Vinyl Wrapping A Car: The Beginner’s Guide

Vinyl car wraps are increasingly common, and with good reason…

You might want to hang on to an old but reliable car if it gets you around. A coat of paint could certainly spruce it up and make it look much younger than its years.

A quality paint job, though, can cost thousands.

Many people are surprised to hear of the new option that’s available these days — vinyl wrap. Covering your car over with large sheets of self-adhesive vinyl can be an excellent substitute for paint. Your car can look just as good as it would if it received a top-notch paint job.

Covering a Car in Vinyl? Sounds Tricky…

“Surely it can be hell getting all the air bubbles out of a vinyl application…”

We wouldn’t blame you for thinking this way.

Many drivers have tried applying vinyl stickers to their cars at some point — decals, stripes, racing numbers and so on.

They know that bubbles tend to be a major problem — especially when you need to apply large pieces.

It’s important to not let such early experiences affect how you see vinyl car coverings today, though. Modern vinyl and adhesives are a completely different ballgame.

To begin, modern vinyl is designed with air channels to help bubbles escape.

The adhesive doesn’t stick right away, either. Once you apply vinyl to a car, you get to work the bubbles out for as long as you want. The adhesive remains fluid and allows the vinyl to be smoothed down, moved and repositioned for hours.

Finally, the vinyl itself is highly stretchable — you can get it to perfectly follow every curve of your car. Once you have it on, it can last in perfect condition for as long as 10 years.

If you plan to attempt vinyl wrapping a car with no prior experience, it’ll probably take you up to 12 hours to cover the entire surface. Experts are usually able to do it in half the time.

But then, experts will also cost you money.

Price or convenience is a trade-off you will have to make.

What does it cost to vinyl wrap a car?

The vinyl itself comes in 5 foot-wide sheets and should cost you no more than $2,000 for the average-sized car.

Vinyl isn’t some kind of poor man’s paint, either.

Plenty of sports car owners use vinyl to cover their cars in a hard-to-find colors or patterns — purple, fluorescent green and so on.

They like the idea for two reasons – firstly, they get to sport wild colors. Secondly, they get to take it off when it comes time to sell the car.

Modern adhesives leave no residue, and original paint always adds value to a car. With the vinyl protecting it, it’s likely to be in better shape and to help the car fetch a better price.

The Vinyl Car Wrapping Process

So what kind of process is involved?

Applying vinyl is not very different to a repainting job.

You need to fix every scratch, dent and rusty spot before you put it on. If you don’t, every defect will show through.

Once you have a smooth surface on the car, you need to remove all external obstructions – molding, mirrors, bumper trim and so on – for a clean work surface. While it’s certainly possible to work around these appendages, it tends to take time.

Always plan ahead

While you can start anywhere you want, you do need to plan ahead to make sure that you don’t create unnecessary seams.

Usually, you won’t need to worry about seams — most car panels tend to be considerably smaller than 5 feet in width. The usual way to proceed is to use a utility knife to cut individual pieces to the approximate sizes needed and to then to peel off the backing before you stick the pieces on.

The fun begins when the vinyl goes on.

Once the protective backing on the vinyl is off, you need to quickly put it on and smooth it with a squeegee, stretching it where needed to help it follow the shape of the car’s panels.

This is where the beauty of modern materials science shows through — while the material sticks to your car quite well, the adhesive remains fluid for a long time — you can use the squeegee to smooth the vinyl to your satisfaction.

Note: We’ve got a useful article that explains how to weed and transfer vinyl. Give it a read.

Finishing up

Once all the vinyl is on, all you need to do is to use a sharp utility knife to trim off the edges.

If your vehicle is particularly large — a delivery van, for instance — you may need to deal with seams over large body panel sections.

Many manufacturers these days something called knifeless tape.

It is Kevlar thread that you place on the body of a car before you stick vinyl over it. When you’re done, you simply pull the thread out, allowing it to cut through the vinyl in the process. Kevlar thread is so sharp that it achieves a perfect cut every time.

Vinyl is easily removable, too

As securely as vinyl is goes on, the adhesive also allows easy removal.

You simply need to apply one of the recommended adhesive dissolving solvents to peel the vinyl off.

And that’s about it!

Video tutorial of vinyl wrapping a car

Looking for a visual hands-on guide to vinyl car wraps?

Check out this excellent video tutorial from the Custom Spray Mods team:

They go through the complete process of wrapping a car bonnet… with some pretty impressive results.


Have you experimented with vinyl car wraps and decals? How did it go?

We’d love to hear any of your recommendations and tips.


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