Tech: Giving BlownZ A Fresh New Look With 3M And SoCal Wraps
If you’ve been following along with our Project BlownZ Camaro over the course of the last year, you’ve certainly witnessed the transformation the car has undergone, both inside and out, as we’ve made inroads to putting a lighter weight, more aerodynamic, and racier machine on the track. For those that don’t recall, the car was, when purchased from its previous owner, painted black with silver racing stripes and was campaigned out of our shop that way for a full season, but part of our efforts to be more competitive required making some alterations to the external appearance of the car to get down to a more competitive weight — namely, installing fiberglass doors, a fiberglass front end and a new nose, and a new, larger rear wing.
As the 2014 season began, the car was a complete mismatch from front to back, necessitating the need for a fresh new look. In this day and age, you’re presented with a pair of options: traditional paint work that’s more or less permanent and typically comes at a higher cost, or a vinyl wrap, which is more affordable, can be easily removed, and has, with the advent of better materials and more skilled installers, reached a quality similar to that of paint. In our case, we opted to go the route of the vinyl wrap, calling upon SoCal Wraps, a well-regarded local vinyl graphics design and installation firm here in the Southern California area, to give BlownZ an all-new look. A new satin white scheme featuring carbon fiber-esque racing stripes was drawn up, and the SoCal Wraps team got to work on the design, which would utilize 3M’s Wrap Film Series 1080.
According to 3M’s Marketing Development Manager Doug Blackwell, the 1080 series wrap is a dual layer cast vinyl film that’s available in six different finishes and an impressive 57 different colors. The film layer, as a cast product, is cast on a liner to create the desired texture, with pigments later added right onto the layers of film to create the final color. “Because of its wide range of color and texture, this film is intended to be used right out of the box without printing, although some designers do use different colors or textures to create custom looks,” explains Blackwell.
The 3M material is delivered in rolls as large as sixty-inches to installers to the team at SoCal Wraps, who then begin the process of translating our design onto the material before applying it to the race car.
“We begin by taking pictures from each angle of the race car and then gathering accurate measurements of every area of the car that we’re going to wrap, including the wheelbase of the car, the hood, the roof, the decklid, and so on, “explains SoCal Wraps’ Jason Pfutzenreuter. “Then we blow the car up to scale and do all of our estimates on the computer. Once we have the vehicle mocked up in Adobe illustrator, we can design a template and begin designing the wrap scheme on that.” As Pfutzenreuter tells us, with a solid-color design like that planned for BlownZ, the design team only has to be in the ballpark with the measurements (within a few inches), but as you can guess, ‘busier’ designs with stripes and lettering require far more dead-on measurements to line everything up. SoCal Wraps then uses large, industrial-grade Seiko Colorpainter high-speed ink jet printers that use 3M mild solvent ink and can handle print media as large as 74-inches wide to print the design. In our case, little printing was necessary, with the matte white color making up the majority of the design, with the silver Dragzine logo being the only printed portion. The printed squares were then transported to the Power Automedia garage for installation.
The installers at SoCal Wraps generally start with the sides of the vehicles, as Pfutzenreuter explains, beginning at the center at or around the door and working their way out toward the front and rear bumpers, using a 3M Gold Squeegee applicator. “We do the sides first, and then that’s where we line everything else up, as far as matching the hood, the roof and then the rest of the car,” Pfutzenreuter states.
Heat from a small torch is applied at the corners to help the material form itself neatly to the contours of the body, and once complete, wraps installed by the SoCal crew are virtually seamless as you walk around the finish product. Once the sheets are in place, the installer trims the edges of the rolls down to fit to the car. On BlownZ, the carbon fiber racing stripes are a separate layer, laid on over the top of the base matte white layer. The rear wing is also wrapped entirely in carbon fiber-themed film to complete the look.
The 3M 1080 material has a number of features that not only the make the installers’ job easier, but also deliver a longer-lasting product for the customer. “One of the favorite features among installers is the ability to slide, tack, snap up and reposition the film until it’s in just the right position, thanks to 3M’s unique adhesive technology,” says Blackwell. “The film also has non-visible air release channels in the adhesive that allows the installer to push the air out of the film edges during installation, leaving a virtually bubble-free finish. And when you want to change the wrap, the film is removable, leaving your original OEM finish undamaged.”
As Blackwell goes on to explain, the 3M 1080 is design to be long-lasting, but as with anything, the end result is only as good as the installer. As Blackwell puts it, installing film wraps are part science (the job of 3M) and part skill (the installer), and skilled artisans like those art SoCal Wraps do this for a living and it shows in their work. There are of course a number of advantages to choosing a wrap over paint — a couple of which we already underwent with BlownZ, when a fender was scuffed up and easily repaired, and our racing stripes on the hood were re-done in short order. Without applying paint, schemes can be applied, later modified, or removed entirely without performing any extensive bodywork. But there’s also the cost perspective — even the most detailed and flashy of race car wraps can run you around $2,000 to $3,000, whereas a real paint job would can easily multiply that figure several times over. Wraps are also impressively light, with a per-square-foot weight of just 12 to 20 grams, depending on the material that you choose, which can range from 3.5 to five mils in thickness.
The beauty in it for us is that underneath the expertly-applied and quite affordable wrap is a vehicle that’s still a fresh palette should we ever choose to paint it. In the meantime, we can make changes to the scheme if necessary, and make any repairs that may come about over the course of the many, many years that 3M’s 1080 series films are proven to last.