A Helpful Guide: How to Wrap a Car Yourself

Wrapping cars with vinyl has become increasingly popular, not only among car enthusiasts, but also regular car owners such as ourselves. 

To wrap a car yourself, you’ll need time and patience. This is not a quick project. Vinyl wrapping requires precision and slow and meticulous workmanship. You will be taking parts off your car, so also make sure you can spare it for the duration of the project. 

Car wrapping vinyl is a durable and pliable film that can stand up to general scratches and bumps. Depending on the manufacturer, some films can last as long as three years or longer. 

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Vinyl is sought-after due to the fact that the medium is very versatile, ranging in color, finish and texture. Finishes available on the market are High Gloss, Satin Finish, Matte and Metallic. 

Some manufacturers offer car wrapping vinyl in over 80 colors, so there’s one bound to be what you’re looking for. Textures or effects like carbon fiber or color-changing metallics are also available.

Be sure to research the vinyl type to make sure it’s right for the paint finish on your car. If you have aftermarket paint on your car, some types of vinyl may not be suitable. You should also read the reviews for the vinyl and consider your purchase from a reputable manufacturer. 

Preparing the car is an important step. It has to be thoroughly cleaned even the smallest speck of dust will be noticeable under the vinyl film. Dents, gashes and scratches should be filled in and sanded smooth. It should blend seamlessly with the car’s lines. 

The vinyl wrap tools you use are key to a successful wrap. You’ll need:

excel detail knives and blades

The basic steps for car wrapping are as follows. Clean the car and let it dry. Some experts recommend taking the vehicle to a car wash and drying in a garage overnight.

Prepare your workspace that includes the floor area where you’ll be working. It should be dirt-, dust- and debris-free so that none of it ends up on the car and under the vinyl. 

You will need to remove components like lights, door handles and decals. Each car is different. Research these techniques and tips before you start. 

Pre-cut vinyl for each of the surfaces to be covered. Pieces should be larger than the surface area of the car you’re covering so that the edges are wrapped and there’s enough to wrap under each part. There are companies out there offering vinyl sheets in the sizes you will need for each part of the car, like the hood, doors, etc. 

Familiarize yourself with the instructions for the vinyl you purchased. Some require additional steps, like pre-stretching with a heat gun, before applying to the car surface. Some shrink more than others, so consider this as well when pre-cutting your pieces. 

Recruit a friend or two to help with applying vinyl to all large areas like the roof, hood or bumpers. Or invest in vinyl wrapping magnets. These are specifically designed for this industry, have a strong hold and help to keep the material in place and off the ground. 

You’ll have to remove the liner and carefully position each piece. The area should be entirely covered with excess around each edge of the car part. The vinyl is sticky, but for a permanent hold, it has to be heat-set with the heat gun. This is to your advantage as you can adjust and reposition as needed and then get rid of the air bubbles or wrinkles.

excel knives and vinyl wrap

Speaking of air bubbles, they’re unavoidable sometimes. Using the air release tools is better than using a knife, as demonstrated by Justin Pate from The Wrap Institute.

By using the smallest awl, like the 0.030-inch point, the puncture is minimal in size yet effective in air removal from under the vinyl. When the puncture area is reheated, it will close up. 

Start in the middle of each car part and work your way to one side. The heat gun, squeegee and knife are the tools you’ll be using the most. Heat a small section and smooth out and repeat. For the ridges and narrow details, like the headlight cavities, using the thumb also works. Cut less than you think you’ll need to cut off and do not overstretch the material. Work it slowly and don’t force a fit. Only when you have covered everything up to the edge of your car part and the vinyl is heat-sealed can you cut off all excess material.

The quality of the hobby knife and blade you use is important when cutting and trimming the vinyl. You don’t want to put all that work in carefully stretching and smoothing a large panel only to shred the edge with a dull blade. Start with a fresh blade and have replacement blades ready to change out right away. 

Small components like door handles tend to have many recesses, ridges and other details that will require manipulation of the vinyl and tactical precision tools. Stretching the material a bit at a time, trimming away small pieces and slashing the material millimeters at a time is key to precision. Good quality tools and blades will help form the vinyl in the smallest spaces.

Stainless steel tweezers have become a very useful tool for car wrapping professionals. They make it easier to pull, hold or manipulate vinyl in narrow areas like door handles or hard-to-reach surfaces like the underside of vents. Check out our wide assortment today.

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If wrapping a car still sounds like a bigger challenge than you’re ready for, practice on smaller objects first, like a keyboard or a laptop.

As with any hobby or interest, practicing makes perfect and great tools make it easier. 

Good luck!