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.
We 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 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.
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.
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.