Vehicle graphics are a way to advertise a business or create an identity for fleet vehicles. To explore the "do’s and don’ts" of vehicle graphics, and gather advice for fleets, Work Truck spoke with Scott Morrison, director of operations/logistics of SkinzWraps, Inc.; Steve Whitaker, vice president of sales of Signature Graphics, Inc.; and Trace George, president/CEO of VSP Marketing Graphics Group. Graphic examples are displayed throughout this article.
Vehicle Graphic Do's
What steps should be taken in determining graphics to place on fleet vehicles and which vendors to select? Here are some helpful ideas.
- Use an experienced vehicle graphics designer to create the original version of the image and text and have an experienced vehicle graphic professional measure the vehicle.
- Consider and communicate durability requirements.
- Review the graphics provider’s financial strength and developmental support tools.
- Request references and/or the design company’s portfolio. Because a local sign company can make signs doesn’t necessarily mean it can produce vehicle wraps, lettering, etc., for fleets.
- Understand the value-added resources available from a supplier.
- Use a certified graphic company to design and install fleet graphics.
- Prepare an image that works appropriately with the vehicle.
According to George of VSP, many companies invest in products and services for their fleet display needs and often find they are left "holding the bag" when a problem exists.
Certified material companies follow industry standards. Every certified company must follow strict guidelines in material usage and proper installation methods, and are tested with stringent techniques.
"When a fleet desires graphic marketing, etc., it is a good idea to shop for certified graphic companies, as they have a strong backing from each product manufacturer. When a non-certified graphic company is used, it is likely a warranty issue would not be honored by the manufacturer, based on that company not using proper standard installation methods," said George.
Vehicle Grapic Don'ts
Mistakes involving vehicle graphics can be costly. From the time and money it takes to fix a mistake to how a company is viewed, avoiding costly vehicle graphic mistakes should be a priority.
Mistakes that can and should be avoided include:
- Do not base a decision exclusively on price. Numerous variables influence durability and may or may not influence the ultimate price.
- Do not work with a company that doesn’t understand your fleet specifications. "It’s critical that your supplier understands your actual vehicles and how the design executes on your fleet," said Whitaker of Signature Graphics.
- Don’t choose a company that doesn’t understand your business requirements or doesn’t invest the time and energy to know exactly what is expected from your brand campaign over the life of the program.
- Never price-out fleet graphics without adequate research and preparation.
- Specify the time the graphic is expected to last. Most fleet graphics are specified for one, three, five, or seven years. Many applications for fleet design are usually for the length of the lease, loan, etc., before the unit exhausts its term of use.
- Do not have different designs on a variety of body styles.
- Never put too much info or clutter within the graphic marketing display. "Many companies think if they include everything they do, produce, etc., they are educating potential customers. The opposite happens when companies place too much info on their fleet vehicles. If people have too much to look at, they scan onto the next display or whatever catches their eye," said George.
- Avoid complicated designs that can present difficulties in installation and matching reprints when the vehicles are damaged due to an accident, etc.
- Don’t allow anything produced without first previewing full-size art or a proof. "There are many ways to produce graphics. The quality of the production equipment and original art determines the quality and vibrancy of the final image. Requiring a proof demonstrates what the final product, full size, will ultimately look like," said Whitaker.
- Never use dark image colors on dark vehicle colors. Most marketing design needs vibrant colors with vivid contrasts.
- Never power-wash the vehicle (especially with hot water).
- Remove emblems on vehicles to prolong the life of graphics.
- Don’t underestimate the difficulty of the installation.
- n Never take the display text to the outside boundaries of the fleet unit’s working area. The text should always be contained within a 15-percent margin from the sides of the working area, such as the cube box, truck doors, etc. "Most people try to cram as much verbiage into a working area to the outmost areas, and the effect is very poor. Less is more, and in this case, less space used is more effective on the reader," said George.
Advice to Fleets
Morrison suggests fleets purchase the same vehicle type and keep branding simple.
"You have many vehicles ‘duplicating’ the visual representation of your company. Sometimes less is more. Remember, these vehicles will need to be graphically maintained through the years. Your marketing department needs to be aware of the future cost to replace a complex design."
Mistakes Whitaker has seen include using a film material not intended for fleet applications; using a technology that provides excessive liability risk; and buying a cheap graphic, then spending an inordinate amount of time coordinating distribution, installation, and maintenance. Quality graphics are only as good as the quality of the installation.
"Understand your requirements and expectations and hold your provider to the standards you expect, instead of settling for what they want to provide," said Whitaker. "Utilize your provider’s resources for design, engineering, manufacture, distribution, and maintenance. Otherwise, you’ll spend an inordinate amount of time managing your program and spending excessive amount of time, energy, and money to get what you want."
He suggests considering the entire lifecycle costs of developing and managing a program. "Use a company that understands your branding objectives and can develop a program to meet or exceed those objectives," advised Whitaker.
Research is key, according to George. "If your company is testing the waters for fleet graphics, you should do some hard-core homework on economics, fleet requirements, DOT restrictions, and marketing comparisons versus other marketing avenues."
George continued, "Most companies enter fleet graphics, advertising and/or marketing without searching for a proper company to assist them with those needs. Look for a company aware of fleet marketing methods."
Many states restrict fleet markings, and companies should review DOT requirements before proceeding onto fleet branding graphics.
Vehicle Graphics Horror Stories
Scott Morrison of SkinzWraps has seen many examples of poor quality througout the vehicle graphics industry.
One such example was executed by another local company who claimed to be proficient in vehicle wraps.
"The outcome was a nightmare for our soon-to-be-client. The vehicle was brought to our Dallas office for review based on the other company’s dissatisfaction of the finished product," said Morrison. "The wrap was ‘quilted’ together in many pieces, and the colors did not match from one panel to another. The paint had been scratched due to improper technique by the installer at the time of installation. The wrap was peeling in multiple places due to improper surface cleaning before the installation."
This scenario is about as bad as it can get, according to Morrison, and can be a common occurrence. Designing, printing, and wrapping a vehicle is a complicated process, and not everyone understands just how hard it is to do right, he said.
Trace George from VSP recalled a story from his company’s earlier years.
"One application that comes to mind is a graphics project we installed on a fleet of 30 transit buses. We were not aware of the need for laminating the prints to protect the image from fading, weather damage, and external physical elements. After the first year, the material we spec’d to last three years was not making it through the first year.
"The manufacturer would not warranty the material, and I wanted to stand behind this installation with my company’s name, so I removed the complete fleet graphic campaign to install a new series of laminated 3M Materials. I may have lost a lot of money on the failed initial project, but the re-installation gave my company credibility, as I stood behind my mistake," George recalled.