The pros and cons of wrapping vs. painting your car
Until recent years, you had exactly one option if you wanted to upgrade the look of your vehicle: repaint it. But that was before the vinyl wrap became an affordable, mainstream product. Wraps were actually invented in the 1950s, but they were costly, so their use was limited to high-end vehicles. In recent years, wraps have become so popular that prices have dropped dramatically, making them a cheaper option than paint in many cases. Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of wrapping vs. painting your car.
What, exactly, is a vinyl vehicle wrap?
If you’ve seen vehicles with wild, eye-catching graphics or strangely luminous colors, you’ve probably seen vehicle wraps. They stand out in traffic. A vinyl wrap is the medium of choice for vehicle advertising because it costs much less than a custom paint job, and it offers significantly more design and finish options than paint.
But with prices so reasonable, wraps are now becoming the preferred method of “repainting” for private vehicle owners, as well. A wrap can be a solid color or a simple color scheme that looks exactly like paint to the casual eye, so even if you’re not trying to make a big statement with your vehicle, vinyl can be an affordable alternative to paint.
Car wrap or paint?
Apply vinyl or apply layers of paint?
When you’re trying to decide between vinyl and paint, the first question to ask is: How long can you be without your vehicle? This is no small thing if it’s your only transportation. Will you have to rent a car if the vehicle is in the shop for too long? Wraps and paint are applied to vehicles in very different ways, which affect the amount of time you’ll be without your ride.
Paint jobs come in a wide variety of quality and price ranges, but three things are constant:
- The old paint will need to be removed, which takes time.
- Each coat of new paint will need to dry for 8 hours or so.
- All paint jobs require multiple coats.
Some paint jobs cost less because they use fewer coats, but prep and drying processes still add to the amount of time you’ll be without your vehicle. If the paint shop isn’t busy, you may have your car back in 3-5 days for a low-cost paint job, but 1 to 3 three weeks is more common for the average paint job.
Wraps take far less time to apply than paint. Once your design is finalized, it’s usually a 3-day maximum for installation. All we have to do is wash the car, dry it, and start applying vinyl.
Removing vinyl vs. paint
One of the best qualities of vinyl is that it can be removed without damaging the paint beneath. This also means the paint that’s exposed when the vinyl is removed will look as bright as the day it was wrapped, having been protected from the elements.
On the other hand, paint is permanent, short of sanding it off. When you paint, you’re stuck with the vehicle’s appearance until you invest a significant amount of money in removing it. If your vehicle is painted with company graphics, you’ll have a tough time selling it for what it’s worth, and furthermore, do you really want a stranger driving a vehicle that has your logo on the side?
With vinyl wraps, you can apply eye-catching graphics—or just colors and patterns that make a personal statement—them remove them when it’s time to sell the car (or update the design).
The cost of vinyl wraps vs. paint
We mentioned that paint jobs come in all levels of quality, dependent on the type of paint used, application methods, and how many coats are applied. At the low end, painting a full vehicle costs around $1,000. It may fade or chip more quickly than a higher-quality paint job, but it’s affordable. A good paint job for an average vehicle will set you back between $3,000 and $10,000—not necessarily so affordable.
A full vehicle wrap typically costs between $2,500 and $5,000. For company vehicles, this kind of cost is a no-brainer because wraps also function as advertising. For personal vehicles, it’s a very economical alternative to paint, whether you go with old-school, solid colors or eye-catching graphics, which brings us to customization …
Customizing vinyl vs. paint
A custom paint job for a full vehicle obviously costs more than the $3K – $10K mentioned above. Custom paint jobs are applied by skilled artists who don’t work cheap. How much can you spend on one? Custom, metallic paint jobs on high-end sports cars have been known to run upwards of $60,000.
Wraps give you all the customization options of paint, plus many more. You can opt for metallic, textured, and matte finishes with vinyl. And you can achieve the metallic “$60K effect” for about the same price as any other wrap.
Graphics of any kind can be reproduced on vinyl, so your imagination is the limit. If you like tinted glass, you may even want to consider having the windows wrapped with perforated decals. From the inside, you’ll see a light, continuous tint, but from the outside, viewers will see any color or image you want to place there. It’s a whole new way of thinking about customization.
Maintaining vinyl vs. paint
Paint is much higher-maintenance than vinyl, across the board. Paint wears out faster if you don’t wash it regularly and cover it with a protective coat of wax. Left unwashed, auto paint takes micro particles and pollutants into its “pores,” which breaks it down over time.
Vinyl is easy to maintain: Wash it normally or just wipe it with a wet cloth. Vinyl doesn’t allow microscopic dust to embed itself in the surface, so if you miss a few washings, the vinyl will be fine.
Which is more durable, vinyl or paint?
Paint jobs vary widely, in terms of durability. A cheap paint job will be more susceptible to chips and environmental wear and may look worn and faded after only a couple of years. An expensive paint job from a professional shop can last the life the vehicle, with only minor fading from the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
Vinyl wraps last up to 10 years, depending on where you live and what kind of driving you do. Vinyl can be finished with a UV resistant coating that keeps its colors bright over the years.
Vinyl car wraps offer LOTS of design options
Let’s get to the fun part. Vinyl wraps open up a whole new world of creativity for the look of your vehicle. Again, your car doesn’t have to sport wild graphics or flamboyant text to take advantage of vinyl. How about iridescent colors that shift subtly in the sun? How about chrome accents on the mirrors? Or a black so flat that it seems to swallow light? Vinyl designs don’t have to be loud to be classy. Here are some of the very cool finishes you can choose from:
- Matte – smooth, soft, understated
- Satin – silky, sexy
- Gloss – bounce that light
- Brushed metal – techy, smart
- Carbon fiber – we’re all thinking batmobile, right?
You don’t have to wrap the whole vehicle (it costs a lot less if you don’t). It’s easy to augment the paint you already have to transform it into a more personal statement. One popular style is to wrap the hood, like the look of an oxford shoe, but it’s a car. A classy shoe car.
The point is, if you enjoy beautifying your ride, wraps give you a very large toy box to pull from.
Go ahead: touch it
Texture is part of the fun with vinyl design. Different textures take light in unique ways that can add drama or elegance to a car’s look. While vehicle paint offers virtually no textural options, vinyl brings a whole new dimension to the tactile appeal of your ride. Instead of saying, “Hands off my car!” you’ll be saying, “Come here and run your hands over this!” Think of the friends you’ll make.
Can all vehicles be wrapped?
Nope. Your paint has to be in good condition, if you plan on wrapping a vehicle. Any rough spots or imperfections in the finish will not be hidden by the wrap, and they’ll inhibit proper vinyl adhesion. If your paint is bad, you should go with that new paint job, and save the wrap for your next vehicle.