Wrapping Your Car Makes For A Custom Look, And You Can Do It Yourself!

Fiat Wrap. Photo: Annika Carter
Fiat Wrap. Photo: Annika Carter
Pretty As A Picture! Photo: Annika Carter
Pretty as a picture! Photo: Annika Carter

Giving your car a pretty new coat of paint can be costly; do a vinyl wrap instead.

We all know the struggle of fading paint, door dings, scrapes, and imperfections. Yet we don’t all want to spend a ton of money to get our car repainted. When I purchased my 1992 Miata in 2016, I was faced with this dilemma. The car was repainted by the sketchy used car dealership I purchased it from.

While the paint looked decent from a distance, it was already chipping in the wheel wells, and I could visibly notice color variations where the paint was applied thicker near the edges of the door panels. Not wanting to spend more than I paid for the car on a new paint job, I delved into the world of vinyl wrapping.

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Me And My Miata Before Wrapping. Photo: Annika Carter
Me and my Miata before wrapping. Photo: Annika Carter

This Wrap is not a Sandwich

You may have heard of automotive wraps or vinyl wraps on social media, and you probably have seen a wrapped car. What is a wrap? Simply put, it is a giant vinyl sticker that is laid over your paint. While they do allow you to change your car to virtually any color you can dream of, wraps also protect your factory paint, so they are becoming more and more popular in the supercar world. Because the vinyl has thickness to it, the wrap is able to absorb some of the rock chips that often appear on bumpers as a result of normal driving.

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Pre-Wrap Miata. Photo: Annika Carter

Pre-wrap Miata. Photo: Annika Carter

Car Wraps can be Fun and Easy to do Yourself

I learned about vinyl wrapping because, at the time, I was a college student and couldn’t afford the $3,500 (!) I was quoted to paint my whole car. While paying for a professionally-installed wrap can equal or exceed the price of a paint job, I learned that I could purchase enough vinyl to wrap my car for about a fifth of the price, and I was sold! By now, I have wrapped my Miata three times, and I have also wrapped both my race cars, a couple friends’ cars, and my Fiat 500 Abarth.

Wrapping a car is not a terribly difficult process, but it does require some patience, and it definitely has a learning curve. I learned mostly from CK wraps on YouTube. He has some amazing how-to videos and that’s literally how I learned! I watched countless hours of his how-to videos to learn how the vinyl behaves, and how to work around complex edges and corners. While I am far from a professional, I finally have a basic understanding of how to manipulate the film around most contours on a car.

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Therapy Via Vinyl Wraps. Photo: Annika Carter

Therapy via vinyl wraps. Photo: Annika Carter

What Kind of Vinyl do I Use?

I have used a company called Metro Restyling which carries a couple different vinyl brands such as 3M, Avery, and hexis. I also have used TinyBot. Their vinyl is  “calendared vinyl,” so it is a little bit thicker and thus a little more challenging to work with as a beginner compared to a very thin film like Avery (which I would argue is the easiest to work with), but they have some of the most amazing colors, effects and finishes! All my cars are currently wrapped with TinyBot.

While wrapping is an incredibly time consuming process (with my day job taking up most of my time, it typically takes me around a month to complete a car), I find it therapeutic!

A Work In Progress. Photo: Annika Carter

A work in progress. Photo: Annika Carter

Here are Some Items you Need if You’re Wrapping Your Car

If you are interested in entering the wonderful world of wrapping, you’ll need some tools in addition to the vinyl. You will need a sharp razor blade (I recommend having one specifically for vinyl that you don’t use on anything else), a squeegee with new felt, a heat gun, and a couple magnets. As you get more into wrapping, your arsenal of tools will grow, but these are the must-haves for your first project.

Start on an easy, mostly flat panel, such as a door or hood. Save the most complex panels, such as mirrors or bumpers, for last, after you’ve had some time to learn the vinyl. Laying the vinyl is easier with two people when you are starting out, so find a friend who can help! Most importantly, take your time!! So long as you don’t over stretch or tear the vinyl, it will return to its original shape after you hit it with some heat, so most of the time you can remediate your mistakes. Patience is key!

Do I need to Sand my Car or do any Prep?

As a final tip, if the paint on the car is extremely chipped or pitted, feel free to sand down sections prior to wrapping. While wrap will hide many imperfections, surface imperfections will still be visible. If you sand a large area, a quick coat of spray-on clear coat may be a good idea to help give the vinyl a smooth surface to adhere to.

I'M So Happy With The Results! Photo: Annika Carter

I’m so happy with the results! Photo: Annika Carter

How Long Does it Last?

While I still have plans to paint my Miata in the future, I am very happy that I have learned to wrap cars. It has allowed me to express myself with unique colors on my vehicles, and allowed me to put off the inevitable expense of painting!

Properly cared for vinyl can last for 3 to 5 years. Matte and satin finishes will last less long than glass finishes. At this point, I am so addicted to changing the color of my cars every couple years, I will probably end up covering the paint with vinyl, too! It should be noted that the vinyl does not damage the paint when you remove it unless the paint is chipping or poorly applied to begin with.

If you are interested in learning how to wrap, send me a message on Instagram, @annikacarter_. I am happy to refer you to some great online resources to learn how to wrap, as well as some great companies to purchase the material from. Happy Wrapping!!

Annika Carter has over four years of performance driving experience, both with and without professional instruction. She has driven... More about Annika Carter