Livery: Advertising in motion can help build brand

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Applying your livery effectively is more than just a case of blowing up nice artwork and sticking it on, Louise Cole discovers.

Livery fulfils several functions. The main one is to advertise your brand, and, as such, the vehicle becomes a statement of company values. This means that dirty, poorly driven or poorly maintained vehicles will reflect on your brand as much as clean, smart and professionally-driven vehicles.

Chilled food fleet NFT recently upgraded its livery to build on its position as the ‘intelligent link’ between food manufacturers and retailers. 

NFT turned to Aura Graphics, the specialist commercial graphics company it has worked with for more than 15 years. Aura wraps an average of 30 NFT tractor units and 40 trailers a year without downtime, which NFT says is crucial.

The company takes advice on the smoothest process, the most appropriate materials and most efficient timings with the emphasis on the correct use and quality of the materials to ensure longevity and a high standard of printing.

Thanks to digital printers, which can print large areas, livery on cabs and rigid bodies is dominated by vinyl wraps, replacing stencilled sign writing. This means the entire body is covered, rather than being sprayed and decals applied. 

As a 3M ‘select graphic specialist gold’, RGVA Vehicle Graphics uses 3M film and laminating materials and its fitters are all qualified by a series of exams involving practical tests, problem-solving and a written paper.

RGVA managing director Kieran McCabe (pictured above) says all of these considerations are important, because each represents a point where your livery application could fail. 

“Fleets should always enquire about a livery company’s credentials and portfolio. You should ensure you note the materials promised – in writing – to support your warranty. Make sure the fitters are qualified and the environment is suitable for installation. And it helps to choose somewhere with in-house graphic design,” says McCabe.

All livery is, essentially, self-adhesive vinyl, but McCabe says the differentiating technology is in the adhesive and the backing papers. 3M, like other quality products, has channels created in the backing paper so when the product is applied, air can escape through these grooves instead of leaving blisters in the artwork.

The type of ink used is important. Latex – water-based inks – last well but remain inert. Solvent-based inks, on the other hand, can eat through the film and eventually affect the adhesive. This means that when the product is stripped from the vehicle, it can leave behind a gluey mess. 

“You don’t see that happening very often these days but it is a nightmare when it does occur,” says McCabe.

Solvent glues are also more damaging for the environment. However, eco-solvent inks/printers such as those used by Derby-based Signs & Print are a strong alternative to latex. Printer manufacturers claim lower upfront prices and lower running costs, which can mean cheaper livery for the clients.

“We use Mimaki eco-solvent machines,” says Nigel Robinson of Signs & Print. “As far as I am aware, employing a latex machine allows you to use or apply the print straight away with no need for a gassing period as with a solvent process. How long livery lasts depends on the quality of the materials and the skill of the fitter but a decent cast stock with a compatible laminate should be good for four-to-six years.”

Robinson argues that full and partial wraps are short-term applications compared to the reliability of cut vinyls. 

“For cost-effectiveness on wraps, I would always advise client to go for a recognised well-known brand stock and laminate to prevent disappointment unless it is a very short-term application,” he says. Cut vinyls, he adds, will usually outlive their predicted life of seven years.

It has been known for some livery companies to ‘pitch and switch’ – offer a high-grade product to seal the deal and then apply a poorer grade of film during installation. If fleet managers wish to check what vinyl is being used during installation, it will usually be printed on the backing paper. 

Vehicle branding design is more complex than many may realise. The designer needs experience of creating graphics for vehicles, not just flat surfaces. There is a different aesthetic to designing in scale – a book cover or flyer, for instance, works quite differently, visually, to a billboard. More importantly, 2-D designs do not necessarily work on a 3-D surface.

McCabe explains: “We get sent lots of great designs which we have to tell the customer will not work on a vehicle because shadows will occur where it curves or bends.”

He says it is important the design is not too busy because often vehicles will be seen on the move so have to communicate their message quickly and simply. 3M has designed software, which RGVA sometimes uses, to work out which areas of the livery the viewer’s eyes will be drawn to.

Right environment is crucial

Warranties are not valid unless the product has been fitted in accordance with the instructions of the film manufacturer. Installation usually requires a dust-free, enclosed space with a controlled temperature typically between 12˚ and 22˚C. 

“You can have the best material, the best printers and the best fitters, but if you don’t have the right environment for installation, the whole project can fail,” says McCabe. 

“We do sometimes carry out flat surface work at a customer’s premises but wrapping installations have very little tolerance in terms of environment.”

RGVA keeps a log of materials, inks, printers and the conditions of installation including temperature checks, all to support the customer’s warranty.

Many fleets choose to have their vehicles liveried before they come into service, minimising downtime. It takes two people two days to wrap a tractor unit, as the many cutouts and irregular shapes take time and skill. It takes approximately the same time for a saloon car, but a bus or coach may take three or four days to wrap in its entirety. 

McCabe says many customers do not appreciate what a lengthy process it is. “It can take an hour and a half just to cut around the handles and hinges on a rear door,” he says. Flat surfaces such as trailer sides are much quicker. “One of my guys can do a trailer in approximately seven hours.”

The AA fleet is close to 3,000-strong, with more than 2,200 vans and 250 12-tonne recovery trucks. It also has dedicated vehicles for AA signs, AA tyres, direct salesforce and technicians specialising in manufacturer-branded cover (for example, Jaguar Land Rover technicians).

Asked how important livery is to the organisation, Chris Wiltshire then The AA’s fleet engineer  (since left to join East of England Ambulance Trust) says:

“It’s very important. The brand image is created to ensure that the customers’ perception of quality and trust is embodied in the look and livery of the vans. Safety also features heavily in the design, with reflective materials used to enhance the visibility of the vehicle when working at the roadside. We have more mobile mechanics than anyone else, so the vans out on the road are one of the best ways we have of getting our brand seen.”

The AA chooses non-PVC-based materials where possible, and emphasises quality to make sure the livery lasts the whole of the vehicle’s first life of four-to-five years. 

On-site fitment before delivery

Its preferred supplier, Lowestoft-based Fleet Livery Solutions (FLS), works with a variety of bodybuilders on behalf of The AA and will produce the graphics at its base and then travel to fit them on-site before the vehicle is delivered. This means there’s no downtime involved for The AA.

The AA says FLS “won the business due to their pricing, support and fitting ability”. FLS is also a 3M-accredited supplier.

FLS production manager Simon Dines says: “We’ve always found 3M to be favourable to us as a company but it also has a great product range. There are lots of other products out there but we chose this because we think it’s the best and that makes it easy to sell.”

The base colour for The AA vehicles is factory-sprayed and then the livery is applied as a partial wrap with decals. 

“We do a three-quarter wrap from the rear of the cab door down the sides,” says Dines. “The two large As are engineering grade, which is highly reflective, and we also put highly reflective beams along the top of the wrap, so when you shine lights on them, they are very bright. On the rear doors we put diamond grade prismatic reflective chevrons.”

The AA admits you can’t measure return on investment (ROI) on livery, but “we do have a measure of whether people believe they see us around a lot”.

It believes the wraps preserve the bodywork and so protect residual values. “The livery significantly reduces stone chipping or wear points, such as on bonnets or door entry sills, where even just clear vinyl can have a significant impact,” says Wiltshire. 

The ease of stripping the material is very important prior to defleeting. “The right material makes the removal efficient and free of damage or stains or shadows,” he says.

Curtain livery is a growing area with more fleets considering innovative use of the vast expanse of fabric on their trucks. Colin Gronow, studio manager at specialist vehicle curtain manufacturer WJ Leech, says the principal material used for curtain making in the UK is a heavy duty PVC and almost all curtain makers are likely to use one of the two big suppliers, the best known being Sioen Industries. 

Although it is possible for fleet operators to specify their preferred curtain suppliers, says Gronow, in most cases the bodybuilder will default to its preferred manufacturer. 

WJ Leech is the preferred supplier for TPN (The Pallet Network) and works with TPN member companies on TPN-liveried vehicles.

Gronow says curtain makers all work the same way today, with most curtains being printed as a complete graphic on digital printers with a small amount of sign writing for partial-curtain, one-off jobs.

“Our processes haven’t changed, but we have invested a lot in high quality printers and other kit which means the process is faster than it used to be. It now takes a day or two to produce a whole livery instead of three or four,” says Gronow.

A basic set of curtains with a small amount of signwriting – a name and number stencilled on, for example – would cost approximately £260. A set of the largest curtains with a full four-colour design will be nearer £1,200.

Curtains should last five-seven years, with care. Whipping branches or regular hails of stones will damage them. 

“It also needs to be kept clean,” says Gronow. “Not everyone keeps their curtains clean.” Operators can take the curtains through their standard vehicle wash or clean them separately.

As with vehicle wraps, design is an important part of a successful curtain delivery and it is worth paying for a designer who understands how the design will work, not just on a large scale but on a fluid material.

“These days you can effectively have any design, however complex, on a vehicle provided you are prepared to pay for it,” says Gronow. “Though designers often don’t realise what allowance they must make for wraps, hems and buckles.”

Banbury-based TWE Haulage uses WJ Leech for its vehicle curtains, but it prints, cuts and applies the vinyls itself. 

“Nine out of 10 of our vehicles come to us unliveried because doing it ourselves saves us a small fortune,” says commercial director Ross Eden. “MD Trevor Edden taught himself to do it a long time ago. We have all the cutting machines etc. We don’t wrap the vehicles, we just use individual pieces of vinyl.”

TWE uses highest grade vinyl which will last for seven years. Edden says in practice the livery lasts longer than that provided care is taken not to lift the edges with the pressure washer, and barring accidental damage.

“The trick to applying the vinyl is to get the measurements absolutely correct and then clean the surface with chemicals to remove all traces of grease and dirt,” he says.

“Then you just have to apply it smoothly without bubbles.

“Vehicle livery is our best form of advertising and it’s something a lot of hauliers don’t take full advantage of,” he says.

There are online print shops which will supply pre-cut vinyls for fleets to apply. Typically these cost about £75 a linear metre or £80 if they have to accommodate a curve. The pre-cuts come in varying widths, the standard being 1.5m.

Although livery can last for up to seven years, it isn’t all designed to be permanent. Some companies opt to change their message seasonally, or for specific campaign periods. 

RVGA offers a track system in which a livery graphic can be rolled on or off the vehicle in less than two hours. The banners are cheaper than wrapping and the removed vinyl can be stored and replaced when the campaign is over. 

Seasonal promotions

Hotel Chocolat, for instance, takes off its standard livery for each seasonal promotion and then replaces it once the campaign is ended. 

Although this makes its livery very flexible and cost-effective for intensive marketing, track systems banners are not really designed for longevity. RGVA’s McCabe says they will last for two years, possibly three if they are lacquered, but suggests that fleets who need long life from their livery would find standard wraps more cost-effective.

Livery can also be used for third party advertising, and businesses that have no need to push their own brand may find this a useful way to offset fleet costs. 

RVGA research shows truck advertising can work more effectively than billboard advertising, particularly if the design communicates efficiently. 

“Our data shows that your average static billboard vs truck side advert has a similar opportunity to be seen but a static billboard has a smaller coverage and a higher frequency, meaning that fewer people see it, but they see it more often,” says McCabe. “Whereas the opposite is true for a truck ad.

“This is why the design element is so important. I believe you only need to see a great advert or design once to know it’s great. So, the more people that see it, the better!”

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