A machine that works much like a giant inkjet printer can offer a cost-effective alternative to traditional vinyl wraps for vehicles such as cargo vans and trailers, according to the distributor.

The Vehicle Art Robo (or VAR) from 21C Graphics can print full color graphics directly onto the surface of any large vehicle without using a vinyl substrate. It uses computer-controlled print nozzles mounted on a three-axis capable carriage that travels over the vehicle surface, automatically maintaining the optimum print distance from the surface for the best quality images. The user need only pull the vehicle up to the machine, which is hooked up to a Windows PC, set the print parameters, and start printing. A copy of Adobe Photoshop and a 9cfm or larger air compressor are required.

Wade Schell, CEO of Martinez, Calif.-based 21C Graphics, says the VAR could be good investment for a large over-the-road fleet or for a dealership or graphics shop. The technology is being used in Japan, and 21C is the exclusvie North american distributor of the machines.

The completed graphic is dry to the touch within one hour of printing, is completely cured in 24 to 48 hours without forced drying, according to the company. 21C says it will withstand repeated washings, road salt, grime, and UV exposure for five to ten years without fading or peeling. The life expectancy is as long as or longer than applied vinyl and is much easier to remove than vinyl. In addition, you can remove just part of the graphic, say if you need to update a phone number or if the vehicle's been in an accident, line it up and just re-paint the affected area.

The cost to create graphics using the VAR is less than half the cost of applied vinyl, according to 21C, with savings coming from reduced material costs and reduced labor costs.

More info at www.21cgraphics.com.