Vehicle Wraps and Hard Proofs

Decades ago, (vehicle wraps at that time were called “custom paint”), if you were going to have a job designed and produced, the only way to see what the final product would look like was by having a hard, tangible proof made. In the 50’s and 60’s (the Mad Men era), these were hand drawn comps by the artist. Eventually, color keys (four layers of colored acetate on top of each other) became prominent and then MatchPrint composite proofs. However, these were time consuming and expensive. Once high quality ink jet printers came onto the scene, proofing became faster and cheaper for the client.

Then we entered the age of the Internet. Suddenly, designers could send electronic proofs to their clients and get instant feedback. The production process started moving at light speed now that proofing was instantaneous.  What once used to take weeks to get a job through the design, proofing & production phases could now be accomplished in days, sometimes hours!

The Problems With Soft Proofing

Because of this, we’re all better for it, right? Not exactly. The problem with electronic proofing is that, although it is a good representation, there is one key area in which it falls short. Color. Relying on a soft proof (the term used for electronic proofing on a monitor) is one of the easiest ways to make sure that your job, whether it be a vehicle wrap or a printed paper piece, comes out wrong. Each monitor displays color slightly different, so what the designer sees and what the client sees will be different. Monitors are subject to environmental conditions, the color can change depending on the angle that they are viewed from or surrounding light.

Another pitfall of monitors is the color space. Monitors work in RGB (red, green, blue) colored light, while many printers work with CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black) pigmented inks. In short, what this means is that monitors can produce a whole lot more colors than what most wide format and offset printers can. In designing vehicle wraps, designers have an option of setting up a file as RGB or CMYK. Most designers like to use RGB as it helps to keep file sizes down (vehicle wrap files regularly reach 2GB and beyond) and allows more flexibility with effects used in Photoshop. So the color on the screen is going to be a lot more vivid than what will print out on the vehicle wrap.

Vehicle wraps have to be tough and last. In order for them to have a lifespan beyond 3 months, a clear laminate is applied after printing to protect the printed vinyl and produce the desired sheen; gloss, lustre, matte. Even though this laminate is clear, it does have a slight color cast to it. The color of the laminate causes a color shift of the colors underneath. This is usually not noticeable, however, neutral grays can shift dramatically upon lamination. In addition, each sheen can shift the colors in it’s own way. So even a printed sample of a vehicle wrap is not accurate unless it is laminated.

a mockup proof of a six pack of beer with three bottles

Mustang Rt. 66 Proof Mockup

Packaging (boxes, beverage carries, etc) presents another challenge for soft proofing. Relying on a soft proof can make it difficult to envision how the overall package will look once it’s printed, folded and glued. Two pieces of art that may be next to each other on the final package may be on opposite ends of the flat artwork when viewed on a screen. It’s difficult to see the relationship between the artwork on adjacent sides.

When working on a project, it is wise to ask for a color proof before final production. Sometimes the project is small enough that it does not warrant it, i.e. business cards, postcards, etc. At other times though, if it is a large scale project, a vehicle wrap, long run print job or something that is intricate, like a package design, a final, color proof is essential to making sure the design comes out the way you think it will. At Gearworks Media, when proofing vehicle wraps, we print out one or two sections of the wrap at 100% and then laminate the actual vinyl material to assure color accuracy. We also have the ability to print out a full-scale packaging design and assemble it to provide an accurate mockup of the final product. These things may add a little more time and effort to our projects, but we feel that it is worth it to ensure that the clients expectations are met or exceeded.

Posted on by Jeremy in Design, Vehicles, wraps

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