Back to the Basics

Many of our past articles have been about how to “take your wrap to the next level” and highlighted some of the more complicated or “advanced” concepts for laying down a classy camouflage vinyl wrap. While those are all still quite relevant and useful, they do tend to brush by some of the basic steps that you should be aware of when you’re working with camouflage vinyl (or any vinyl graphics, for that matter). I can’t promise you that by simply reading this little essay you’ll wind up a vinyl graphics professional, but hopefully we might be able to get you started off in the right direction! Anyway, before we dive right in and start covering everything in camo, let’s go over some of the tools of the trade.

Included with your kit, you’ll receive a standard installation squeegee, just like the ones we use here in our shop (in fact, we often grab squeegees directly from the supply for jobs here since they do have a tendency to grow legs and disappear). You’re also going to need a few things that most people have around the house and possibly a couple things to pick up from the store. Here’s the basic list:

  • Lint-free cloth(s)
  • Wax & grease remover
  • Masking/Painter’s Tape
  • Squeegee (included)
  • Small needle
  • Sharp razor blade
  • Heat gun or hair dryer (semi-optional)
  • Trusty side-kick to lend an extra set of hands (semi-optional, but recommended)

1) Cleanliness is Key. So we’ve got everything we’re going to need, what’s step one? It may seem obvious, but you’ve got to start with a clean surface! Cleanliness is all too often overlooked when some people do vinyl installs, and it really shouldn’t be. If you apply adhesive backed vinyl to a surface that is dusty or dirty, the adhesive will stick to the dust and grime, and not to the surface and it will fail. We generally start things off with a thorough once-over (twice- or thrice-over sometimes for the off-roaders bringing their trucks in!) with a power washer to knock off most of the dirt, mud, bug guts, and other such muck. After that, it’s into the garage for a deep clean to remove any further grime.

Cleaners PreviewWhen we do installs in our garage here at Camoclad HQ, we typically use one of two products to deep-clean the surfaces that are getting wrapped. For large-scale applications (vehicles, trailers, etc.), we generally use a wax and grease remover made by Dupont called Prep Sol. For smaller jobs, we’ll use Prep-Wipes from Dupli-Color. The Prep Wipes are handy because they are pre-moistened with cleaner and packaged individually for one time use. You can use whatever product you’re comfortable with really, just avoid products containing alcohol and follow the directions on the packaging. Once you’ve completed a thorough clean and the vehicle is completely dry, it’s time to start with the vinyl!

2) Overlap. For any areas of the vehicle where there will be an overlap (such as the bed, where a 5ft sheet isn’t long enough to cover the full area), you will want to start from the back of the vehicle and work forward. Highway speed honestly shouldn’t cause problems if you were to do it the other way and expose the seams to the wind, but still it’s better to just not give opportunity for issues to arise! On the same note, you’ll want to work from the bottom up as well. Think of it like shingles on a roof. We recommend at least a half-inch overlap for products, but often times up to an inch is best. See also:Hiding the Seams;” learn to mask the hardline overlaps in your install!

3) Positioning, Trimming, Taping. Before you pop the backing paper off the material, take a minute to get your sheet lined up and positioned where you want it to go. Pro Tip: Tape hinges can be done either vertically or horizontally depending on the situation! For example, with our Camouflage Accent Kits, a vertical tape hinge (going across the middle of the material from top to bottom) is much more efficient and effective than a horizontal hinge (going horizontally from side to side of the material). Each has it’s place, so think about what will work best for you in your specific situation!Make note of any trimming that needs to be done (such as cutting out the shape of a wheel well) and lock it into position by creating a “tape hinge” (basically a couple pieces of tape on opposite sides of your material holding your sheet in position) about 8 to 12″ below the top of the material. Make sure you give yourself enough material to contend with any molding or other random features that will increase the amount of material you’ll need. Now that you’re taped up into position, from the top (ABOVE your tape hinge), peel back the backing paper and use your blade or a pair of scissors to trim away the excess paper, being careful not to cut into the vinyl. Grab your squeegee, starting at your tape hinge and working upwards, slowly work the material down to the surface of your vehicle, keeping the rest of the exposed material nice and tight. Next we’ll pop off your tape and lift the bottom of the sheet up, get a hold of the top edge of the backing paper and pull it down another 8 to 12 inches and either crease it down out of the way or cut it off again. This time you’ll work from the top (where the vinyl has already been applied) downward until you reach the backing paper line again. Pull off some more backing paper, squeegee the vinyl down and repeat until you hit the bottom of the truck or the bottom of your sheet…whichever comes first!

4) Dealing with Wrinkles and Bubbles. If you run into a wrinkle or other little issue, just carefully lift the affected material back up off the surface and stick it back down. The beauty of our premium material is its ability to be repositioned several times without issue. Once you get it all laid down how you want it, go back over everything with your squeegee again to ensure a good stick.

During the course of your install, you may run into an air bubble or two getting trapped beneath the vinyl. Our premium material is equipped with air release channels that will generally allow you to push these bubbles out to the edges of the sheet. This can be a delicate process, so I’d recommend using your thumb instead of the squeegee. In some cases, you won’t be able to get a bubble to the edge of your sheet, but that’s still not a problem. Take a fine-point needle and poke a small hole in the bottom of the air bubble and simply work the air out of the tiny hole with your thumb and you’re good to go!

5) Obstructions. Dealing with mirrors, body lines, or other obstructions presents a new set of challenges. Depending on the situation, you may employ a couple of different approaches to covering over protrusions, badges, and other things that might get in your way. In many cases, something like a raised badge protrudes about a quarter inch or less, and you can basically ignore them while you work your sheet down to the truck. As you squeegee along, you don’t want to go right up against the badge at first…leave an inch or so of “un-squeegeed” vinyl around the outside. Finish your sheet, then come back and work around the badge afterwards. If you have a heat gun or a hair dryer, now would be a good time to fire that thing up! Heat the material around the badge a little bit until it softens slightly, then work the material down around the badge and into all the nooks and crannies. Once you’ve got it stuck down nice and tight and the vinyl has had plenty of time to cool down, take your blade and carefully cut away all the camo you don’t want covering your badge. See also:Bring the Heat;” learn when and how to use heat to assist in complicated areas of your install!

Going around large protrusions like your side mirrors can be a bit more difficult. For my money, since the mirrors are almost always positioned near your windows, instead of taping up a sheet and working it around the windows and mirrors, you can cut out strips from some of your sheets that are shaped to fit specific locations. Pro Tip: Instead of losing the material going over the opening of a wheel well, after you tape up the sheet you can go back and cut away the material where there’s nothing to stick to. This will save you four nice chunks of camo that you can use to wrap your mirrors, your front grill, hub caps/wheels, or even inside your truck on the dash or door handles! Or take them to your local vinyl graphics/sign shop and let them plot out some custom decals for ya!You may cut out a 28″ x 18″ piece that will cover from the back of your side window around the back of the cab or a 10″ x 28″ piece to go vertically between your front and rear windows. All my numbers here are guesstimates, so take some time and measure the pieces you need and cut them out accordingly. Many times you can salvage enough material from the wheel well cut-outs to knock out a good chunk of this patch work so keep those pieces handy!

Unfortunately, that may not always be the best solution so you have a couple of different options. In these rare cases, the first step is to go ahead and get your sheet taped up, same as before. Take a step back and see how the mirror fits into the sheet and determine if you need the sheet to surround the mirror or if you can simply work around it off the edge. If the mirror falls kind of in the middle of the sheet, take your blade and cut a plus sign shape into the vinyl large enough that your sheet can slide down over the mirror (you may need to reposition your tape hinge after this to accommodate the tighter fit). As you’re installing the sheet, you’ll just do so as normal, and squeegee the cut parts down around the mirror as the vinyl goes naturally. You don’t want to try and stretch it too much in one direction or another, so if you end up with small gaps, simply take some left over material and patch it up as necessary.

If the mirror falls toward the edge of your sheet of material, all you really need to do is cut the sheet to make room for the mirror. You can do so with a simple slit or you can go so far as to try and cut out a more sophisticated shape that will fit more snugly around the mirror…that’s really up to your judgement. Either way, you’ll do the install just as before, and patch over any gaps that might be left over when you finish.

6) Doors, Hood, Tailgate, etc. So how do we deal with the parts that open and close? Pro Tip: If, down the road a bit, you see the vinyl that’s been wrapped around an edge starting to lift or curl, all is not necessarily lost! Head down to your vinyl sign supply store or even a craft store like Hobby Lobby and pick up some seam sealer. You may extend the life of your wrap for a few more years! Seam sealer and other adhesive aids can also be used as a preventative measure for tricky spots like these, so if you’re concerned about potential lifting or edge curling, you may look into this as an option from the get-go. It’s not something we do for our wraps here, but if it’s your first time and you’re worried, think about it!You’ve got a couple options actually, so here we go! The first option is to just camo right over the gaps and then once you’re done, go back with your blade and cut the material in the gap and fold it down around to the back of your door or underside of the hood. This is probably the easiest way to go about it, but the downside is some of those gaps these days won’t leave you with much material to wrap around and, if there isn’t at least a quarter inch of material wrapped around, you could eventually experience some lifting. For wide gaps, this should work just fine, just give yourself as much material to wrap around as possible and you should be fine. The other option is to cut your sheets down to fit the width of each panel on the cab section (back of the cab, front/back doors, etc). This method will cost you a little bit of material, but you should still be able to get the job done so long as you ordered the proper kit for your vehicle. And of course you can always do a combination of these two approaches, whatever works out best! Just don’t wing it…take your time and examine what you’re dealing with and NEVER just throw out those remnant pieces! You never know when you might need just a little bit for a patch or seam!

7) The Relief Cut. By now you’re well on your way to camouflage vinyl master, but there’s still one more little technique to go over: the relief cut. With today’s ultra conformable cast vinyl, relief cuts aren’t nearly as prevalent as they were a few years ago when we were still dealing in calendered vinyl, but you will still run into a few spots where you will need to know what they are and how to make them! Relief cuts come into play when you’re going around or down into curves and rounded areas. In short, you’ll make a relief cut anywhere where there’s too much material to cover the area you’re working in. Instead of getting a wrinkle or a crease, you simply make a slit in the material long enough to accommodate the excess material. The slit generally isn’t more than 2-3 inches long, but exact length will depend on the situation. Lay down the material below the slit first, then overlap it with the top part of the cut in such a way that you’re now able to get a smooth, flat, wrinkle-free install. Places you’ll run into the need for a relief cut would be the underside of your wheel wells, certain spots on your bumpers, most side mirrors, around corners (especially rounded corners along the bottom of the vehicle), if you decide to wrap your grill or any other oddly shaped features.

8) Practice! That should get you a long way down the road to completing your first DIY camouflage vinyl wrap! Just remember: there’s no substitute for hands on practice. Our materials are about as forgiving as any ever could be, especially for beginners, but there’s still a chance you’ll run into issues of some kind. The important thing is to learn from whatever mistakes or issues you may encounter. Note why you got that wrinkle or air bubble, and then you’ll be able to figure out what to do to avoid it next time. As always, if you have questions about a specific project or just want to talk shop about installs, give us a call and talk with our installer! Also, be sure you check out our Install Videos page. Lots of great information there on several different types of installs!