In my first PPF article, which asks Do I really need Paint Protection Film (PPF) aka Clear Bra?, I touched on some characteristics of paint protection film and how to decide whether or not it’s a good idea for your vehicle. In this article, I wanted to go a bit further into the area of PPF and how to best select a film, installer, etc. While there are not as many variables in the PPF/clear bra industry as there are in general car detailing, making the film selection, what areas to cover and how to select an installer can be quite a task sometimes. As simple as my advice below is, I’m hoping it will help a few owners have the knowledge to speak to an installer and select the film best suited for their situation.
Which Film is Best?
Before I give my quick thoughts on film, I wanted to quote Jean-Claude from my other PPF article linked to above. He made some great points on selecting a good film, making my job here a bit easier.
People should also take the time to learn about the pros/cons of each film. Xpel offers a 10-year warranty and looks great and Nano-Fusion offers a lifetime warranty, but they cost the most. 3m has the biggest company backing it and cost the least in most cases, but the adhesive is super aggressive and it can have more issues with silvering and working marks. Suntek offers a self-healing film that looks as good as Xpel and costs less, but has a 5-year warranty. What does this mean? The “best” is relative to an owner’s situation. While I will never personally suggest someone install 3m film (due to quality control – as it stands), if someone only cares about price they might find it is the best solution to install PPF. If someone wants an amazing looking film but only keeps a car 2-5 years, why spend the extra money on Xpel Ultimate? Garage queen that rarely sees the road and you’re keeping it a long time? Xpel may be the best fit. Want an OEM certified film with a long warranty? Nano-Fusion may be the best fit. Our clients have enjoyed the protection and looks of our PPF. Good job cracking the surface of the subject and I look forward to your take on PPF moving forward.
As Jean-Claude points out, there are quite a few different films out there and they all do a great job at protecting the paint from stone chips, their intended purpose. Some have the self-healing properties (which do work by the way and are not just a hoax selling point) and others don’t. Some have better warranties and others are easier to work with for installers, thus result in cheaper prices. From my experience, all the newer films (unless they’re some random brands from Ebay) provide great protection, looks and durability. At my shop, our installer likes to use the cheaper Ventureshield film from 3M quite a lot and most of my clients actually ask for it as they’ve seen it before on someones vehicle. We also really like and always recommend Xpel as it looks great, has a good warranty and has the self-healing properties. However, as Jean-Claude mentioned, it is usually one of the most expensive films, so you can expect to pay anywhere from 10-25% over some others.
Type of Applications
Once you figure out which film, the next step is to determine what kind of protection and install is best for you. Typical coverage for us includes a full front end or partial front end. Full front end includes the application to the entire hood, fenders, front bumper and mirrors. The partial includes the full front bumper and mirrors, but only the leading 1/4-1/3 of the hood and fenders. We mainly install and highly recommend the full front end because it offers the best protection (protecting the entire panels instead of only partial) and looks (no edges running across the panel making them very easy to see).
Aside from the above, there are all types of custom protection options that a quality installer can perform. Many times we get requests for protection on side skirts/rocker panels, a-pillars, leading edge of roof, rear bumpers and even full vehicles. Most companies make pre-cut kits for vehicles and most of these kits are for the typical front end applications, so sometimes you may end up having an installer cut a custom piece for the vehicle. Speaking of custom pieces, one last thing to consider is whether or not you want the edges wrapped or cut along the edge of the panel. Our installer doesn’t like to fold edges as he’s afraid of water getting under there and it starting to peel. I’ve seen cases where this happens as well as where it doesn’t, so I think as long as you keep checking a folded edge and putting it down when it comes up in places it should be fine in the long run. The plus side of a wrapped edge is that it fully protects that edge, whereas the paint edge where the film is cut is slightly exposed and can surely be damaged. We fortunately had two vehicles in our shop with the differently applied films, so here’s a quick comparison of the two.
Wrapped edge (with trimmed edge on bumper)…
Slight peeling of wrapped film…
Choosing a PPF Installer
Last, but certainly not least, is choosing a quality PPF installer. I believe this is the most crucial part of the PPF process. An experienced and knowledgeable installer will do the typical tasks of making sure the film goes on a clean surface, edges are put down right and any necessary cuts are made properly (no cutting through into the paint and level along the edge). In addition, a good installer will also make sure to cover all the surfaces properly, make the least amount of seams/cuts (for best looks) and follow up to make sure everything adheres well over the course of a few days after the application.
On the other hand, a poor (sometimes even average) PPF installer can cause various types of damage that results in a poor application of the film. Some of the issues I’ve had with sub-par installers include bad swirl marks on paint I properly prepped and polished before the install, accidental cuts on the film that simply look bad and installing onto a surface with dust specks remaining, which leads to awkward bumps that really take away from the appearance. At my shop we always prep the areas that will be protected by the film, then the PPF installer does his thing. After which we finally finish the rest of the detail job, whether it’s only a wash & wax or a 20 hour paint correction detail. Reason being, regardless of how good an installer is, they do need to lay the film down on other parts of the vehicle, which gets dragged around and can cause light swirl marks or at least some dried up lube stains or drips. For example, when applying film to a rear bumper or side skirts, the installer needs to lay down the film on the trunk, roof, etc.
Here’s a photo of a speck of dust settled under the film…
In short, when selecting a PPF installer, make sure they have a great reputation and if possible check out their previous work on a friend’s or fellow enthusiast’s vehicle. Many people say to simply “choose the most expensive installer in your area” and while I would recommend doing a bit more research than that, can’t say there isn’t some truth to it :).
That’s all I have for now. I hope it further helps any readers about to make a decision on some sort of PPF protection for their vehicle.