Low contact films are a popular choice because of their ease of application in warmer temperatures. But what’s the best way to install them in cooler temperatures? In order to simulate a low-temperature application, we set the temperature in our cold room to 58 degrees Fahrenheit or 14 degrees Celsius. We chose this jeep hood because although it’s mostly flat, the front corners have a tight, complex curve.
Starting the Application
Typically, we start a horizontal application like this, starting from the center of the graphic working out to the edges. Should we create wrinkles or creases like these, we will need to snap these areas up and reapply them. Installing low contact films at low temperatures can be frustrating because when we try to reposition a small part of the graphic, the entire thing disengages, which means we have to restart the application from the beginning. We also lose registration and have to realign the graphic, which takes extra time. To stop this from happening, apply a large area in the center of the hood. You can see that we have created some wrinkles around the edges of the application which need to be snapped up. But this time we’re going to first apply a little heat to the center area we just applied, which will lock it in place. Here, we will apply heat for 10 seconds, warming the graphic up to about 110 degrees Fahrenheit or 43 degrees Celsius, and reapply pressure with the squeegee. Now as I snap the film up it stops at the area that was locked in place by heat. In fact, the graphic is anchored well, which allows me to pull hard enough to create the right amount of tension to smooth out the wrinkles and be able to apply the graphic easily. Remember, we are in a cold environment, which means the film is stiffer and requires more force to create the right amount of tension. Now, we can apply the graphic out over the curves of the hood. So a quick review, we have installed this area here applied heat to the center locking it in place which allowed us to create tension here so that we could install out to the curves.
Since the film is stiffer than usual, these wrinkles need to be snapped up. If we do, the graphic will lift all the way back to the area that was locked in place by heat, creating a lot of extra work. We’re going to apply heat to this strip here to lock it in place so that we only snap up the vinyl along the curve of the hood. Then we can work the vinyl down to the edges of the hood. Once again, we are applying a few seconds of heat and pressure to this strip of installed graphics near the curves of the hood. This is just enough heat to activate the adhesive and lock it in place allowing us to continue on to the next step of the application.
The film is stiff due to the cooler temperature of the room, so wrinkles like these will continue to form. You can see, however, that there is a well-defined line at the edge of the area that was heated. The next step of the application requires tension, and we don’t want the film to lift at all. I’m putting a lot of force on the applied film and it isn’t lifting the slightest bit. Now we’re going to apply the graphic around the curved edges of the hood. This will require the same amount of heat as a warm temperature application would. All we need to do is soften the film so that it is able to be formed around the shape of the hood. Excessive heat will cause over-stretching and a possible color shift in your image. Remember to always firmly apply the entire surface of stretched film with the squeegee.
Working around the Edges
Low contact films require both heat and pressure to form a reliable, bond to curved surfaces in cooler environments. Be careful of edges that look like this. There is still a lot of tension from the stretch left in the excess vinyl, which could result in a wavy line when you trim, or eventually it could lift. We need to remove the tension in this excess film so that we can make a perfectly straight cut along the edge of the hood. But first, we need to apply heat here, above the edge. Not here, just the area above the edge. As before, locking this area of the graphic down will allow us to use the force needed to move the tension in the film away from the edge of the hood and into the excess material. Now, we will lift about a quarter of an inch (or six millimeters) of vinyl away from the edge of the hood. This film was below the area we locked down and should lift easily. Then, we will apply a little heat and immediately apply the film around the edge of the hood, with a wrap-gloved hand. So first, apply a little heat. Then apply the film around the edge of the hood with a rolling motion, while it is still warm. Now, we are ready to trim the edge. The edges will trim out perfectly straight. There is no tension left in the film to cause edge curl or lifting.
Just Add Heat
Be sure not to forget the final step of post-heating the edges. Each step of the application has been locked in place with heat, so this wrap is ready for service even though it was applied in a low-temperature environment. With low-contact films, all it takes is a little extra heat to get your installations to stay down tight.
Did you find any of the tips useful? Let us know in the comments!