Cleaning and surface prep is one of the most important aspects of vehicle wrapping. Wrapping a dirty car can make or break a wrap causing many potential issues, both immediately and down the line. There are many detailed write-ups and videos on the web so we’ll keep it basic and straight to the point. Here are a few tips for the prep work.
Start with a car wash.
It’s highly recommended to wash a car at least a day before to give all water time to dry. Even a car that looks dry may have water stuck in the seams that will prevent vinyl from sticking. Vinyl sticks best to a clean, dry, and wax-free surface so take care to clean thoroughly! Use a mild soap to help remove dirt, grime, and any wax on the vehicle. Be careful not to damage your paint by scrubbing or using harsh chemicals.
Once the car is washed, run your hand across the paint. If it still feels a little rough, you may want to purchase a clay-bar kit. This involves rubbing some clay with a lubricant across painted surfaces to help remove even more dirt. Once a clay-bar job is complete the paint should feel extra smooth even without wax!
Check for any damage.
Whether you’re wrapping a car for yourself or a client, take photos of the freshly washed car. This will help for any referencing or to cover yourself if a client claims there is new damage from the install! Check the quality of the paint and clear coat and note any areas that may cause issues such as chipped paint, peeling clear-coat, oxidation, dents, scratches etc. If these issues are not addressed, they may show under the wrap or cause greater damage when the wrap is removed.
Any damage should be addressed before the wrap installation. Scratches can be sanded down, small dents can be filled, but larger damage may need to be fixed by a collision specialist. WARNING: sanding paint can ruin it! If you are unsure please take to your vehicle to a professional. For those wishing to preserve their paint, some portions may need to be repainted this can be done before the install or when the wrap is removed.
Detail cleaning & disassembly.
Cars are dirty. Even a freshly washed cars still have dirt and grime in all the smallest cracks, door jambs, and seams. As you start to disassemble any body components that may get in the way, more dust, dirt, and old adhesive will need to be cleaned. Check behind the gas door, in the trunk, hood, and roof gutters, remove roof rails, fender liners, headlights, tail lights, side moldings, door handles, etc. Remove any vehicle branding badges using some heat and fishing line (Please read up on this if you don’t know what you’re doing).
Once the car is properly disassembled, use a white vinegar to help clean and remove any adhesive, tar, or other grime built up in the newly exposed areas. Next, use a 70/30 mix of isopropyl alcohol and water to give the car an entire cleaning; Always test a small inconspicuous area before using on the entire car as harsh chemicals can remove clear coat and damage paint! The alcohol mixture will remove wax and any left over residue from soap or cleaning solutions. Take extra care at all the edges, even the undersides where the vinyl will wrap over. This will help promote adhesion and prevent corners from lifting.
This article is meant to be a quick breakdown of surface prep. If you are unsure of ANYTHING, please seek help from a professional. We are not responsible for any damage caused by lack of experience or training. Search the internet for more detailed write-ups and videos relating to the subject of surface prep.