A question that is asked frequently when comparing paint to vinyl is, “Will vinyl film hold up in the elements?” In the Northeast, the extremes of winter cold and harsh road salt are the main cause for concern. In the South, it is the fear of constant exposure to the beautiful, warm sun. (Can you tell I’m from the northeast?)

“Will vinyl film hold up in the elements?”

In 95% of the continental United States, a graphic on a vertical surface (a side of a bus) is warranted to last 7 years using the correct makeup of industry standard materials and premium printer inks. That means no fading, cracking, or peeling of the final installed graphic. And, yes, that warranty includes labor! For graphic manufactures to offer this special 7-year warranty, material manufacturers certify the printer’s standard process, inks, and materials with an annual audit. Without that certification, the finished graphic is not warranted at all by the material manufacturer and relies on the individual  graphics manufacturer to offer a warranty.

Photo By Trevor Logan Jr.

After the graphics are printed, it’s essential that the ink layer be protected. We always recommend using an overlaminate. Liquid laminates and clear coats are okay too, but they can make the installation and removal of graphics more challenging. An overlaminate protects the rich colors and unique designs from the harsh rays of the July sun in Florida and in Texas as well as the corrosive, dirty sand and salt that melts the snow and ice in New York and Ohio.

Since we can’t apply sunscreen to a bus wrap to completely stop the effects of UV rays, let’s talk about keeping the dirt, salt and sand off. We always recommend referring to the vinyl film manufacturer’s specification since each material may require a different cleaning process. If using industry standard materials, you can wash and use cleaners like you would a high-quality painted vehicle. The cleaning agent being used should have a pH value between 3 and 11. 

We recommend hand washing but are very aware that this is not realistic for a public transit fleet. When using pressure washers or brush type washers, it’s important to know that graphics not installed properly will have an increased risk of edge lifting and premature failure. Therefore, it’s very important that when installing, proper install techniques are used. For example, rear facing seams and re-squeegeeing all edges for the best adhesion possible.

Our installers preparing the vehicle for installation. 

Tar, oil and diesel stains can be hard to remove using the above standard cleaning methods. For those types of stains, we recommend using STG Gone or another citrus based cleaner followed by an immediate wash. Don’t panic if the stain doesn’t disappear after the first scrub. Some harsh stains may take a few rounds of STG Gone or may need an additional solvent cleaner to fully remove the appearance of the stain.

While special considerations must be made when it comes to material choices for certain applications, generally you can expect a well-maintained transit vehicle graphic or wrap to last 10 years in any condition. Have you ever experienced fading, cracking or peeling of a bus wrap or graphic? Tell us about it in the comments!

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