors to achieve a great vinyl wrap project.


3. Work on a warm day. Vinyl and vinyl adhesive are temperature sensitive. The vehicle and wrap should be at the same temperature, around 68 °F (20 °C). Colder, and the vinyl become brittle and could tear. Hotter, and the adhesive may activate too aggressively, making it difficult to install smoothly. Use a non-contact infrared thermometer to monitor things. It might be a good idea to plan the job for a different time of day or let everything acclimate for a few hours before starting.


4. Gather your tools, supplies, and materials. The average car requires a 25-foot roll of 60-inch wide vinyl wrap. Narrower rolls are available, but this will require making a seam, quite the trick for a first-timer. You’ll also need grease and wax remover, a general cleaner, 70- or 90-percent isopropyl alcohol, lint-free cloths or towels, squeegee, utility knife, cutting tape, heat gun, infrared thermometer, and cotton wrap gloves. A clean worktable keeps everything off the floor and reduces the chance of picking up dust. This is a great project with a buddy, for holding larger sections of vinyl wrap and for moral support.

How to DIY Full Car Vinyl Wrap?




5. Clean your car. Non-wax car wash products leave a clean surface to which vinyl wrap will readily bond. Then, clean the entire surface with isopropyl alcohol and lint-free cloths.


6. Remove obstacles from the wrap surface. Yes, you can wrap around an emblem, mirror, door handle, antenna, or headlight, but this greatly increases the difficulty and time required to get a good vinyl wrap finish. Save yourself a bottle of ibuprofen by removing obstacles. Go over the surrounding areas with alcohol once more to remove fingerprints or dust.


7. Measure each section you plan on wrapping, adding a few inches for handling. Sketch a diagram of your car’s body panels and write down these measurements for later. Measure twice, add a little, and cut once. Remember, you can’t add material once you’ve cut it off! If a panel is close to or wider than your widest vehicle wrap, you’ll need to make a seam. Don’t try to wrap a 60-inch hood with 60-inch wrap – you’ll come up short, guaranteed.

How to DIY Full Car Vinyl Wrap?




8. If this is your first vehicle wrap project, starting with smaller and flatter sections will help you build confidence and momentum before tackling a wide roof or sculpted hood. Use your sketch and measurements to determine how much material to cut, using a utility knife.


9. Holding the vinyl in the air – you and your buddy wearing cotton gloves – remove the backing paper while keeping even tension on the wrap. This helps reduce wrinkles and creases. Carefully lay the vinyl wrap over the panel, leaving extra material around the edges to manipulate it.


10. Gently press the vinyl into the center of the panel and keep tension on the rest of the sheet. Using the squeegee, start at the center and work in overlapping strokes toward the edges of the panel. This will force air out and temporarily adhere the vinyl to the panel.

How to DIY Full Car Vinyl Wrap?




11. Curved surfaces can be especially challenging, forcing a two-dimensional object to conform to a three-dimensional surface. As you work, if you note wrinkles or bubbles, gently peel back the vinyl and apply heat, no more than 120 °F (80 °C), and tension to stretch it into place. Use the squeegee again to work back out from the center to the edges. When wrapping other items, like mirrors, wheels, or interior panels, the same challenges apply. Be patient to get the stretch right when fitting to curved surfaces.


12. Making seams can also be a challenge, but there are a few ways to deal with it. The easiest way is to simply overlap one piece of vinyl over another, which requires careful alignment but no cutting. Kevlar cutting tape is a great invention that leaves perfect seams without a blade. Snap knives are the last alternative, a sharp edge to prevent snagging, and be gentle to prevent damage to the underlying paint.

How to DIY Full Car Vinyl Wrap?




13. A great finish starts with wrapping the edges of the panels. Use the utility knife to trim excess material to within a quarter-inch (2-3 mm) of the edge – counter-intuitively, greater margins are worse. Use the heat gun to evenly heat the edges of the panel and vinyl wrap to at least 212 °F (100 °C), activating the adhesive. Use the thermometer to verify even heating. Use the squeegee and your fingers to firmly seal the edge of the vinyl to the panel. If heating the vinyl to get it around a sharp curve, be sure the vinyl cools before trimming.


14. Once corners and edges are sealed and set, use the heat gun on the rest of the panel or piece, at least 212 °F. This activates the adhesive on the rest of the vinyl for a long-term bond. Use your hands and squeegee to firmly bond the vinyl wrap to the surface. Bubbles may appear at this stage, but they can be popped safely with a pin or utility blade and pressed down with your fingers. Again, use the thermometer to verify even heating. Wait at least 12 hours for the adhesive to fully set.

How to DIY Full Car Vinyl Wrap?

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