If you've wrapped one, you've wrapped 'em all, right? Think again.
While the vinyl wrap application processes for cars, boats and motorcycles are relatively similar to each other, the process for wrapping airplanes is very different. Before offering this service at your shop, it's important to learn about the challenges that come with wrapping airplanes and how to stay legally compliant.
1. Learn the laws and physics of plane wraps
The first and most important aspect of custom wrapping planes is the legal implication. The typical vinyl used for cars and boats can't be used on planes, according to Rich Thompson, founder of large-format digital imaging bureau AdGraphics.
Vinyl wraps on planes must also be specially perforated. Without the tiny holes, air leaving the pressurized cabin on the plane's ascent would get trapped beneath the wrap, which can easily decrease the quality of the wrap. Eventually, the air building up beneath the wrap will become too much for the material to handle and will dislodge from the side of the aircraft. From there, a number of dangerous situations can occur: The wrap can get sucked into the plane's engine or fall thousands of feet down to earth. If it should hit a person, a car, a house or anything else, it would cause severe damage, injury or even death.
In addition to the perforated vinyl, it's important to stay away from film laminate. Even if you use the right type of wrap, this laminate will defeat the purpose by closing those small holes up. Instead, seek out a liquid laminate approved for use on aircrafts.
2. Consult with aviation professionals
To ensure you do everything correctly when wrapping planes, it's a good idea to consult with professionals who are familiar with aircraft. Before getting started, ask your customers to get in touch with their engineers; most should have a Designated Engineer Representative. Ask the DER to sign off on your custom wrap idea before getting started.
If your job includes wrapping moving parts, it's important to get an inspector's input because you'll need to remove these pieces from the plane before wrapping them. The inspector should review your wrap job before reassembling, said Bud Newton, sales and marketing director for Plane Vinyl.
Having an aviation engineer and aircraft inspector on staff or contract is also a good idea. This will give you a consistent resource to turn to for every custom plane wrap that comes your way.
3. Atmosphere makes a difference
If you've never wrapped a plane before, every wrap job you've done has one thing in common: It's intended to stay on earth, where the temperature and air pressure are fairly consistent.
This is not true once planes reach cruising altitude. The temperature at that height is commonly well below zero, typically between -40 and -70 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica. Additionally, planes fly at speeds of between 220 and 500 miles per hour, according to Presidential Aviation. The drastic atmospheric changes planes go through every time they take flight puts extreme stress on the wrap job. It's crucial that the material stays intact and stable through it all. The normal vinyl wrap used on cars or boats won't do.
Getting the right material, however, isn't enough. You also need to know how to properly apply plane wraps so they stay put. Using the right tools will help you create a quality wrap job. A heat gun like the Proheat STC Heat Gun from Master Appliance is an excellent first step. It measures the surface temperature using lasers and helps you precisely aim the heat where it's needed most.