17 Jul A History of Vehicle Wraps
Vehicle advertising has been around for a very long time. Back before the ubiquitous combustible engine, even the wagons (covered and uncovered) of gospel shows, hawkers selling their cure-alls and tonics, troubadours, circus acts, wild west shows; and of course, cartage companies, hand painted their main marketing messages boldly on their carriages.
Possibly the first wide-audience mobile advertising adorned the sides of rail cars, promoting brand names such as Sears, Ford and others.
Hand-painting logos and other branding, imagery and lettering on vehicles was hard work, involving days of painstaking labour. There was no “Edit > Undo” back then. If you went outside the lines, you probably panicked and carefully daubed with a rag and turpentine. It wouldn’t take much of a mistake to ruin hours, or even days’ worth of work.
Just look at old Vancouver vehicle signs, and you’ll see the skill, time and labour involved in creating hand-made vehicle graphics and lettering.
Years later, we have vinyl, which made cost-effective vehicle wraps and car graphics possible.
The Invention of Vinyl
Chemist and inventor, Waldo Semon, found a way to plasticize pure polyvinyl chloride (PVC) — a synthetic polymer discovered by German chemist Eugen Baumann in 1872. In pure form, PVC was brittle and difficult to process. First attempts at using the plastic in commercial applications failed as a result. In 1926, Semon invented the vinyl still used today by introducing additives to PVC that made it flexible and more easily processed. Soon after the discovery, the use of vinyl in industrial and commercial applications began, and it was used in the manufacture of everything from wire insulation to raincoats and shower curtains.
Because vinyl can be formed into sheets, is easily cut and coloured, and is flexible, durable and waterproof, its use in sign making was just a matter of time. In the 40s, thin vinyl film was introduced and one of its first uses as sign material was to decorate US Air Force planes with insignias.
With the addition of adhesive backing, thin vinyl film, and a peel-away liner to protect the adhesive backing — commercially marketable film vinyl was born. The adhesive-backed film could be die-cut and mass produced for stickers, car graphics, and decals of all varieties.
By the 90s, film vinyl was becoming viable competition to traditional outdoor sign making — made possible by the ability to print large scale graphics using digital printers called electrostatic printers. The next revolution came with the first production vinyl film-cutters, capable of fast printing, mass production, and never-before-seen detail.
The first vehicle wrap is thought to have been created for Pepsi Co in 1993 — used to wrap a bus promoting its Crystal Pepsi product. It wasn’t long before bus wrap advertising was everywhere and the new form of vehicle graphics trickled down to smaller businesses and consumers.
Wraps are made with highly-conformable vinyl, backed with an impermanent adhesive. Because the thin film can be printed in high resolution and in any color, traditional sign making techniques can’t possibly match their detail, vibrancy and variety. Vinyl wraps, if applied correctly, are durable, weatherproof, don’t peel, and are easily removed.
Vehicle wraps have become successful as a form of advertising because they work. Just look at these vehicle wrap advertising statistics and you’ll understand why. Their use, however, extends beyond advertising. Vehicle wraps are also a great alternative to custom paint jobs to trick out your wheels — and they can be changed at any time, at much lesser cost than repainting your car.
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