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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Custom Printing: More Than Just a Bus, It’s a Billboard

Photo purchased from …

My fiancee and I were out driving the other day, and she pointed out a bus entirely covered in graphics. Even the windows were covered. And there were several QR codes strategically positioned so other drivers could take advantage of what was essentially a billboard.

In advertising, whatever stands out promotes the brand. And as with bottles in the grocery store that have shrink sleeves stretching the graphics across every inch of a product, a bus covered in graphics stands out from every other vehicle on the road.

After all, we are effectively bombarded each day with a huge number of ads (6,000 to 10,000, depending on what you read). And everything from a billboard to a cereal box really is an ad. Everything competes with everything else for your attention.

Analyzing the Bus Wrap

When my fiancee pointed out the vehicle, I quickly whipped out my cell phone and took several photos for later consideration. The bus was for local transport, so it wasn’t huge. And its design presentation, in addition to noting the name of the company, included a background map of the area, a few graphic images, and several QR codes. The overall color (or most prominent tone) was a deep green with other areas in lighter shades of green.

Upon my further reflection, these were the three areas I thought might be of interest to you as readers of the PIE Blog:

  1. Increasing marketing power with a large graphic.
  2. Covering windows without obstructing vision.
  3. Using QR codes to drive traffic to a brand’s website.

The first issue I started to address above. If you want your marketing materials to stand out (in this case a large format graphic), size makes a difference. Covering the entire surface (in this case the entire surface of a vehicle) makes the large format print graphic stand out far more than a simple sign on the side of the bus. It is expansive. It feels larger than life. And there’s nothing else to distract the viewer from the graphic image (no visible windows, lights, bumpers, or anything else that’s part of a bus).

This leads to the second issue noted above, covering the windows. The windows of the bus my fiancee and I saw were completely covered with inkjet graphics printed on perforated window film. From a distance, this appears to be a solid, flat surface on which the large format print images have been produced. But due to the graphic’s being a printed image on a perforated substrate, it is possible to look out of the bus easily without those outside the bus being able to look in. So perforated window vinyl has an added benefit beyond its ability to extend the large format print graphic across the entire surface of the bus. That is privacy.

To give you a little extra information, this mesh product (to me) looks a bit like the 60/40 window mesh I’ve seen advertised (which presumably refers to the printed vs unprinted percentage–of the full 100 percent total area–of what would otherwise be solid, unperforated vinyl for large format inkjet printing).

I’ve also seen material like this used on interior windows of restaurants, on shops in a mall that are under construction (to avoid unsightly boarded up sections and to advertise the brand offerings of the upcoming tenant). I’ve even seen large format print graphics produced on similar perforated material stretched across exterior fences to advertise a company in an attractive way.

And the third benefit of such a bus wrap (or vehicle wrap or fleet wrap) is that once you add QR codes, you allow for a two-way conversation between the consumer and the brand. The person (like myself) who sees the bus and is impressed (or wants more information) can point her or his cell phone camera at the black and white image on the bus, and, using software that can be downloaded to a cellphone, she or he can be directed to a website. Presumably, having reached this website, the interested person can then request more information, or email or call to interact with the company.

The QR code is a cross-media device providing a bridge between print advertising or marketing and an internet experience. And market research has determined that nothing cements brand recognition in the mind of the viewer as well as a blend of print and online marketing. Repetitive, consistent exposure drives up brand awareness.

Elements of the Bus Wrap

What do you need to consider if you’re researching bus wraps or any other large format print vehicle wraps in your own work? Here are some thoughts:

  1. Find a dedicated vehicle wrap company that can print the graphic and install it. These are two different skills. It is worth paying for both kinds of expertise.
  2. Consider the length of time you will need the vehicle wrap to be pristine. Depending on what I have read, the life span of a vehicle graphic ranges from two years to six or even ten years. Presumably, this will depend to a good extent on whether the vehicle is parked outdoors or in a garage, since exposure to sunlight, rain, snow, and rocks being thrown up against the vehicle by other traffic will all shorten the lifespan of the vehicle wrap.
  3. However, choosing the right construction materials makes a huge difference. These include the substrate (a vinyl specifically made for vehicle wraps) and the inkjet inks (latex, solvent, eco-solvent, or UV inks, all specifically fabricated for exterior use). On a side note, one benefit of latex ink beyond it’s being more eco-friendly than solvent inks is its ability to stretch. When you consider the fact that a vehicle wrap is applied with heat and adhesive to a three-dimensional surface with bulges and indentations, the flexibility of the ink can make a big difference in its installation, appearance, and durability.
  4. You will also want to consider the specific adhesive you will use to affix the printed vinyl vehicle wrap to your bus, truck, or car. These large format print graphics can be removed, so a vehicle wrap need not destroy the underlying paint job. However, it is wise to remove and replace the vehicle wrap before the stated lifetime. As time passes beyond this point, the adhesive gets harder to remove, potentially threatening the underlying auto paint.
  5. You might also consider an overcoat of some kind, like a laminate or some other barrier to UV light, to keep the inkjet color intensity from fading in the sunlight.
  6. If you think you can install/apply the graphic yourself, think again. This is highly specialized work. It’s worth every penny to find a skilled installer who knows just how to bend and shape the printed vinyl and wrap it into all the indentations of the vehicle, overlapping the printed segments of the image in such a way that the installed large format print graphic looks like a single printed photo. In addition, the graphic is installed with an adhesive and heat as well as pressure, and a skilled installer knows how to get rid of the creases and air bubbles.
  7. The good news is that if you scratch or ding a vehicle wrap, it can often be repaired. You don’t have to remove and reinstall the entire image. You just need to print out the damaged portion and reattach it. And this might go a long way in lengthening the life of a vehicle wrap.

The Takeaway

Here are some thoughts:

  1. Personally, I think this would be a great avenue for creative expression, appealing to designers who like to work on bold, sophisticated imagery. Overall, vehicle wraps are affordable, so advertising agencies presumably need graphic artists to do this kind of work for their clients.
  2. Study the physics behind the products (inks, substrates, coatings, as well as general aspects of installation) so you can direct a photo shoot if necessary and communicate knowledgeably with the inkjet printing staff and installers. The more you understand the physical process as well as the design process, the better.
  3. Regarding QR codes being incorporated into the design of vehicle wraps, you might want to study cross-media marketing (the synergistic effect of combining print marketing with digital marketing).

Becoming proficient in all of this will make you indispensable as a marketing creative.

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