Reflective graphics greatly increase visibility in the dark, and are most effective for fleets that operate at night. (Photo courtesy of Visual Marking Systems)

Reflective graphics greatly increase visibility in the dark, and are most effective for fleets that operate at night. (Photo courtesy of Visual Marking Systems)

According to a study performed by the American Trucking Associations (ATA), a vehicle wrap on a typical trailer makes 10 million impressions every year. That number increases to 14 million for trailers with reflective graphics and to 16 million for local delivery vans. Another study found that fleet graphics give 101 impressions per mile traveled. With so many opportunities to get eyes on your advertising, adding graphics to fleet trucks or vans can go a long way toward boosting brand recognition.

“Vehicle wraps have the lowest cost per impression in the advertising market,” said John Duever, president of Vinyl Images and Design. “You are affordably branding your company and, with the right team of operators, you are growing your company in a very positive manner.”

But what if you’re new to vehicle graphics and advertising? Here’s your guide to getting started. Not new to the graphics game? These tips can still come in handy.

Calculating Cost

Vehicle graphics may make a lot of impressions, but the first question on a company’s mind is likely, “What is the cost?” As Duever noted, the cost per impression is typically lower than other forms of advertising. The Outdoor Advertising Association of America cites the cost per impression for vehicle wraps at $0.77 — that’s about a third of the cost of a billboard ($2.18) and a fraction of the cost of a radio ad ($8.61).

Another study conducted by 3M, which measured the advertising effectiveness of fleet graphics on 10 Snapple trucks in two major metropolitan areas, found an average daily effective circulation of 6 million passers-by exposed to each truck. Tim Boxeth, marketing manager — fleet graphics, 3M Graphics, said that makes for a very low cost per impression.

“Fleet graphics cost $.48 per 1,000 impressions and the other advertising medium options went from $3.56 to $23.70 per 1,000 impressions,” he said.

However, installing low-cost fleet graphics still requires an up-front investment. “The biggest challenge fleets face when it comes to vehicle graphics and advertising is the up-front investment,” explained Deborah Scott, president, Riveting Wraps. “The costs of wrapping a vehicle all come at once, while the benefits are accrued over the time the vehicle is on the road — typically a period of five to seven years.”

Duever said some kits could cost as low as $5 per square foot, while others using more expensive materials could run as high as $50 or more per square foot. 

“When it comes to the wrap and graphics industry, you get what you pay for,” he advised. “Do your research and go to a company that is known for its quality, customer service, and networking abilities — that is typically not the company with the cheapest prices.” 

Tim Fontana, director of fleet sales, Visual Marking Systems, estimates spot graphics (which might include a logo, company name, web address, and phone number) and installation for a 14-foot box truck might range from $300-$500 per vehicle.

Pricing will ultimately vary based on the materials used, the amount of space covered, geographic location, single color vs. full color, and the total number of vehicles to be wrapped.

Vehicle graphics are advertising, so it is important to keep the most important information: the company name and contact information. (Photo courtesy of Ciccotelli Signs)

Vehicle graphics are advertising, so it is important to keep the most important information: the company name and contact information. (Photo courtesy of Ciccotelli Signs)

Determining ROI

So what does the investment buy you? Dan Rozzo, marketing innovation manager fleet & OEM markets, Avery Dennison, said ROI can be difficult to measure. However, he cites surveys conducted by the ATA and Robinson Yesawich & Pepperdine Inc., that state 97% of individuals surveyed noticed the advertising on fleet vehicles and 98% felt the ad portrayed a positive image of the advertiser. On top of that, 29% of those surveyed said they would base a buying decision on those impressions.

Alexis Amanda, vice president of marketing, JMR Graphics, said on average, a $20,000 vehicle wrap investment buys 8.4 million yearly impressions. But while one can estimate the number of people who see vehicle graphics on any given day or year, pinpointing ROI — i.e., tying a sale to a specific impression, can be difficult.

On the upside, changes in media consumption have given outdoor advertising an advantage. As people use ad blockers online, turn to Netflix or Amazon instead of network TV, and listen to their own playlists instead of radio, consumption of traditional advertising is down. But on the road, people can’t ignore a wrapped vehicle.

“Eyeballs are hard to win these days. But out of necessity, people are still required to pay attention while on the road,” Scott said. “That means you have an opportunity to reach them with your advertising message via your Class 1-7 trucks or vans. In fact, a well-designed wrap or graphics is appreciated by the viewer as it breaks up the monotony of all the generic vehicles on the road. We are all curious about new things and want to look to see what it is about. Vehicle graphics actually provide interest and stimulation on the road.”

Duever said there are strategies fleets can employ to track leads and help determine ROI, including setting up a specific phone number or website that is only seen on the vehicles. 

“That way, if you are getting hits on the website or calls on that number you know there is only one way that your potential clients are seeing this phone number or website,” he said. An even easier way is to simply ask new clients how they heard about your company, then track those leads.

Employing bright colors can help gain impressions, especially when sticking to a more simple design. (Photo courtesy of Riveting Wraps)

Employing bright colors can help gain impressions, especially when sticking to a more simple design. (Photo courtesy of Riveting Wraps)

Finding the Right Message

When it comes to how well you make an impression with vehicle graphics, two very important elements come into play: messaging and design.

For messaging, the first rule of thumb is to keep it simple.

“Too much or ‘heavy’ copy is a huge flaw that novices can easily miss,” said Susan Stock, president, Ciccotelli Signs, Inc. “Too much copy can actually detract from the message, but the correct amount can accentuate it.”

Rozzo suggests asking yourself what the most important message is. Will the company name and/or logo be showcased, or will taglines, products, and services or a specific promotion be incorporated into the vehicle graphics?” he asked. “Simple graphics and messaging are best. While fleet graphics can generate a lot of impressions on the road, the time to view the graphics can be limited — similar to a billboard.”

Duever said, in general, vehicle advertising has about seven to 10 seconds to make an impression. “A very clear message with a logo, website, and phone number and maybe a few selling points is all I recommend to my clients for the sides of the vehicles,” he said.

While landing on just the right message may seem daunting, following a few simple rules can help:

Know the one thing you want someone to remember. Typically, your company name is the single most important takeaway.

➔ Reading is work for the viewer. “A long list of services may feel very important to you as the business owner, but consider where it fits into the priorities of a viewer,” Scott explained. Replace heavy copy with an inviting design and viewers will be more willing to read your message.
➔ Consider your own experience. Think back to the vehicles you’ve noticed on the road. What stood out? What do you remember? Keep these experiences in mind as you craft your messaging and design.
➔ Include a call to action. It’s important to include a telephone number or website so the audience has a way to contact you.
➔ Consider context. Will the vehicle be parked in a lot or on a job site? Or will it be driven in the city or on the highway? The amount of information to include is determined by how much time your audience will have to view it.

If you’re having trouble choosing one, clear message, Amanda suggests highlighting what makes your business stand out.

“For example, a plumbing company that promises 24-hour service may have a graphic containing a cartoon plumber holding a wrench to create a visual cue, as well as the business name, telephone number, and the fact that they’re a 24-hour service boldly announced,” she said. “Smaller lettering may announce other information such as service guarantees, but the main message should be focused on easy and quick understanding of the business’ primary message.”  

For trucks in particular, identifying a targeted message is even more important, since there may not be much real estate on the cab to advertise.

“Get creative as where to put a website or your phone number,” Duever suggested. “Front fenders and under-door fuel tanks are often overlooked for these items.” 

Vehicle graphics can offer 101 impressions per mile traveled, and at a significantly lower cost per impression than billboards and radio advertising.  (Photo courtesy of Avery Dennison)

Vehicle graphics can offer 101 impressions per mile traveled, and at a significantly lower cost per impression than billboards and radio advertising.  (Photo courtesy of Avery Dennison)

Creating a Design

Just as you have to make careful choices about which words to use, it’s just as important to make smart decisions about how they are portrayed. For a wrap to be effective, the audience needs to be able to read it quickly and absorb the message easily. Amanda said using large, bold lettering and color-contrast can promote readability. “Use an easy-to-read font,” she suggested. “Balance negative space with the most pertinent information and attention-grabbing graphics.”

As Stock said, “Beautiful vehicle lettering pays for itself. It is ‘marketing on the move.’”

The other graphics used can also make or break the readability of your message, as can the location of your messaging.

“If you get too busy with the design it could take away and distract your potential clients from your message,” Duever said. “I recommend putting more information on the rear of branded vehicles, as people have more time to read your message while sitting in traffic or following your branded fleet vehicle.”  

As with messaging, Rozzo said the simpler, the better when it comes to graphics. “While incorporating full wraps, keep in mind that your message could get lost if the graphic is too busy,” he said. “If someone looks at your graphics and doesn’t know what you do, will they understand from viewing your vehicle?”

At the same time, Fontana said an “attention grabbing” design doesn’t mean it has to be busy. “Be creative with the design,” he recommended. “Create an eye-catching, memorable design so your fleet stands out. Make each side different to really stand out.”

And as with any large-format design such as those utilized on van sides or trailers, using vector art and high-quality images is integral for optimal appearance.   

Choosing the Right Materials­­

Vehicle wraps consist of three layers: vinyl, laminate, and adhesive. The main choice buyers must make is the type of vinyl to use. “For fleet vehicles, we recommend using a quality vinyl and laminate that will last five to seven years,” Fontana said. “There are premium vinyls that are typically used more for personal vehicles, color change, etc. that we would not encourage using for a fleet for best ROI.”

Three types of vinyl are traditionally used for vehicle graphics: calendared, cast, and reflective.


Graphics installer Justin Pate once compared calendered vinyl to pizza dough: it starts out as a ball and is rolled to a flat shape. As calendered vinyl is exposed to the elements, it will shrink a bit, leaving a small amount of adhesive behind similar to a pizza crust.

“If you have graphics on your fleet and there is a small outline of glue around the graphics, chances are they are made of calendared materials,” Duever said.

Calendered films are “thicker” and can be easier to install because of the stiffer nature of the material. “This type of vinyl works well over flat and simple curved areas but should not be used over complex curves,” Rozzo noted.

Calendared vinyl is typically more affordable, but doesn’t last as long as other options (one to five years).


Cast vinyl is more like pancake batter. The vinyl starts out as liquid and is poured into a thin, flat shape. Cast material is thinner than calendared and doesn’t tend to shrink.

“Cast vinyls are high-performance films typically used for vehicle graphics that will be in place long term and offer conformability over rivets and complex curves to give a ‘paint-like’ appearance,” Rozzo said.

Cast films cost more, but they also last longer (up to 10 years). “If you are looking for longevity and the highest quality vinyls on the market, there is no substitute for a cast film,” Duever said.


Reflective material is best for vehicles used at night that need to be highly visible in the dark. While they greatly increase the visibility of graphics at night, two reasons make them the least-often used material: the majority of commercial vehicles are used in the daylight and the cost can be prohibitive. Reflective material can be double or triple the cost of cast film. “An example of reflective films would be the graphics you see light up on a police car or fire truck,” Duever said. “If it is good enough for our first responders, I can assure you it is good enough for your fleet.”

Ultimately, the choice of material will depend on how the vehicle is used, the environment it operates in, and the conditions it is exposed to. No matter what, Amanda said it’s important not to skimp on materials. “The quality of the wrap can impact the audience’s perception of a business’ attention to detail,” she said.

Installing Vehicle Graphics

Installation is a key component, as it can determine the quality and longevity of the final product as well as how long your trucks are out of service.

Environment—The environment in which an installation occurs has a major outcome on the final product. An installation facility should be:

➔ Indoors, clean, and dust-free, since dirt particles cause bumps under the graphics.
➔ Temperature controlled, to ensure the correct amount of pliability of the wrap.
➔ Cognizant of weather and vehicle temperature. If the outdoor temperature is too hot, vehicles need to be cooled down before installation. The same goes for cold vehicles that must be warmed up. When conditions are too hot or too cold, graphics won’t adhere correctly, which in turn could add significant time to the installation.    

“The best companies receive vehicles the evening prior to installation so they can put them inside to acclimate to the correct temperature,” Scott said. “They take time to perform a multi-step cleaning process prior to applying the graphics. They keep a clean, professional environment to ensure cleanliness of the vehicle throughout the installation process. Once the graphics are applied, it is ideal for the vehicle to be maintained at the same temperature for another 24 hours for the adhesive to set.”

­The time it takes to install graphics depends on the size of the vehicle and graphics, but generally falls between one and three days.

“For example, a decal kit may include a logo, product images, website, phone, and unit numbers, which can be applied quickly, whereas a full wrap may take several days to install,” Fontana said. “Using quality materials with proper installation using certified installers will ensure your vehicles will stay on the road longer because it’s done right the first time.”

Amanda suggests wrapping fleet vehicles in waves to avoid having too many out of commission at one time.
Although fleets must be conscious of downtime, installation shouldn’t be rushed. “Sometimes your fleet is the first impression people have of your brand, so make sure you give the installer enough time to do a perfect job so your vehicle branding represents your company,” Duever said.

While installation may seem inconvenient, Scott said it is a short wait compared to the long-term benefits of vehicle advertising.

Making Graphics Last

Once your graphics are installed, taking proper care of them can extend their longevity. “Like a custom paint job, vinyl wraps need to be properly cared for; if they are not, it could lead to premature failure or stains on the vinyl surface,” Duever said.

Proper maintenance practices include:

➔ Washing the vehicle once a week, and avoiding strong chemicals and waxes at all costs. Many manufacturers sell wrap care kits, which can extend the life of the wrap.
➔ Cleaning off-road debris like salt and ice quickly to avoid scratches and scuffs.
➔ Parking trucks indoors when possible to protect them from the elements and damaging UV rays.

Because vehicle graphics represent the face of your company, consider replacing them when color fade, peeling, bubbling, scratches, and scuffs compromise their appearance. Driving with damaged advertising can negatively impact a company’s brand.

Scott reminds truck owners that visible identification lends credibility to a business. “It demonstrates accountability and a willingness to stand behind your name,” she said. “Your vehicle graphics can either help you build a differentiated, impenetrable brand or the lack of graphics can leave others in doubt about your intentions or legitimacy as a business.” 

New and Unique Approaches to Vehicle Graphics

While full wraps, partial wraps and door logos are some of the most popular forms of graphics/advertising, they aren’t the only options available. Others include:

➔ Paint replacement films. “Paint replacement films are the newest craze to hit the commercial fleet market,” said John Duever, president, Vinyl Images and Design. “When these films are paired with digital prints or logos they make a massive visual impact with a very custom feel.” Paint replacement films come in a wide range of colors, from traditional hues to wild metallic colors to color-changing and more. They are available in matte, satin or gloss finishes. 
➔ Ceramic coating. Ceramic coating can be added to graphics packages to help keep vinyl clean. Simply put, ceramic coating makes the vinyl surface smoother so dirt and water have nothing to latch onto.
➔ Wrapping non-traditional areas. Some fleets have wrapped the booms of cranes or boom trucks and outriggers on large tow trucks.
➔ Colored cast vinyls with overlaminate protection. “These are becoming popular as they offer more depth of image of the graphic (DOI), greater ease of installation, custom corporate colors for partial to full vehicle wraps, as well as many different trendy effects/finishes, i.e. matte, matte metallic, brushed, carbon fiber, satin, pearl, etc.,” said Dan Rozzo, marketing innovation manager fleet & OEM markets, Avery Dennison.
➔ Changeable graphics. An opaque color film is applied as a permanent base, and a short-term “changeable” vinyl and adhesive system is created. The short-term graphic is overlayed on top of the permanent film and can be changed out to highlight a seasonal product or promotion.


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Staff Writer


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