The vehicle wrapping market is on the increase with custom ‘wrap jobs’ gaining in popularity amongst both private owners and business owners. As popularity increases, so too does the market. Some estimates state that the car wrapping market will be worth as much as 10.8 billion dollars by 2025.

With the key players in the industry vying for trade and the edge over the competition, it’s starting to look like wrap jobs might be around for a while to come.

Here, we look at some of the specifics of vehicle wrapping and investigate the size of the car wrapping market in the United States, both personal and commercial.

The Size of the Industry

In 2017, Expertise, an New York run company that aims to curate lists of reliable service providers, surveyed 2042 wrap providing companies in New York alone, (interestingly, of those 2042 companies, Expertise could only recommend 9).

With those kind of numbers, it is easy to see why Grand View Research, an independent market research firm, notes that North America was the largest market for automotive wrapping in 2015. They also estimate that the market in North America will be worth as much as 10.8 billion by 2025. A huge leap from the estimated 1.62 billion in 2015.

According to their most recent analysis report on the automotive wrap industry, which can be found here.

They said,

“Growing sign & graphics industry, low cost, and increasing demand for mobile advertising are expected to propel market growth. In addition, modernization of consumer lifestyle coupled with rising demand for personalization of cars is anticipated to have a positive impact on the market.”

In 2015, wrapping of ‘light duty vehicles’, such as cars, small SUV’s, and the like made up just over 49% of the figures, dominating the market share.

As wrapping gains in popularity, the market advances significantly, both in terms of materials and technology. Key industry players aim to facilitate mass production and low costing products. This advancement should lead to flexibility in designs and in manufacturing ease as leading market manufactures race to meet changing consumer demands. It may also translate into lower costing wraps for both the home and business consumer.

Of the key manufacturers, Avery Dennison Corporation, Arlon Graphics LLC, 3M Company, Kay Premium Marking, Ritrama S.p.A, Orafol Group, and Hexis S.A, are all looking into new products and new means of manufacture to gain the edge over the competition.

Other research into the growth rate of the automotive wrap industry appears to back-up the market projections made by Grand View Research. However, reports such as this one from 2016 published by 3Dom would point to the United Kingdom being the fastest growth area over the U.S., if not the largest market.

In the United States estimates of the exact number of companies offering car wrapping are hard to come by. One group of researchers found that there are 3403 business offering automotive wraps. However, given the saturation of wrap companies available in New York alone, as set out in the Expertise reports, there is reason to question that figure.

Perhaps it is safe to hypothesise that there may be many more companies that offer automotive wrapping as an element of their overall business, and are not therefore counted as purely automotive wrapping businesses.

That’s a Wrap – What Car Wrapping Actually Is

Car wrapping is the process of applying large sheets of a thin vinyl film to the surface of a vehicle to change its appearance or color. Wraps are also frequently used by vehicle owners who wish to maintain the original paint job on their car, as the wrapping acts as a form of protection.

As these wraps can be easily custom designed and printed with all sort of graphics, advertising and business customers also make up a large amount of the vehicle wrapping trade.

The two main types of vinyl wrap that potential car wrap customers are offered are called ‘cast’ and ‘calendared’. While these terms are frequently used to differentiate between the quality of the vinyl film, they actually refer to the manufacturing process instead.

What’s in a Wrap?

Both cast and calendared wrap start out the manufacturing process in the same way; a mixture of polyvinylchloride polymer, PVC, and other raw materials like plasticizers, pigments, and additives, are churned together. The difference in the two options comes from the means by which they are finished.

Calendared wraps are formed from a fine powdered mix called the dry blend, which is subjected to an extrusion process and then high heat rollers, which flatten and warm the strips of film. This process is called calendaring. Cast film, on the other hand, is crafted from a wet mix of raw materials, called organosol.

Once thoroughly mixed the organosol is then cast, in measured amounts, upon a sheet which takes the mixture to something akin to an oven, to dry out and evaporate the solvents.

Cast films have long been considered the gold standard and are said to be longer lasting and more durable. Most private customers who wished to change or maintain the appearance of their cars opted for cast, while short-term advertisements on business vehicles were often done in calendared wrap.

However, as the car wrapping industry has progressed, so too have the manufacturing processes that produce calendared wrap. Now, some calendared wraps offer high-performance in much the same way as the cast wraps do. Although it is still true that a longer-term finish can be acquired through cast wrap which, when done right, can last up until 12 years. Calendared wrap, on the other hand, offers about 7 years of durability.

As imaginable, a lot of the quality comes down to the grade of the raw materials used and the application, not necessarily the method in which they are finished into the final product.

In terms of manufacturers, 3M is currently the leader of the market, closely followed by Avery.

Why Wrapping is Increasingly Popular

As we’ve seen from the descriptions above, creating a wrap is a relatively fast process, and one that can be executed by manufacturers from relatively cheap ingredients, such as PVC. This low manufacture cost means advantages for consumers, such a low cost new ‘paint job’ on their vehicle.

A vinyl wrapping job on a vehicle can be cheaper than a traditional paint job. Of course, this will depend on the service chosen: while a cheap paint job will likely cost less than a well-executed, professional wrap job, most consumers find that wrapping is a cheaper option. And often, the quicker one.

While a full automotive paint job can take a week to ten days, a full or partial wrap of the car can be completed in just two to three days. This means that owners spend less time without their car, which can impact overall costings, particularly if the owner doesn’t have an additional vehicle and is paying for public transport or other transportation costs. Again, time scales for wrap jobs are dependent on the provider.

Customers chose car wrapping for several reasons, as noted before, one reason can be to transform the appearance of a vehicle. If that is the reason for wrapping, then the car owners are offered a multitude of colours and styles, and with prices generally cheaper than a new paint job, it means that the owner can update their vehicle more frequently. And since the vinyl wrap is made to order, a partial wrap of just one damaged section or one in need of an update, is also possible.

In this regard, wrapping beats painting in terms of time scale and affordability for private vehicle owners.

Portable Billboards

Of course, private owners are not the only consumers choosing car wrapping. Given the low cost compared to traditional paint jobs, wrapping has long been favoured by businesses who can see the benefits of having their company cars and vehicles emblazoned with advertisements, promotions, and more – they are essentially driving around portable billboards.

And at a fraction of the cost of a traditional billboard, with a far greater reach potential, it makes good business sense. In fact, the Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA) states that more than 95% of Americans are directly reached through mobile media which targets passengers and drivers. This will certainly appeal to business owners who can literally drive their own marketing campaigns.

The OAAA also say that in terms of home advertising, mobile adverts are the most effective and cost efficient, garnering around one thousand impressions per 4c outlay. This is dramatically cheaper than, say for instance, a printed advertisement in a newspaper or magazine, where the average CPM (an advertising term that means ‘cost per thousand impressions’) sits at around $40 to $80.

Let’s take a case study from ‘O’ The Opera Magazine, as an example. There, the cost of a black and white advert which could potentially reach a readership of approximately 2,436,000 runs at around 119,000.00.

This means that the CPM rate for advertisers in ‘O’ magazine is a rather lowly $50. Suffice to say, this is much less appealing to business owners than the 4c offered by mobile advertising.

So How Much Does Wrapping a Car Cost? Well…It Varies

Some of the benefits of car wrapping are evident from the above, both for private owners and businesses. So, what does a wrap cost these days?

There is, of course, not one set price per wrap, and not all cars and wrapping requirements are the same, therefore, prices will always vary. Below are some of the factors that will affect the cost of wrapping:

The current condition of the paint job

One important consideration that may increase the cost of a wrap is the condition of the paint on the car. It is a fallacy that a rusty and oxidized vehicle can be given a quick wrap and look as good as new. In fact, the vehicle may not be able to have a wrap at all if the underlying issues are not fixed first.

Likewise, paint that is peeling and chipped will often need to be fixed first, otherwise the quality of the wrap will be compromised. Any existing body issues that the vehicle has will also affect the cost of the wrap.

In short – wrapping cannot always be done in lieu of painting and body work. And if the vehicle is in poor body condition prior to wrapping, the cost of the work will likely increase.

Existing graphics

If the car or other vehicle that is to be wrapped has existing graphics, this too, will affect the cost of the new wrap. Old wraps that are 5+ years old can be tricky to remove as the vinyl will bond to the vehicle more and more the longer it is on. This bonding is less likely if the underlying paint job was in good condition, though.

Solid, commercial, or designed

The type of wrap required or desired is, along with the size of the vehicle, the main factor affecting the cost. A solid wrap is one that covers the entire body of the car, along with any extra fiddly bits like the door handles and mirrors. Solid color wraps are the kind most often requested by private owners and are mostly for aesthetic purposes. Because the detailed work required is higher, a solid wrap usually costs more than a commercial wrap.

A commercial wrap is one that has an advertising purpose. Quite often these do not cover the entire body of the vehicle but may, for instance, cover an entire side or sides. Because the work involved in fitting them is generally less, commercial wraps are often cheaper than solid wraps.

Unless, of course, there is designing work to be done. Many wrapping companies offer in-house designers at an additional cost, or partner up with graphic design firms and companies. 3M also offers a customizer program online for budding wrap designers and enthusiasts.

The shop that offers the service

As with most services, a range of options are available to consumers. Some stores that offer wrapping cost more than others, others are cheaper but may compromise on quality or are based in an area that is more expensive to operate from.

A Few Figures

Approximate quotes and ball park figures are infuriatingly hard to find online, as most companies simply state that the cost depends on the state of the vehicle.

They also note that it’s very hard to give an approximate without seeing the car.
Potential wrap customers would do well to search through online wrapping forums that are not too dated, or are from the current year to seek advice and recommendations from others.

We did manage to find a few online quotes. Although, we too will note that it’s hard to specify an exact cost for wrapping given the number of variables, and the fact that this is, at its core, a custom business.

Let’s take as an example a standard four-door sedan car with the current paint job in reasonable condition, and a solid color wrap without any additional textures, such as ‘brushed metal’ or ‘chrome’ effects – these can increase the price point by up to 4500$ more.

According to Cost Owl, a solid car wrap in cast vinyl should cost around 2000 – 3000$, with calendared wrap costing half that. However, there’s a fair amount of disparity between that and other approximates we found.

We found some estimates ranging from as little as 250$ for a DIY wrap job and others quoting up to 6000$ and more. But, the majority of published costings seem to sit between the 3000 – 4000$ mark.

One popular online tool is the computer generated quote from 3Dom.

It is very likely that these kinds of price points will drop in years to come as competition between manufacturers and providers heats up, let’s see why below.

The Future of the Wrapping Industry

Based on the independent market research that we’ve read, yes, the industry is likely to continue the current growth that it is showing.

One important thing to note about the car wrapping market is that it is closely aligned with disposable income. Customizable paint and wrapping jobs are luxurious and discretionary products and services.

IbisWorld, another independent research group, notes that “as the economy continued to improve over the five years to 2017, industry demand followed suit. Per capita disposable income has increased steadily over the past five years, benefiting the industry both directly and indirectly.”

Other research groups point to the strength of the industry being reliant on new cars being both produced and sold, therefore creating new clients.

Should disposable income across North America decrease, it is likely to affect the industry. But given the profitability to manufacturers of vinyl wraps, it is safe to say that the key players will be keeping a close eye on national sales and likely have the advertising power to keep automotive wrapping in the consumers’ minds.

Environmental Concerns

In an ever-changing world and with the environment being a key factor behind the choices that many consumers make, how does the car wrapping business stack up?

It has been shown beyond reasonable doubt, in numerous studies, that plastic is environmentally unsafe and that our increasing use of the material can have a direct impact on human lives and health. PVC, one of the main raw materials in the mix that creates automotive wraps is resistive and durable, making it very useful.

However, those same qualities also count toward the not so desirable consequences of its use. PVC is hard to recycle, bioaccumulates, and does not degrade.

Commentators online – often the providers of vinyl wrap services themselves – are quick to point out that paint and specifically automotive paint carry a significant environmental impact too. Others are glib enough to suggest that vinyl wraps are good for the environment.

It is not impossible to produce low phthalate and even phthalate-free PVC. Take the temporary Olympic Basketball Arena that was created purely for the 2012 London Olympics as an example: It was crafted, and recycled, according to strict environmental regulations from PVC.

Given the current state of the automotive wrap industry, the innovations it is continuously coming out with, and its desire to match consumer demand, it is entirely feasible that they may produce an environmentally sound wrap. Such a product would appeal to consumers who have the environment at the fore when making buying choices.

To Wrap Up (Come On, We Had To)

The automotive wrapping industry in the United States is large and growing quickly each year, from a market that was worth 1.62 billion in 2015, to one that has been projected to be worth 10.8 billion in 2025.

The rise of this industry is driven by both private consumers and business consumers, alongside the key manufacturers who strive to meet consumer demand, and beat out the other manufacturers in the process.

The profitability and high impressions reached by mobile advertising mean that although private or home car wrapping may decrease and increase according to trends, it is unlikely that the commercial aspects of this industry will show much sign of decreasing.

For the private consumer, automotive wrapping means flexibility and an opportunity to update their vehicles’ appearance for less than the cost of a full-service paint job. The aesthetic possibilities have consumers hooked, as evidenced by the number of people using terms such as ‘vinyl car wrap’ and the like, in search engines. We predict that the industry will continue to grow in line with the standards it has been, provided disposable incomes remain steady.

Manufacturers are quick to answer consumer demand and keep the ball rolling in this industry, yet, if enough consumers were to seek environmentally friendly vinyl wraps, this could be a stumbling block for the industry. This is predicated on vast numbers of buyers demanding an alternative though, numbers that may not be likely in the decades to come. Yet, as more and more consumers turn towards ethical and environmental choices, perhaps this is a challenge that the car wrapping market will rise up to meet.

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