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Wrapping vs. Painting Your Car Compared: Differences, Costs, Benefits

specialist wrapping a car

If your car is looking a little drab and dreary, giving it a facelift on the outside can make the car look new once again! Things have changed in recent years, giving you options other than a re-paint to restore the outside of your car. Vinyl wrap is an alternative that has become an affordable alternative to paint, but how do these two auto-restoration alternatives compare?

A vinyl wrap can only be applied if the car’s original paint and bodywork are in good condition. Paint can be applied to any car. Vinyl offers a greater variety of customized designs and is faster to apply, but paint is more durable. The costs for high-quality vinyl and paint jobs are about the same.

Wrapping a car in vinyl has become a popular method of restoring the outward appearance of a car, especially if you want custom graphics for your car. Does wrapping make paint obsolete, or is re-painting still a viable option to spruce up your car? We will compare the differences, benefits, and costs so you can determine the application that best suits your car and requirements.

Should You Wrap Your Car Or Re-paint?

For many years, paint was the only way to cost-effectively restore the outward appearance of a car. Vinyl wraps have been around for quite a while, but it was an extremely expensive alternative in the early days of their application.

The costs involved in wrapping a car with vinyl in the early days meant that this type of outer covering was limited to specialty applications, for car-show cars, the rich and famous, or for movie sets.

Much has changed as vinyl wrapping grew in popularity and the technology to produce the wraps improved to the point that it has now become a viable alternative covering within reach of anyone.

Now that vinyl wrap is a viable alternative to restore the finish on a car, the choice between the two methods will rely on what suits your car, your needs, and your budget. To establish a baseline comparison, we will examine the benefits of each covering, their differences, and costs

What’s The Difference Between Wrapping Or Painting Your Car?

There are some fundamental differences between wrapping and re-painting a car, which may influence your choice.

Protection

Both vinyl and paint will protect the underlying metal of the car from rust and environmental damage, but vinyl has the added advantage of protecting underlying paint as well. Vinyl can be applied over paint and protects the paint from UV fading, chips, and chemical damage from environmental hazards.

Availability

You will find an auto-paint shop in almost every town but finding a specialist vinyl producer and an experienced fitment center is not easy outside metropolitan areas. A vinyl wrap is not a DIY application and, like paint, needs a professional application for it to look good and last a long time.

Variety of choice

Custom paint jobs and vinyl wraps can look equally impressive on the smooth lines of your car, but vinyl wrap offers a greater variety of styles, finishes, and designs.

Partial or complete covering

It is very difficult to paint a single area of a car without it looking vastly different from other areas of a vehicle that still have the old paint. Covering one area of your car with a vinyl decal or wrap is easier to pull off without the customized area presenting an unfinished look or looking out of place with the rest of the finish on the vehicle.

As with any choice, there are benefits favoring each choice, and the benefits most relevant to your preferences of need will sway your decision either way.

Benefits Of Repainting A Car Vs. Wrapping

professional paint job
Professional car painting after body repair.

Re-painting a car may be old-school, but choosing an option that has been used since the inception of motor vehicles offers benefits that may suit your requirements.

Easily accessible

Auto paint shops are easy to find and find artisans skilled in the application of the paint.

Retains a classic finish

Vinyl wraps may not be appropriate for use on classic cars and could result in devaluing the car. A good paint job on the car will retain the authenticity of the classic car and stay true to the era.

Permanent finish for the car

Paint is a permanent, deep finish on the car’s metal and has several layers applied during the painting process, which provide a stronger finish that is less prone to damage and wear.

Simple application

Paint may have a longer application process, but the process is simpler and easier than vinyl application.

A re-paint is not a modification

For insurance purposes, re-painting your vehicle is not considered a modification and will not affect your insurance. A wrap is considered a modification and may not be covered by your policy unless you informed your insurance company of the wrap.

Paint lasts longer

A quality paint job on a car that is well cared for with regular waxing and polishing and adequate sun exposure can last the car’s lifetime and still look good. Vinyl wraps have a limited lifespan and will need to be replaced or removed within 10-years.

Cons For Painting A Car Vs. Wrapping

There are some cons to painting a car compared to the alternative vinyl wrap that you should consider as part of your decision-making process.

Old paint must be stripped

The old paint must be stripped from the car before the old paint is applied. Painting over old paint will result in a poor-quality paint job, so the clear coat, old paint, and undercoat must be removed, taking the car down to bare metal before the re-paint.

Takes more time

A quality paint job takes time, sometimes as much as 2 or 3-weeks for the job to be completed. This is a long time to be stuck without your car. A re-paint of a car is a multi-process tas. Each layer applied to the car requires time to dry, sometimes up to 8-hours between coats.

More steps in the process

More steps with a paint job mean more chance for things to go wrong. Each step in the painting process, from stripping the old paint to applying the undercoat, up to 2 coats of paint and the clear coat must be performed flawlessly. Each previous process will affect the quality of the application of the subsequent process.

Benefits Of Wrapping A Car Vs. Paint

Wrapping cars is becoming an increasingly popular method of sprucing up the visual appeal of the car. Vinyl wrapping has several benefits that may make it a preferred choice over paint.

Fast application

Provided the existing paintwork on the car is in good condition, the process of applying a vinyl wrap to a car is significantly faster than a paint job. A professional application of the wrap can take between 3-days to a week to complete, which is significantly quicker than the 2 to 3-week timeframe for a quality paint job.

Flexible customization

Vinyl offers a greater choice of colors, designs, and textures to customize or personalize the look of your car.

Vinyl can be removed

Vinyl wrap can be removed to restore the vehicle to the underlying paintwork. This is not possible with a painted finish since it is a permanent covering.

A wrap is easy to change

If the wrap has not been on the car for more than 4 to 5-years, it is easy to remove and replace with a new design or simply remove to reveal the original paint below.

Cons For Wrapping A Car Vs. Painting

Even though car wraps are gaining in popularity, they have some disadvantages that should be considered before committing to selecting vinyl to cover your car.

Not all cars can be wrapped

The quality of a wrap is heavily reliant on the quality of the paintwork that it will be laid over. If the paint is old or of poor quality, applying the vinyl over the paint will be difficult and affect the quality of the final finish. Imperfections on the paint or bodywork will show through the vinyl.

If the underlying paint is not suitable, it may require that the old paint be stripped and at least an undercoat applied before the vinyl. This will increase time and costs for the vinyl application.

It is always necessary to have your vehicle inspected by the company applying the vinyl before you order the wrap.

Removing the wrap can damage the underlying paint

Most vinyl applications have a limited time frame where the wrap can easily be removed without damaging the paint underneath. This is normally a period of 4 to 5-years. After this timeframe, the adhesive used to bond the wrap to the paint cures to the point that it is difficult to remove without causing damage to the paint beneath.

Wraps are more susceptible to sun damage

Although wraps get a UV protection coating, they are still more susceptible to sun damage than paint. It takes much longer for the sun to damage paint to the point of it being noticeable compared to a vinyl wrap.

Wrap degradation looks unsightly

If the wrap starts to peel, cracks, or is damaged, the vinyl quickly looks tattered and unsightly. Damage to the wrap can allow the underlying color of the car paint to show through, which is very visually noticeable.

A wrap requires more care when washing the car

A vinyl wrap can be damaged by washing the car with incorrect soaps and detergents. Even though the same can be said for paint on a car, a wrap is more susceptible to damage of this nature than paint. You cannot take your wrapped car through a drive-through carwash that uses brushes. The brush wash is too abrasive and can damage the vinyl film.

Cost Of Wrapping A Car Vs. Paint

There is no denying that the cost of wrapping a car with vinyl has come down in price dramatically in recent years, but has it come down enough to be comparable to the cost of re-painting your car?

Many people state that a wrap is cheaper than paint, but this is a very subjective statement. Just like you get good paint jobs and bad paint jobs at varying costs, you also get good and bad vinyl applications as well.

A low-budget vinyl application will certainly be cheaper than a high-quality paint job, but a low-quality paint job will also be cheaper than a high-quality wrap. The essence of this topic is that you get what you pay for, and a wrap may not work out cheaper than a re-paint on your car.

One of the factors that affect the cost of the wrap application is the quality of the original paint on the car. A wrap cannot be used to cover up an old, damaged, or poor paint job. The imperfections will show through, and you will have a noticeably poor wrap.

The only method to get a true cost comparison between the two coverings is to compare the price of a high-quality wrap with the price of a high-quality re-paint.

How much does it cost to wrap a car?

A full wrap on a car applied by a professional company specializing in vinyl wraps can cost up to $5000. Partial wraps can cost significantly less, but we are considering the cost of a full wrap for comparative purposes.

How much does it cost to paint a car?

A high-quality, professional re-paint of a car can cost between $4500 and $5000, making the cost difference between paint and wrap very minimal.

The best way to get a cost comparison would be to take your car to a paint shop and get an estimate of the cost of the paint job you desire and then go to a vinyl wrap company and get an estimate for the wrap to compare.

Conclusion

Vinyl wraps are a flexible, eye-catching way to improve the look of your car, but a vinyl wrap may not be an appropriate choice for all cars. A wrap requires the original paint and surface of the car to be in good condition before the wrap can be successfully applied.

Paint, in comparison, can be used to re-paint any car since the old paint is stripped off before the car is re-painted.

The rule of thumb when choosing between a vinyl wrap and a re-paint is the condition of your original paintwork. If your original paint is in good condition, you can choose to re-paint or use a vinyl wrap to give your car more visual appeal.

If your paint is in bad condition, your only option is a re-paint, as the poor condition on the underlying paint would result in a poor-quality wrap. Once you have re-painted, you could use partial or panel wraps to personalize the look of your car.

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