Tips & tricks for wrapping transit vehicles

by courtney_bachar | 12 April 2022 3:41 pm

Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) subway wrap for the
Art Gallery of Ontario. Photos courtesy Pattison Outdoor

By Estella Tolentino-Cooke

Vehicle wraps come in many shapes and sizes. For those clients looking for maximum visibility, there is no greater platform than a moving billboard such as a bus or train. For signmakers involved in this segment of the industry, huge vehicle wraps come with their own unique set of challenges. One could even say, they are not for the faint of heart. This article offers some sage advice on how one can post, stick, and wrap just about any transit vehicle.


There is a staggering variety of vinyl products available and combing through every provider’s booklet can be cumbersome. However, there are some product specifications to consider when selecting the right adhesive for the job, such as how well the vinyl conforms to a surface, how cleanly the material can be removed, and ensuring the vinyl product doesn’t leave behind any glue or residue.

Large transit and fleet vehicles have all kinds of bumps, corners, gaskets, and other anomalies so the vinyl needs to be able to stretch, cover, and conform to these irregular surfaces. When covering windows, one should use a perforated vinyl with laminate. Certain markets have different requirements for the size of the perforated holes. Most window graphics are either 60/40 or 70/30, meaning that 60 or 70 per cent of the window is covered by vinyl, while still offering 40 or 30 per cent visibility from inside. When it comes to the rubber gaskets that surround bus and train windows, it is best to err on the side of caution and choose not to cover them. After going through the bus wash, these linings often come out the other end holding water, which can easily lead to moisture getting under the wrap and start lifting the vinyl.

Calgary Transit Light Rail Supertrain wrap for Questrade.

Not all bus barns are the same; there are many that may not allow for installers to work in pristine conditions. That is why it is important to find stock that can also be applied in less-than-ideal conditions and capable of weathering a bit of a beating, because not all buses are housed indoors. You won’t always be working within the right temperatures, but the vinyl still needs to apply and hold up.

You May Also Like   Packaging company AMP acquires Quebec-based Hart Print

Another factor to consider when selecting a new substrate is peel adhesion, which refers to how well the material sticks and removes. Some installers work with vinyl that has a peel adhesion of less than 2 lbs. per inch and, where possible, ones that are under 1 lb. per inch. However, that limits several viable options.

A preferred stock for transit vinyl is the 3M 3500 Controltac—a calendared vinyl with a lot of options for many applications. It is a 4-mm (.2-in.) white opaque vinyl with a matte finish. This material features air channels to help release air bubbles during application. It can be easily removed without leaving behind residue, and it does not require heat or chemicals to pull away. It can also slide and be adjusted easily to help with alignment. This is a perfect option for transit or fleet vehicles. For longer campaigns, one should consider changing out the material at least once a year to prevent it from becoming a more permanent fixture. The longer any vinyl is applied, the tougher it becomes to remove.

TTC Supertrain wrap for Fjällräven.


A recent change within some transit markets presents a unique challenge: several newer bus models feature grey pebbled impact panels on the bottom, typically between the wheel wells. The presence of this grey, bumpy plastic has made adhering vinyl very difficult. One solution is to first apply a specially formulated vinyl primer, like 3M’s IJ180mC-10LSE, a 2-mm (.08-in.) cast vinyl white film with high tack and pressure-activated high adhesion, roughly 4 to 7 lbs. per inch. The material needs to stick around throughout multiple campaigns and outlast the more temporary vinyl typically used in transit products.

Unfortunately, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause supply chain issues, some brands of vinyl, including 3M, have become very difficult to come by. Partnering with an adhesion media expert can help signmakers find appropriate replacements for products they used to rely on.

You May Also Like   Sydney Stone named exclusive distributor for Xanté

A notable example of other vinyls include MacTac’s JDT429 Digitrans, a 3.5-mm (.14 -n.) calendar film in an opaque soft white gloss meant for king posters and similar products. This film is still removeable after two years, but may leave some residue behind which can be cleaned off with alcohol. Another alternative is FLEXcon’s BUSmark 5800, a 3.4-mm (.13-in.) flexible opaque white vinyl, designed for short-term postings. This is a great material for king posters and similar products. However, it is recommended this film should be removed one year after application.

Kong poster on a OC Transpo double-decker bus in Ottawa for Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est.

Finally, the Avery Dennison, specifically MPI 2121 and MPI 2921-EZ, are both flexible 3.4-mm calendared vinyl films with a white matte finish. Both feature the same peel adhesion of 1.2 lbs. per inch) 24 hours after install, and do not leave behind a residue during removal. It is recommended these materials should be taken down after being in service for a year.

These are all excellent substitute materials, and all of them have a myriad of uses, but there are a few things to keep in mind. Adhesive media experts recommend replacing any of these after a year of application as the longer they stay on, the more the peel adhesion increases and the film and colour degrade. If left for too long, removal can become extremely difficult. It is also recommended to use latex printing when producing artwork on these substrates, especially for jobs such as bus wrapping, which require covering contours and textured surfaces, as this printing process is more reliable. By contrast, an improper UV printing setup can make vinyl films brittle, and reduce the effectiveness of their adhesive.

Estella Tolentino-Cooke is the vice-president of production services at Pattison Outdoor Advertising. She has been with the company 11 years, and graduated in graphic design at George Brown College in 1992. She has 30 years of design and production experience working with large corporations and advertising agencies in Toronto. Tolentino-Cooke has worked at New York Life, Sun Life Financial, Purolator, DDB, Taxi, and Quadrant Marketing before continuing her career in production at Pattison Outdoor.

Source URL: