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Keys to Achieving Success with Exterior Rough Wall Wraps

It's challenging to apply graphic film to rough exterior walls, but mastering this craft can help you develop a growth niche for your business. When well executed, these types of graphics can be visually striking and long-lasting.

To help ensure a successful graphic film application on rough walls, allow enough time and use the proper materials, tools and techniques.

Proper and Thorough Prep is Key

Wall surface texture – Understand what you are applying the film to, be it a finished surface (paint, varnish, wallpaper), a composite material or the bare substrate (such as brick, concrete block, stucco). Techniques for such surfaces require extra effort and time for the film to conform.

Wall surface preparation – Properly prepare the wall to rid it of dust, dirt, grease and other contaminants. Use a cleaner containing no waxes, oils or lotions. You may need to power-wash concrete block or wash it by hand with a stiff brush and detergent cleaner. Rinse thoroughly and let the surface dry for at least 24 hours.
Photo of Graphic Film Being Applied to Rough Surface
When applying graphic film to a rough surface, be sure to use consistent speed with the roller and overlap each pass by 50 percent to 75 percent to help the film conform.
Repair any existing damage so the surface is in "like-new" condition. If walls need paint, use two coats of primer followed by two coats of a high-quality semi-gloss paint. Allow at least five days for paint to fully cure – or longer, depending on the paint manufacturer's instructions. Dust the wall before graphics application. If it appears that the paint-to-substrate bond isn't strong, this is an important indication that the graphics may not perform as expected.

Test the film's adhesion – Perform a small-scale test (at least one square foot) before the complete application to discover any problems. Use the same tools and techniques you would for the full graphic, and leave it for at least one week. Then check for adhesion and removability before doing the full application. The wall's soundness will vary; a successful test doesn't guarantee consistent results for the entire installation area.

Application: Slow and Steady Wins the Race

The following steps relate to 3M's patent-pending use of heat and rollers to install wall graphics.

Position the graphic film temporarily on the substrate using masking tape. (In a good application, the texture of the wall will hold much of the film away from the surface while the installer positions the graphic.) Lift the graphic and remove the liner. Then use a heat gun and roller to seal three of the four edges, leaving the remaining edge as an escape route for air. Now begin applying the graphic.

Rates at which graphic films can be applied vary. For example, 3M™ Scotchcal™ Graphic Film for Textured Surfaces IJ8624 should be applied at two inches per second (about 50 square feet per hour), while 3M™ Envision™ Print Wrap Film 480Cv3 can be applied at three inches per second (about 75 square feet per hour). Use consistent speed and overlap each pass with the roller by 50 percent to 75 percent to help the graphic film conform.

If blisters or burns occur, make the next pass slightly faster and apply more pressure. Use an air release tool to push air out of bubbled areas. Then rework the section with the heat gun and roller.

When finished, seal the graphic's top edge with a clear silicone caulk to prevent water from running behind it. Outdoor graphics on rough walls may last for six months or more.

Removing wall graphics is very different than removing vehicle wraps. Use both hands when removing wall graphics from rough walls. Start at the top and pull down slowly at a 120 degree to 180 degree angle. Heat can help soften the adhesive and increase the film's elasticity.

Training is Key

There's no substitute for experience and proper training. Seek training opportunities to gain hands-on experience with various substrates and to learn the intricacies of the process. (For additional assistance, refer to Instruction Bulletin 5.37: A Guide to Understanding and Applying Graphics to Common Smooth and Textured Wall Surfaces). This will help you master the craft of rough wall installations.

Rough Wall Wrap Installation Video

Watch this video to see how simply and quickly 3M™ Envision™ Print Wrap Film 480Cv3 conforms to textured surfaces to create a painted-on look.