Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Vinyl Car Wrapping Industry
Part 2 — Training


I made hotel reservations at the Courtyard Marriott East in Ft. Lauderdale since it had excellent reviews after being recently remodeled. Plus, the hotel has a bistro serving breakfast and dinner, as well as a free shuttle which means I can leave my truck safely parked at the hotel and not worry about transportation to and from Geek Wraps University.

Since training starts at 8:00 am tomorrow (Labor Day Monday), I drove down to Ft. Lauderdale Sunday afternoon and got settled in and ready for my first day of vinyl wrapping class.

I am taking the 5-day course which allows me to earn 3M Advanced Installer Training credentials in addition to the Geek Wraps University Advanced Air-Wrangler Training certificate. I think the extra two days of training fully warrant the additional expense. Since I am already down here I might as well complete the whole training process.

DAY 1 — Vinyl Wrapping 101

Above: Kenny doing a demo.
After a good breakfast at the hotel, the shuttle driver dropped me—along with another trainee who happens to be staying in the same hotel—off in front of Geek Wraps University at 7:45.

Everyone taking the course and the instructors arrived a few minutes later and, after a few quick intros, we were given a quick tour of the facilities, which are very nice and well appointed.

Our class is comprised of six students and we all made a more formal introduction at the beginning of the classroom session, as it's customary. The classroom session lasted pretty much all morning with a very thorough intro to the business of vinyl wrapping as well as explanations about products used for different jobs, how they're manufactured, product life expectancy, installation techniques, and more.

Kenny Calman, our instructor, also took the time to explain many tricks of the trade as far as how to inspect a vehicle prior to wrapping, what to ask the customer, liability insurance requirements, and much more, including boat wrapping. Very valuable information coming from an industry expert.

We took a break after four classroom hours and after a good lunch (provided by Geek Wraps U.), we started the hands-on training, which was something everyone was ready for.

Let me tell you that I watched many hours of Geek Wraps videos available on YouTube prior to taking the course, and even though they provided a very good basic understanding, I was not prepared to handle vinyl wrap. I consider myself very good with my hands, but handling a piece of wrapping vinyl for the first time is sort of like learning to ride a bicycle. You're going to be white-knuckled when you really need to be relaxed.

So it was not pretty, but after a few tries things start to make some sense, and I was able to get a bit more confident handling and, especially, heating the vinyl.

Truth be told, I really felt like a fish out of the water since I was the only newbie in the group. All the guys there had some experience with vinyl wraps, from basic to advanced. But on the other hand, my being completely green on the subject meant I had no bad habits to break.

Plus, in addition to Kenny and his wife Kathy who's also an instructor, there were three additional trainers on hand which almost gave us a one-trainer-per-student ratio. That alone makes this class an outstanding value.

So it's been a long day and after ten hours of training, which really feels like information overload, I was ready to come back to the hotel, have a good dinner, take a nice hot shower, and get ready for tomorrow.

DAY 2 — Wrap it up!

Today we started the day with a short classroom session followed by applying vinyl wrap pieces to wall surfaces such as block, brick, and interior wall surface. We then applied wrap pieces to flooring material.

Above: The right vinyl, installed properly, can be applied to brick and mortar walls.

After a half-hour lunch break, we continued doing practice wraps on vehicles, and I was able to finally do a cargo van rear door and get 90 points out of 100. I then wrapped the front door and rocker panel area on a Chevy HHR, followed by the rear door and rocker panel.

Above: Rivets can be handled even by a newbie with the right tools and instruction.

Above: Sprinter rear door. My first attempt was with a smaller piece of vinyl.

We were also given a demo on how to wrap the rear quarter panel, which includes the taillights on the same vehicle. It is a very tricky area with compound curves, so it was a challenge.

Above: From this wrinkled mess...

Above: a smooth vinyl wrap application by yours truly.

During dinner, I chatted with Rob, another workshop trainee who happens to be staying at the same hotel, and we both agree that even though it's only been two days out of five, it feels like we've been doing this for far longer. It goes to show you how intense the training sessions are.

DAY 3 — 3M Advanced Installer Training

Wednesday was a very busy day for everyone since after a short classroom session, we were all in the shop wrapping larger areas such as doors, rear quarter panels, and front bumpers.

Above: Jordan and Enrique wrapping one of the HHRs at Geek Wraps U.

The day went by pretty fast, and by mid-afternoon, we had a short demo on how to test interior walls to determine what type of vinyl to use, based on the kind of finish on the walls, as well as the length of the application.

We also had to take a 25-question test in order to determine how we were doing and at the end of the day, we all received certificates of participation in the 3M Advanced Installer Training course and Geek Wraps Advanced Air-Wrangler Training.

Even though I've completed three days out of the five, I feel like I've been doing this for a week. The days are long and busy, so everyone is spent by the time we go back to our hotels. And the last two days will be a bit more intense, so I have to be in bed by 10 p.m. in order to get up by 5:30 am the next day. I usually arrive at Geek Wraps by 7:30 am and we're in the classroom by 8:00 am sharp.

I am glad I've made some good progress in a short time, and I am getting closer to being able to wrap a whole vehicle, in addition to being able to wrap walls of different textures, aplying vinyl to floors, and trailer sides.

DAY 4 — Vehicle Color-Change with Vinyl

Thursday we teamed up in groups of two and did color-change on one side of the Chevy HHRs used for vinyl wrap training.

Above: Vehicle color change with 3M vinyl. Amazed that we can do this three days later.

I teamed up with Robert, a guy from New York state and who is also staying at the Courtyard Marriott. We've shared the hotel shuttle rides to and from Geek Wraps U, and have struck a friendship along the way.

Above: The same vehicle from a different angle.

So after a quick breakfast, we started our project by measuring the HHR and then placing the huge vinyl panel alongside the right side of the vehicle. From there we removed the backing paper by "hingeing" the vinyl along the midsection, then removing the backing paper from the top-half and then sticking the vinyl wrap, first on the top, then repeating the process for the bottom half.

It is a cumbersome task, but we managed pretty well for a pair of newbies faced with this advanced job.

Without going every boring detail of the process of wrapping a vehicle, we managed to finish the task after lunch, or roughly approximately six hours after starting. Not a world record, but not too shabby, either.

After that, we tackled a few different jobs, with the last big one being wrapping a Dodge Dart hood, which we decided to split in half, metaphorically speaking, of course.

I have to say that I am pretty proud of the results I got from my half, and it seems everyone really liked them too, as Kenny—owner of Geek Wraps—took a bunch of photos of the hood and asked all the trainers to also check it out.

Above: I used a metallic blue for the base color, followed by a graphite stripe.
I took this opportunity to try "knifeless" tape.

Today was a great day, as things seem to be getting a little easier and falling into place.

DAY 5 — That's a wrap!

It's been a long week along with tons of information being thrown our way, but I am also sad that's it is coming to an end.

Even though for the last couple of days I've been struggling (thanks to a cold), Kenny, Kathy, and the crew at Geek Wraps U made the training entertaining as well as valuable.

For our last day of training, Rob and I wrapped one of the HHR's front bumpers with a single piece of vinyl and then continued with one of the sides of the vehicle. It was a big job and it took us almost all day, but what an accomplishment for two guys that had never done anything like this.

Above: The HHR front bumper beautifully wrapped in a record (for us) three hours.

Above: Rob finishing the passenger side rocker panel.

Above: Front bumper and passenger side commercial wrap, done!

Above: It's hard not to be a little giddy after all that work.

I would like to thank everyone at Geek Wraps University for their patience and friendly counsel. Kenny and Kathy Calman, Jon, Wes, Santiago, and Wara. They treated us like family and even fed us lunch every day.

Also thanks to my new bud Rob Falkevitz for the friendship, good conversation, laughter, and company, especially that first day when we had to wait for almost an hour for the shuttle driver who went to pick us up at the wrong address.

To Jordan, Phil (dad), Phil (son), and Enrique, it was a pleasure to meet you all and work with you. And Enrique, way to go on attaining 3M Preferred Graphics Installer status!

If you, the reader, is considering attending Geek Wraps University for vinyl wrap training or 3M endorsement testing... do it! I personally believe that the five-day option is the way to go.

The facilities, tools, and training provided will give you the best foundation possible to become a vinyl wrapping pro.

They did it for me in five days!

Above: Thank you Geek Wraps U. You guys are the best!

For more details about Geek Wraps vinyl wrap training, visit their website.