Designing a Vehicle Wrap in Photoshop Without a Template.

Designing a Vehicle Wrap in Photoshop Without a Template.

Saturday, June 20th, 2009

Vehicle wraps are a design challenge in themselves. Layout, color, images and content are all very important aspects of an effective car wrap. Fortunately many template systems exist to which allow a designer to layout the vehicle wrap design and view it on a representation of the actual vehicle to be wrapped. These template systems allow the designer to choose the vehicle make, model, year and body configuration and get a reasonably accurate template of that vehicle.

While we have not had an opportunity to test each vehicle wrap template system, we have used many of them. So you can learn from our wisdom… er, mistakes. Digital artist should be cautious of a few things before rushing into production with a vehicle template based car wrap. Many of the templates are not 100% accurate so artists should take measurements from the vehicle prior to production to insure that the template measurements are correct for the vehicle in question. Most instructions within the template systems themselves advise this (for those of us who do not read instructions.)

In many cases a designer may be faced with a vehicle in which a template does not exist. In this case designers needs to be able to properly set up the art at scale using only measurements from the vehicle itself. Many shops follow a relatively simple workflow for this. Since we work mainly in Adobe’s Photoshop CS3 for designs we will describe the process using photoshop terms, but there is no reason this process will not work in other design programs with minor modifications. It should also be noted at this time that this is not the only procedure available to accomplish the same end. There are many ways to get to where we’re going, maybe we’ll get into other ways to design without a template in future editions.

It should be noted that the following tutorial is based on how we have set up our vehicle wraps. We use Macs, a couple of MacBook Pros and Mac G5′s running Adobe’s Creative Suite CS3 Design Premium. I generally like to give Adobe a little while before I upgrade so all the kinks can be worked out of new versions. We will be upgrading to Adobe CS4 shortly.

FILE SETUP

New file setup for vehicle wrap in photoshopWe design car wraps by sides. We lay out the drivers side first. This is the main impact area of the truck or car and therefore sets the design tone for the rest of the vehicle. To begin we usually take copious amounts of measurements on the vehicle. I will then go to Photoshop and open a file.

Designers of vehicle wraps often differ in the following, so read through this and choose a workflow process that works for you. Many designers choose to set up their photoshop file at 100% scale and at final print resolution. At the very least the file must be at a proper scale for the vehicle in question. Be sure to leave some bleed area to compensate for installation. Truck Wraps and Car Wraps differ from Trailer Wraps and Box Truck Boxes in the fact that we tend to give a bit more room in the art for stretching around the edges during installation on a car and truck wrap.

Depending on the size and capabilities of your computer system you may choose to increase the ppi or pixels/inch. We generally work at 72-150 ppi at 100% scale with good resolution photos and have not had any issues. (Photo resolution is a good subject for another post.) Bottom line is to use the highest ppi or the largest scale you can get away with for the computer you are using.

USE GUIDELINES

guide setup for car wrap file in photoshopguides for truck wrap with shape in photoshopUse guidelines to place in the locations of body panels so you will know where the main areas of the design need to fall. Be sure to keep major design elements well clear of troublesome areas on the vehicle body.

FINISH DESIGN

Then finish your design. As I said earlier at my shop we design one side at a time so once the design for the Driver Side of the vehicle is done we start the passenger side design. There is no need to recreate the entire design again. Simply save the drivers side, then do a “Save As” and name it whatever your file name should be and save it. Then rearrange your guides, flip some layers so they are correctly oriented for the passenger side and rearrange the text layers.

final photoshop art with guides

Then using the above as a reference create files for your hood, tailgate and rear window. ( Side windows can be created in the RIP software using the driver and passenger side art.)

Always save all files as photoshop files so you can manipulate them when you need to. You never know when a client will come back two years later and want the phone number or tag line changed.

Then save files in a format compatible with your RIP software and print away.

One of the most important things to keep in mind when designing a vehicle wrap is to be aware of the full process throughout. Don’t make decisions in the beginning that will make the installation difficult in the end. Try to make things easy throughout and you will be alot happier with the final result.

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  1. I’ve been looking for a site like this, keep it up!

  2. mars says:

    Thank you for such a helpful article.

  3. Jorge Mabarak says:

    I specialize in preparing and imaging auto wraps. If you were to bring me a wrap layout layered in Photoshop I would really annoyed and think of you as a hack! Use Illustrator! If you don’t have a template take general measurements and draw a simple outline and keep it on a separate layer. Make sure your design gives plenty of room for play and at least 8 inches of bleed. Never use Photosop to layout objects that could be done in vector form. PLEASE!!!

  4. Josh says:

    Jorge, that’s all good and well, but sometimes if the vehicle you are designing a wrap for is too big on a 1:1 scale it WILL NOT FIT ON THE ARTBOARD in Illustrator! I prefer vector myself, but Illustrator does have it’s limitations. You’re definitely right when you say vector or clean elements of a design should be done in Illustrator, but many clients I’ve seen want complicated photo merges on their vehicle wraps, and Photoshop is the way to go (yes, enormous file sizes and all!)

  5. WrapDesigner says:

    Great article. In reference to the illustrator comments…
    Anyone looking to do a vehicle wrap can use any software they want. I could design on my kids Wii pen tablet and print fine. If you are doing simple graphics, yes please use illustrator. If you want vibrant graphics and shading with multiple layers, use Photoshop. Illustrator can not touch the details that Photoshop can create without countless hours of gradient mesh and extra work.
    -Why not do what I do? Design all text and lineart items in illustrator and layer the vector smart objects Into your Photoshop file for clarity. This works in Ai,PsCS2-CS5. It’s actually quite easy, just copy your vector item while in Ai and move to Ps and paste. Choose ‘as a smart object’ and boom. Now you scalable vector art in a controllable raster resolution environment.
    I’d be interested to see this ‘Jorges’ portfolio post installation and how creative he actually is. I’ve been doing wraps for years and 98% of them came from Photoshop finalized files and the ones from Ai always looked worse.

  6. anyone know where i can find a template for a 1989 fleetwood bounder rv online?

  7. JPG Hawaii says:

    Great post!

    We use both illustrator and Photoshop when designing a wrap.

    Different elements of the design are best created in the programs designed to accommodate them.

    As far as making the templates for vehicles, guidelines are key n

    We measure the vehicle, then take a picture of each panel holding a 1 ft ruler at the same distance in the pix as a reference.

    This gives the client a good idea of what the vehicle will look like when we send the proofs over.

    Whatever works for you to get the job done and clients happy.

  8. Emma says:

    Hi I’m about to tackle my first vehicle wrap for a client as an overall graphic design Generalist and I have no clue what to do. So I make the canvas 1:1 size of the car? Like several metres large and then design on to that? Or at a smaller poster sized canvas and the printers take care of size? I’ve got no clue as you can tell. I like the idea of using vector as well, it’s a lot cleaner but if it’s not traditionally what wraps are made from photoshop is the only way to go? Please help!

    • BillyD says:

      Emma,
      As you can tell there are many different ways to design a wrap. To answer you question, yes if the car is able to fit on the canvas you should design at a 1:1 ratio. Lower your ppi to a manageable size and design all sides in separate files. You can design at a smaller scale and let the printer scale it up, but it is easier to design at 1:1.

  9. Santiago says:

    I need a template for Toyota highlander 2004 could sonbody help me.

  10. This is good stuff. It cracks me up how bent people get over vector and raster! I’d love to go head to head with them (Them vector, me raster) and see who wins..
    If you guys want to know more about the vector/raster controversy.. Check out our blog http://loringstudios.com/design-and-graphics-blog/the-controversy-vector-vs-raster-graphics-for-your-vehicle-wrap.html

  11. Conceptor says:

    I would greatly appreciate all the advice i can get as far as how to train in developing car wraps on the computer. I intend to start a vehicle wrap business and could really use some help and direction particularly in developing the right skills for using all the different software available in this business.
    Thanks,

  12. ChristopherD says:

    The vector/raster debate will rage forever…Vector artists are SO snooty…lol

    @OP: Would have loved to see more samples of what you are describing. And this is the 4th article I have discovered that mentions programs and template systems but do not name products…

    So what are the best to use?

  13. MOMO says:

    hi, i have a scooter and i wish to wrap it up. can the same process be used for this kind of stuff? cause it has a lot of angles and things.. model is keeway matrix 50

    Thanks

  14. Jeremy says:

    Been designing wraps for about 4 years now and I create elements in Illustrator then paste them as Smart Objects in Photoshop for final composition. I also chose to set up my PS file at 1/10 scale at 720dpi, this makes it a lot easier when using layer effects, filters, etc. If you set the file to 100% @ 72dpi sometimes the slider on the control will not go high enough to get the desired effect.

    I never use templates, instead I use photographs of the vehicle and put a 24″ magnetic ruler on there for scale. Rarely do I need to take measurements of the vehicle unless it has a lot of curves, but 75-90% of the vehicles I do are trucks & vans.

    • Sean says:

      720dpi is not possible.

      Top printing resolution is 300dpi. This is much too large for car wraps. Almost all wrap shops wrap with anywhere from 50 (don’t recommend this) to 200dpi, max. Most i’d say are around 100dpi. This is acceptable quality from the average viewing distance, and is a manageable file size.

  15. Bram says:

    @Sean:

    720 dpi IS possible, Jeremy is making a scaled 1:10 version of 720dpi. Wich means in the end the design will be upscaled x 10 (720/10 = 72dpi) Once completely merged & rasterd, you can easily upscale it without losing the PSD effects (eg. shadows, glows etc etc).

    anyways, in general: I use AI for the vector part, import add effects, blending modes in PSD.

    cheers,
    B