In this article I will guide you through how I designed a “custom car vehicle wrap” along with tips I learned along the way… but before I launch into that, I would like you to meet Caroline, Luke’s new company car.
© Photos copyright of One Fine Day Photography. Larger photos here.
Now that you have been introduced, let me begin…
1. Do The Research
Before you start any new project, you should get familiar with the process and subject matter and as this was my first time doing a car vehicle wrap, this was even more important.
As I couldn’t find much information on the web or have any idea where to begin, I asked my Twitter (follow me) followers if they had any tips or resources and that was a huge help, along with asking the print shop directly.
It was also handy to read the FAQ’s on these three sites: MotaGraphics, AdsOnWheels, SkinzWraps and the getting started section on CarWraps.net. Remember that your printer may have different requirements than these shops so it’s best to ask your printer for their special requirements.
2. Buy / Create The Outlines
The first step of the process is to create the outlines for the car to scale, as this is what you will need to provide to the printers.
I asked my Twitter followers if they had the outline for Luke’s Toyota Carolla 2009 Hatchback though this was to no avail (though 4 people did send the 2003 version) so this meant I had to create the outlines myself.
Before you go about creating the outlines yourself, check to see if these places stock your particular car.
Places to find car vehicle outlines:
- 6000 Free Car Outlines
- The Bad Wrap
- Car & Truck Pro Vehicle Outlines 2009
- Digital Auto (send them an email)
If you can not find the vehicle wrap for your particular car model you will have to create the outlines yourself and to scale.
Below you can see how Kyle Anthony explained the process to me.
Ok, basically, when I layout a vehicle I’m doing a wrap on, if the vehicle isn’t already in one of my templates from a collection of vehicle templates from a company called The Bad Wrap, I’ll take a good side profile photograph of the vehicle and bring it into Photoshop.
Below you can see the original side photos of Luke’s 2009 Carolla that he took himself.
Once you’ve taken the photos, here are the steps to laying it out so you can design at a reasonable pace with such a large file. This is for car wrap designs that are in raster format as apposed to vector.
1. Measure the distance of anything you can use as a reference point for scaling on the vehicle, this could be the distance of a door handle, door window, wheel, anything that you can use as a measurement.
2. With the side photograph of the vehicle in Photoshop, and all of your measuring tools set to inches, (also make sure your info palette is up F8) measure with the ruler tool, the distance of whatever you measured in the 1st step in one tenth scale. Do this by scaling the image size of the photograph down to make it match up. Not the canvas size.
3. So if you measured the wide of a door handle as lets say 7 inches wide, your info palette with the ruler tool active should measure the door handle to be .7inches wide.
4. Once you get this done, change the ppi of the document to 720ppi. When designing a wrap, a popular way to design at an appropriate scale without slowing down your machine is at 1/10th scale. Once the wrap is done and the design is ready to be set to print, flatten the document, and save it as a non compressed tiff. When you send it to print, or “rip” it, make sure to print it at 1000x scale.
5. Once you rip it at the 1000x scale, the wrap will print at 72dpi, the minimal acceptable resolution for printing a wrap so that you get acceptable results, and acceptable performance when designing and printing it. This also cuts down on the ripping time, or the time it takes from when you hit “print” and from the time it actually starts printing. On very large jobs, I’ve had ripping time take excess of 4 hours.
6. That’s pretty much it, the same process can be used for all sides of the vehicle, just make sure you work off of good square photographs of the vehicle, and if you have any questions at all, email me!
If you are designing in vector format, you will not have to worry about the DPI, but the outlines should still be to scale.
Below you can see the outlines of the 2009 Carolla Hatchback to scale.
Below you can see the comparisons of the car to the outlined version.
Below you can see the aerial view of the car with the red rectangles showing suggested print areas of the car. This was for my guide only and did not reflect the final print.
3. Gather Inspiration
As with any project, it’s a good idea to know what is out there first before you begin. I’ve found a few car wrap galleries to be of assistance:
Car / truck vehicle wrap inspiration:
- Car Wrap Gallery
- Vinyl Vehicle Wrap Gallery
- AltaPac Car Wrap Gallery (the print shop we used)
4. Create The Design
It’s probably a wise idea to sketch out some ideas before you jump straight onto the computer. Print out a few thumbnailed copies of the outlined car and start working on your designs.
After you have some rough ideas, you can go into Illustrator and draft up your proposed designs on the car. Personally I found working on the photos a bit easier than the outlined versions of the car. I also set the photo opacity at 50% so I could see the car and colour at the same time.
Below you can see the mockup with the photos set at 50% opacity.
Below you can see the mockup set at 100% opacity.
5. Recreate To Scale
After you have finished with the photo mockup, you should create it to scale on your outlined version and send it to the print shop. This step may or may not be necessary depending on your print store.
The print shop will take it from here and create the file ready for print.
6. Prepare For Print
After giving the mockup files to the printer, they create the design into a 2D format, ready for print. Below you can see what a similar project for a Ute looked like, just before going to print. The green lines are the separate sections that got stretched or wrapped around the Ute. Below this you can see the final result.
Graphics below created by Matt from Altapac.
Caroline had a similar process and after the project was complete I asked Matt if he could explain exactly how he went about doing the wrap for Caroline. Matt kindly obliged and below you can find his tips and explanation.
Here are the file I used to print and the files I used to set the files up ready for print. [Matt attached several PDFs]
I can’t say how I did it, is the way it is done through-out the industry (not really sure how they do it elsewhere) but I have found this method the best for myself and for our applicator. I will explain a few things just here and some of the things we normally do in case you need to do a design for next time.
Above you can see how each section of the car was applied, to scale.
Firstly as you will be able to see that we had to include the rear bumper bar into each side section print . This is because you had a gradient coming out from the rear wheel going over the rear bar and up and around the rear quarter panel. As you can see it is able to be done but we had to run a center join line in the rear bar to accommodate for this effect . We normally print the rear bar as one piece so there is no need for a join line as we trim it off where the bumper bar meets the body. Because of the gradient effect we could not do this as it would have been impossible to match the gradient sections up at the wheel and where the body meets the rear bar because of stretching of the material and the like. We then had to cut the slogan in vinyl lettering which is no big deal but if we could have printed the rear bar in one section, we would have most likely included the slogan in the print to avoid applying it later.
The gradient sections  that were in the design I could not oversize properly as they were cropped images so I reproduced them myself so I could over size them. We have to oversize the print so it can wrap under sections and not fall short in parts as the many curves in cars can bring you unstuck and can cause headaches in the application process. I know firsthand from my mistakes thinking that I over sized enough but when it came to but it on the car it has just made it with some stretching. Like the piece I printed up for the rear tail gate of the corolla. I thought I gave them heaps to play with only to find out it only just fitted with some more stretching. Whoops.
You will notice this in the files I have sent you where and how much I over sized the print [See how far the print goes over the edge of the car & wheels, in particular the bottom edge]
Another point to look out for in parts of the car that are difficult to wrap. Bellow the doors and complex cut outs and deep recesses in front bumper bars. They can be done but possibly not and may require the design being cut up into a few pieces. In the instance of your design I tried to keep it much to your specifications as possible. This meant laying part of the design over the door handles. It’s not a big problem in cars that have flush fitting door handles but with the corolla and many new cars the door handles protrude out meaning there is a bit of conforming to do around and on the door handle with the sticker and not to mention the wear and tear that comes from grabbing the door handle all the time. If possible I try not to run the design over the door handles or place parts of the writing around the handles.
Hope that gave you an insight into how the car wrap was applied.
7. Apply The Graphics
After printing, the print shop will literally wrap the 2D graphics around the car, section by section. For the One Fine Day Photography car, it was split into 6 separate wraps; one for each side, two for the bumper, one for the tailgate and one for the top of the car. The text and the logo on the front of the car were not wrapped but were stuck on like stickers.
As when any work comes back from print, you just have to admire it… but sadly, I am yet to meet Caroline or Luke for that matter though I hope to do so very soon – they only live one suburb away after all.
I should also take this time to send my congratulations to Luke & Michelle (Luke’s wife) for their newly first born son, Josiah!
A Cohesive Brand
You can see how the whole brand works together – car, business card, website, twitter profile, etc.
Below is Luke’s Twitter profile, designed by Luke himself. A nice job I’ll say!
Below you can read the testimonial Luke gave after completing his logo design.
I hired Jacob to design a new logo for One Fine Day Photography. It was my first time working with a professional designer, and I couldn’t have been happier. From beginning to end, it was clear that he wanted to deliver a logo that would achieve my aims for it while providing a tangible connection with my current branding, encapsulating the core values of my business and designing a piece of art that we could both be proud of.
None of those things can be rushed, and although I was impressed with Jacob’s turnaround, I had no doubt that he was extremely thorough in researching my business and market, experimenting with a variety of designs, and preparing his concepts for my feedback. I wasn’t easy to please when it came to finding a design I loved, but Jacob was exceptionally accommodating with all of my requests (including the silly ones) and within a few days we had arrived at a design I could accept without hesitation.
Jacob might only be in his early twenties, but his giftedness as a designer and his command of doing business in the 21st century are clearly evident in the international following he has gained within the design community. This speaks volumes of the quality of his work and the passion he has for it. I cannot recommend him highly enough.
A Final Word
Take on intimidating projects – fall into holes and you’ll learn more when you’re forced to claw your way out.
When I first took on this project, I had never done a car wrap design before, though after putting my claws into it, I really did learn a lot! So yeah, take on intimidating projects – the worst you could do is improve.
What do you think of the final car wrap design? Have you ever worked on something similar? Have any questions or tips to add?