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Installing Vehicle Graphics in Cold Weather

Tips for Installing in Warm Weather
In hot conditions‚ film stretches and distorts more easily‚ the adhesive becomes more aggressive‚ repositioning is more difficult and the film may tend to wrinkle.

A substrate’s surface temperature should not exceed 90° F. Check your film’s instructions for minimum and maximum temperatures. (If a dark-colored vehicle is sitting directly in the sun in 90° F heat‚ its surface temperature could reach as high as 160° F.)

If graphics must be applied outdoors‚ work early in the day and apply them in the shade. Do whatever you can to get the vehicle out of the hot sun.

In a hot and humid climate‚ there’s condensation in the morning so installers usually do not start applying films until at least 10 a.m.

A smooth‚ sleek‚ long-lasting graphic. It’s what you strive for with all your installations. But when the weather gets cold‚ you need to take some extra care to get those stellar results.

For example‚ when you are performing a graphic installation in cold weather‚ allowing enough time before and after graphic application is critical. Ideally‚ plan on 48 to 60 hours from start to finish.

It’s also important that the vehicle be completely clean. It should be cleaned in a car wash with detergent only (no wax or spot-free rinse) before it arrives at your shop to minimize the time you will need to clean it and prepare its surface. The vehicle (substrate) should be acclimated indoors for 24 hours to thoroughly dry and warm up before the application takes place. (A substrate coming in from the cold will likely sweat.)

For installation‚ the ultimate temperature-controlled environment is 70° F (21° C) with 50 percent humidity. For best results with films recommended for vehicle wrapping‚ always apply when the air and vehicle surface are both above 60° F (16° C). When films are applied below the minimum application temperature:

  • They are not able to maintain the elevated temperatures required for stretching (films will cool too quickly).
  • The initial bond of the adhesive may be insufficient to ensure the film stays adhered.
  • Moisture may condense on the vehicle surface if its temperature is below the dew point.
  • The film may become brittle and stiff‚ and may not adhere well. When this happens‚ you have to squeegee harder‚ which may cause scratching or wrinkling of the graphic.
  • In very humid conditions‚ it may be difficult to keep the substrate dry.
When applying cut letters‚ make sure you re-squeegee after removing the pre-mask tape.

Post-heating is a critical step to reduce the internal stress in vinyl film‚ change its memory and help keep the graphic in place. In a cold temperature‚ you need to apply more heat. Adjust the heat source so the film temperature is too hot to touch – about 200° F (94° C). Move the heat source slowly across the stretched film surface. For best performance‚ press the stretched areas of film with a while the vinyl is still hot. This helps build adhesion and reduces the risk of lifting by allowing the adhesive to flow onto or into the surface.

After application‚ we recommend keeping the vehicle’s surface temperature at 60° F or above for as long as possible – at least 12 hours – before exposing it to either a cold or wet climate. This strengthens the graphic‚s bond.

Using the while the vinyl is still hot helps build adhesion and reduces the risk of the film lifting by allowing the adhesive to flow onto or into the substrate.