Car Vehicle Wrap Design Process & Tutorial

Car Vehicle Wrap Design Process & Tutorial

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One Fine Day Photography Logo

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of rebranding Luke Arms‘ photography business One Fine Day Photography and as part of the rebrand, came the job of designing his car.

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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.

Car Vehicle Wrap Design

Car Vehicle Wrap Design

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Car Vehicle Wrap Design

Car Vehicle Wrap Design

Car Vehicle Wrap Design

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.

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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 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:

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.

Car Side

Car Side

Car Front

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Car Back

090611 0005

Kyle continues:

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.

Carolla 2009 Hatch

Below you can see the comparisons of the car to the outlined version.

Toyota Carolla 2009 Car Outlines

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.

Aeiral View

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:

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.

50 Opacity

Below you can see the mockup set at 100% opacity.

Car Vechicle Wrap Mockup

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.

Print Layout


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.

Print Sections

Above you can see how each section of the car was applied, to scale.

Matt continues…

Firstly as you will be able to see that we had to include the rear bumper bar into each side section print [1]. 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 [2]. 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 [4] 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.

8. Admire

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!

Car Vehicle Wrap Design

A Cohesive Brand

You can see how the whole brand works together – car, business card, website, twitter profile, etc.

Photography Business Card

Below is Luke’s Twitter profile, designed by Luke himself. A nice job I’ll say!

Twitter Profile


Below you can read the testimonial Luke gave after completing his logo design.

Luke ArmsI 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

I would like to close with this quote from Jennifer Sims found in Issue 165 of Computer Arts magazine.

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?

66 thoughts on “Car Vehicle Wrap Design Process & Tutorial”

  1. Wow, great subject matter. Love the blog.

    The end result did indeed turn out great, however, I must say that this was the uber-long-and-unnecessary route… Having worked on dozens of vehicle wraps it almost hurts to see someone go through so much extra time and effort…. I would love to show you a different route that is more accurate and helps to visualize the final results much better than you have here.

    I have worked on wraps for car dealers, public transportation, The Palms Casino, Huntsman World Senior Games, private trasportation, schools, personal, business… you name it. Decals to entire wraps.

    If you would be interested in working up a more accurate/visual tutorial, you have my email.

  2. Simply stunning car wrap Jacob! I love both the colour and simplicity of it all, and it looked complicated to achieve, but great work.

    I did a car print myself:

    It was for a Driving instructor. It wasn’t as complicated as yours, but it turned out well.

    It’s really rewarding, though, to see our works out there isn’t it?

    I’ll definitely Delicious bookmark this for future ref, cheers 🙂

  3. Very cool Jacob. Seems like a complicated process but you nailed it in the end. I’ve had some experience measuring windows printing out huge vinyl stickers and applying them for a tattoo shop here in Monterey California. A lot of elbow grease and mess ups but came out looking really good, plus I got a tattoo hookup for life:)

  4. Sara,
    Kyle gave me a good foot hold for the start of this project – very much appreciated.

    Shane, Stijn, Stephen,
    Thank you!

    Now that is different… a spider wrap for a boat. Would love to see the final outcome.

    I’ve just emailed you, would love to hear the shorter, different route!

    Apparently there was a much easier way of doing this, hoping to hear back from Eric soon.

    I remember seeing that write up last year on your blog – it looks like vinyl stickers (as appose to a wrap)? Looks like you enjoyed the branding process!

    And yes it is rewarding seeing your work out there, especially when it is local!

    Timely, as in you’re doing a car wrap design too?

  5. Looks great!
    I’m so glad that Kyle was able to help you out with you car wrap needs!

    Congratulations on finishing this great project!

  6. Jacob… that is AMAZING!!! One day I hope to have the chance to design a car… maybe I will do a fake one anyway. That looks really good, and fun too.

    Well done.

  7. This couldn’t have come at a better time! Thanks for sharing this Jacob, I just got contacted to design a spiderman looking wrap for a BOAT! I had resorted to created vinyl decals and this comes along!


  8. Hi jacob,

    As always, another amazing work and this one is so different. Though I am not working on any such project would love to try and make one just for the fun of it…

    Also, can count on you to explain Eric’s shorter and better way of going about it too… 🙂

    Keep em coming…


  9. Wow,

    Although I may not do car visual design this article is really very good, so informative and full of great tips.


  10. Jason,
    Well good luck for it! Just don’t “crowdsource” it out 😛

    Will do, once I hear back from Eric.

    Don’t forget to bookmark!

    Haberler, Madhaven,
    Thank you!

  11. A really useful resource Jacob – how do you go around pricing something that you have never undertaken or that you’re unsure how much work’s involved?

    • In this case, both Luke and I agreed that I would charge what the shop was going to charge. There is no hard and fast rule but I thought this was fair as I hadn’t designed a car wrap before.

  12. Comprehensive article, indeed. I’ve made dozens of car design/wraps in the last 10 years and it is interesting to see other people’s process.

  13. My very best compliments for this article! Great job!

    Here is an extra tips from me/ how I do it:

    Many different types of vehicles ( to my studio so this is how I take measurements:
    – I have printed a ruler on magnetic foil 1 meter wide and 0.25 meter height and I paste it on a car or truck and then I take picture of it.
    – That meter foil helps me to scale image in photoshop to 1:1! it works perfectly! 😉

    – You don’t have to do this but it is always better to check measurements of a vehicle you work on because those vector blueprints are not 100% precise and can cause many problems…

    *In my country you can apply graphics only on left and right sides of the vehicles, rooftops, backs and fronts are not allowed and if you have them on your cars police will stop you, take your license, money… how stupid is that. 🙁

  14. Thank you for your tips De Jan… but I suppose that the printed ruler would only be worth the while if car wraps were something you did often?

    I think a simple measurement between the two car wheels is an easier way?

    Shame about the left and right side limitation, is there any particular reason for this?

  15. You’re absolutely right about ruler use…

    And the reason for wrap limitation is, as police say, that front and rear graphics can distract other drivers attention and cause traffic accidents… now how moronic is that? Whole world wraps all sides of vehicles but here hey said it is wrong…


  16. This is really interesting, i dont think there is an exact science to this in my experience. I have always used scaled lined drawings used seperate panels for sides roof bonnet and bumpers and things work out pretty well for us. The design process is certainly key and very annoying when it comes through from an agancy who cearly ave experience in designing vehicle wraps. wil forward this link onto my design team for reference.

  17. I’ve been wondering how do they make it! and then I kept telling my self to forget about it, it’s not my field of interest. Now you’ve simplified the process and made it interesting.
    You are a hard worker mate 🙂 G`Luck.

  18. hello because I have the opportunity to design my first car as a professional designer and I have many bases towards serving this I’m from Colombia could help thanks

  19. Disculpa no podrias pasarme este tutorial en español. en verdad me interesa tu informacion pero no la puedo apreciar en ingles… se me ha dificultado un poco…

  20. Great, super job,

    I live in US but my family lives in Europe. If I like to help them to start wraps on cars service, can you suggest where to go for guidance? We don’t have large capital to invest, so we would have to start small. I am aware, you have no time to be my guide, but I am sure you can give me few tips. Thanks,
    Ted, T.

  21. Jacob, Did you ever hear back from Eric Sly about the shorter, simpler route to designing for wraps? I couldn’t be happier to have found your blog, but am always for shorter and simpler, plus he also mentioned more accurate visualization. Do tell! Email me? Thanks!

  22. Mate, this was a fantastic article and I appreciate the help as it is exactly what I need in this time of toil >_<

  23. great setup and layout shots, I am a designer wrapper and sign guy as well as branding and photos It is so nice to see someone explain it the proper way and share some important knowledge!!!

  24. Wow! Ive been doing so much research on the internet about car wrapping, and nothing as detailed and helpful like this came up. Im a junior graphic designer and my job requires me to do car wrapping, which I have like no clue about, but this is really going to help me!

    Thanks man, good work!

  25. Wow awesome article, lots of great insight. Thanks!

    Try out this new app I’ve just built to help people without Photoshop to design basic car wrap styles. It’s in Flash so you can’t use it on ipad yet, but it’s more for computer users anyway. It’s just our first Alpha release so we’re looking for feedback, feel free to contact me with any thoughts or questions. You (or any wrap shop) can sign up and list yourself for free too, if you’re still doing wraps. People can design their wraps and save them to their profile, and/or send them to the wrap shops listed via a Zip Code search, pretty convenient. We think it’s pretty cool… What do you think? We’re still working on improving it so check it out again in the future!


    – Sean

  26. I am taking on this intimidating project and this article has helped in the clawing process of getting out of the hole. This is a good reference read

  27. Hi, nice to see such an enthousiast! I work in a company specialized in car wraps, so this is very helpfull to see other designer’s workflow. Maybe you can check out

    • What a great illustrated tutorial of how we do this every day. There’s a lot to consider with every vehicle wrap and body style out there. Body contours, vehicle wheel wells and spoilers cause every vehicle to possess it’s own challenges and certainly—some are easier to wrap than others.

  28. This is an AMAZING tool / tutorial! You have done and amazing job explaining the process! I’m SO THANKFUL you took the time to create this. I was asked to create a vehicle wrap which I have never done and I was looking for some tutorials or ideas on the process. Again, Thank you! You have definitely boosted my confidence level!

  29. Wow!!! You have covered almost everything to create a vehicle wrap from scratch. I really car stickers and vinyls. I don’t have much knowledge and perfection in designing. But last month I have designed a car wrap for my Toyota 4runner. My friends said that it was superb. Last week I have printed it from Club Ink in Toronto. They also helped me in applying the same on my car.

  30. Thank you so much, I am working on my first wrap for a stock racing car (no template as it is very modified). They have the design but it was created in Forza Motorsport racing game as a contest, and finding info on preparing files for a wrap has been a nightmare!

  31. Thank you so much for putting together such a great vehicle wrap resource for all us first timers….really well done.

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