Paint Protection Film (PPF): The Unspoken Details Many Consumers Aren’t Toldby Greg Gellas
Offering full value and complete customer satisfaction are the top ideals my business. For this reason, I wanted to take the time to offer up some information about Paint Protection Film (PPF) which many consumers aren’t frequently given by some installers– either by the withholding of information, by deliberate misinformation, or from improper training.
I decided to take on this controversial and challenging article about PPF, because of my extreme passion for it as a great protection measure and my experience with it. My company, Signature Detailing of northern New Jersey, performs hundreds of PPF installations a year. I can honestly say I love it from a vehicle protection standpoint, and know it offers the best protection possible for vehicle surfaces from; chips and damages, road debris impacts, other potential topical contaminants, as well as adding additional UV protection. Many of our clients truly receive a great protective benefit from PPF, especially with the many types of terrain, roads, and extreme weather conditions faced in the north eastern US. For this reason, it is a core and featured service we offer our clients.
The secondary reason I chose to write this article is because I know within this industry there is a lot of purposeful mysticism surrounding PPF. This is done to keep the quality ‘secrets’ between a select few installers or to make it seem much more complicated than it is in order to keep installation costs higher than what the free market fair price would normally bear. I will say that to become a top tier professional of installing PPF it takes time, often years to become very good. To become great is something that requires knowledge, experience, feel, and an out of the box mentality approach. Full disclosure: I have been installing PPF for over 6 years, and have been trained and work closely with an installer that has 20+ years PPF experience. For these reasons, I felt compelled to write this article since we have come across many issues arise that hurt vehicle owners over and over again. I, as an informed consumer myself, habitually gather as much information and facts as possible before making a big money purchase. Therefore, I figure it’s only natural and fair if I provide the facts and information about the products and services I provide to my own my business clients.
Most commonly known as Clear bra, Paint Protection Film (a.k.a. PPF) has advanced by leaps and bounds in the past 4-5 years. It has great gloss, awesome clarity, and much less texture than previous film offerings. However, it should be noted that It does have its installation limitations. This is where the craftsmanship of a skilled installer comes into place. By design the material is thick and doesn’t like to be “overworked,” which can lead to a variety of installation induced issues down the line.
The physical limitations of PPF and common misleading marketing/customer statements and claims made by many PPF installers is the true focus of this article.
Common Marketing Claim #1: A ‘Custom’ Install Means a Superior Install.
I want to be completely clear and say that ‘custom installs’ are not necessarily better installs. Many installers will claim they only offer custom installs. Translation: they take a piece of film lay it over the panel, squeegee it out to semi match the panel, and start cutting the film directly on the painted panel. Often times these installers are unable to afford, or do not have space to house a plotter (a machine that precisely cuts the PPF) or don’t want to pay monthly for a program to cut patterns which are exact to factory specifications.
Frequently these installers state that patterned film is inferior because it leaves visible edges. While this used to be true, patterned film has evolved leaps and bounds, and quality craftsman have the ability modify the patterns within the plotter software in order to customize patterns however necessary from full edge wrapping to customize patters requested by the client. This super precise system eliminates the unnecessary dangers of cutting through PPF on the vehicle and accidentally cutting clear coat. Sometimes patterns still require small trimming, but entire panels aren’t necessary in this day and age. We are able to wrap most every edge possible by modifying a pattern. This overcomes the need to cut on a car, without removing body panels. We will touch upon this later.
Many of these installers also claim they are ‘expert’ at custom bulk PPF installs, promise they would never cut paint; stating they average 10 installations a week, therefore their knife sound/feel is ‘perfect.’ Well, no matter how good someone is, and there are VERY few with this skill to cut a few mils only and avoid hitting anything else, why would you chance it? It only takes a millisecond of distraction for a panel to be potentially ruined. So, for the preservation of the vehicle, I believe it is preferable not to cut on any vehicle when it isn’t necessary, let alone a $100,000+ car, ensuring the safety integrity of all vehicle surfaces.
Can areas that don’t get covered with a pattern be installed? Yes, of course. But is it worth the risk? Well it depends on the areas in question, the rarity of the vehicle, and the type of finished surface in question. In most cases, we are typically referring to areas which have a low to almost no impact probability and therefore have no real advantage to being wrapped. They are simply sold to unassuming customers to pump up the PPF ticket price.
The dangers in custom installing PPF to areas that don’t necessarily need it are not always seen immediately. I have come across these issues all too often in my shop many MANY times and have had to be the bearer of bad news to the vehicle owner. IT usually works this way: the installer has finished and proclaims you have an incredible custom cut PPF installation. It looks good, nice, and professional mostly, maybe a wavy line or two here and there, but overall a good value for a relatively low end bid. Fast forward two years. A quarter sized rock slung from an 18 wheeler penetrates your film, or your kid gouges the film with the exposed metal on their bike. So, the film is either: penetrated, flapping off on an edge, is compromising the protection of an area, or is now an eyesore. The solution, it requires removal a reapplication. When you call the number to schedule a fix, you find out the installer is out of business or has moved. After a bit of research finally found someone to fix the single panel, however when the old material is removed cuts in your paint along all of the edges of film are revealed. The film edge has hidden these cuts, and you couldn’t see them until the film was removed. Now you have to pay for a re-paint on that panel or multiple panels or live with the unsightly cuts and the potential of rusting. Furthermore, your mind races with worry and wonder as you contemplate: “are these cuts on every panel of my car?”
This Audi R8 Received an Xpel Stealth PPF full wrap. Other than the hood, all pieces were cut using a plotter, ensuring perfect cuts and precision edges.
Common Marketing Claim #2: Corners, A Professional Must Fully Wrap All Corners!
This is a marketing and selling point used by many installers to either leverage themselves as experts or other installers as inferior. The cold hard truth of Paint Protection Film is that not all corners with PPF can be wrapped perfectly. Sure, many can, but if forced expect the possibility of some corners not completely adhering and lifting up over time. The alternative to this is can be using an “edge prep” product to keep edges intact. The major downside is that this product that can negatively affect and possibly ruin many types of paint. The main takeaway here is that; due to its thickness, Paint Protection Film cannot wrap every corner clean without bunching up around the edge. It’s not super thin like vinyl. In the end, forced bunching of film can cause lifting and possibly eventual trim removal to fix.
Common Marketing Claim #3: All Edges Must Be Tucked for a Top Tier Installation
When edges are tucked with a couple mm’s (millimeters) or more of film, they will either eventually lift come up, or just collect dirt. So, beware when an installer says they tuck film under some trim, because PPF adhesive needs something flat and solid to hold onto. If the area isn’t large enough the adhesive can’t stick and it can lift, collecting dirt, and looking like a long solid dirt line. Then the installer will trim it and if they aren’t totally proficient and experienced with free hand cutting they have a high likelihood of cutting directly into your paint. Better than trying to get PPF to tuck, install it as it should be and leave the line below trim on the flat surface. If done properly the line will be aligned with the panel gaps and will be barely noticeable, if at all.
Important Advice: Paint Protection Film is a Temporary Protective Measure. So, is it Necessary and Prudent to Remove Panels?
At the end of the day, remember that PPF is a temporary protective fixture on your vehicle. It is not meant to be a permanent addition. The main reason for this is mainly related to the lifespan of the adhesive. So, if it is not removed in the proper window of years, a super bond can form. When removing PPF after the adhesive has passed its optimal period and the super bond has started to take hold it is entirely possible to lift paint off with the film. Also, PPF can prematurely wear out for a number of reasons, including taking repeated beatings to extreme conditions, constant UV exposure or from an improperly prepped install.
I want to emphasize the temporary nature of PPF because removing body panels to install film is pretty much unnecessary unless it’s an extreme show car, but nothing on those is practical. That being said, one day all PPF will need to be removed. Therefore, if the initial installer removed panels to place film in impossible to reach areas, those same panels will have to come off and then and be reinstalled a second time when either replacing or removing the original PPF. Not only does this add a tremendous amount to labor costs, but it greatly increases the potential to break a mounting clip. Most installers don’t have factory clips on hand, so if they break during installation that clip probably isn’t going to be fixed. If we (as installers) removed every panel and made all edges seamless then PPF install costs would have to more than double. This is clearly not practical for daily drivers and most weekend fun vehicles. Also, if you do happen to damage the film and it does need replacing then that panel needs to be removed again. This is all supreme aesthetic overkill for a technology meant to practically protect the factory finishes.
I see A LOT of PPF installers claiming professional only means: corners wrapped, everything tucked, and no seams. It’s just not worth the cost of the install nor is it worth the costs of time, effort, and money later down the line to fix if the installer creates a potential problem in any step along the way.
PPF Customer Satisfaction Ultimately Relies on the Quality of the Craftsman
In closing, I find PPF client satisfaction is very similar to many other consumer products and services. Do your homework on the type of film you want for a balance of looks and protection. Additionally, feel free to ask many different types of questions to potential installers about their experience, working procedures, and how they typically handle things if installs are difficult. Often, I have found that most subpar installs are done by those who are new to PPF and haven’t put in the thousands of hours necessary to encounter and successfully overcome the many challenges that arise with varied panels or surfaces or by those who just try to speed through the processes. In the end, film installation quality and satisfaction is only as good as the experience level and care of the craftsman who installs it and stands behind their work. So, while you may pay a bit more for someone who has experience; you will have more assurance and peace of mind in their experience, they have the proper tools for any vehicle, knowing they won’t be prone to cutting corners, and their pride in their work governs the quality of their finished product — which is a moving business card.
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An excellent reminder to everyone. Removing door handles to put film under them is really unnecessary.
Dear Greg – thank you for writing this article. I live in rural Oregon in an area with high airborne contaminants from grass field and sawmills, plus 50 in of rain yearly. Have gotten seemingly conflicting advice from local and not-so-local installers of 3M and Xpel film that edges 1) are never wrapped – just cut close to the edge of the panel, i.e., 1/32 of an inch, or 2) should be wrapped whenever possible to prevent lifting up. Can you comment? Is it better to wrap leading edges of hoods for example, but not necessary on side edges? Does engine compartment heat prematurely degrade adhesive for wrapped edges on hoods / front fascias?
Thank you for commenting that the adhesive failure point is important to track. As installer/mfg claims can be too general would a normal rule of thumb be to plan on replacing the PPF at the 75% mark? i.e., at 5 years out of a 7 year guarantee?
How do you feel about “warranties” – are they more marketing hype than reality? Film lifting or yellowing would seem to be the biggest issues – are Xpel / 3M warranties fairly sound on these issues, or not worth the paper they are written on?
Last question – can Xpel / 3M films take a 3/4 minus gravel hit at a (combined) speed of 60 mph? That’s really only two vehicles passing at 45 mph and the gavel bouncing once – pretty common occurrence in my area.
Thank you for venturing into this area!
I feel wrapping responsibly is the solution. If your going to wrap edges, wrap them, but doing some and not others wouldn’t make sense on a hood.
As for replacement there are too many unknown factors to generalize when replacement would be needed.
From my experience, the companies we use for film have been great with their warranties.
NO ONE could ever say yes it will protect from that. Too many variables. The right corner on the right rock at the right speed could always penetrate the film. Most don’t.
Very True. When working at the dealer we had the front clip of a Mercedes GTC wrapped and the next day a rock hit the clear bra and ripped it apart and the paint underneath was damaged. Clear bra doesn’t always protect it from the one perfect hit to the car.
Great article, Greg! I’ll definitely be coming to you when I finally decide to get trained in on PPF! 🙂
Would love a follow-up post on how to maintain & detail once you’ve already had PPF installed. Do I need to clay or polish ever? Just put on a ceramic coating and forget about it?
It’s already more than half way done, that will probably be my next article.
+1 on that request. I’ve heard very conflicting results about how to maintain the film.
I have some basics in an AAP article I made some time ago: https://www.detailedimage.com/Ask-a-Pro/clear-bra-is-it-a-good-fit-for-you/
Great article, I’m not a PPF guy, and this was really informative.
It is awesome that you took the time to share your viewpoint on the subject because as you said there is a lot of misinformation. One of the best things we can do is share our knowledge with the public in a way that is intended to educate them. But, respectfully, I do not completely agree with all of your concepts Greg.
“I know within this industry there is a lot of purposeful mysticism surrounding PPF. This is done to keep the quality ‘secrets’ between a select few installers or to make it seem much more complicated than it is in order to keep installation costs higher than what the free market fair price would normally bear.” -I do not see purposeful mysticism in PPF installers at all. I see what you go on to mention…..years of effort and training culminating in techniques and tricks that may be very valuable and give installers a certain edge. These tricks, many do not share because the great cost associated with acquiring the information. In terms of the cost of an installation and what fair market value is, well, it dictates itself doesn’t it? Who here can force anyone to pay for anything? The market will clearly indicate what it bears and what it does not. And some installers command a premium due to skill and /or supply/demand of their time/opportunity cost. When so few can do a certain caliber of installation, people pay more for that installation. This is why the guys that are hungry for work tend to stay hungry and the guys that stay very busy and command a premium stay that way in many cases. Part of this can be attributed to what you refer to as “purposeful mysticism”, or rather, a competitive edge in their ability to do certain things others may not be able to do. This is not unique to the PPF industry at all. Literally every industry sees the same thing.
But it is exactly as you said otherwise in the same paragraph. It takes many years to become highly skilled. And that is if someone actually presses themselves forward and continues to hone their skills. Many get comfortable with what is “basic” and cash out from there. Ordinary efforts beget ordinary results.
I think saying that a custom wrap is not necessarily a superior wrap to a pre-cut is pretty balanced. But I also feel strongly that a pre-cut is not necessarily a superior wrap to a custom wrap. This is one of those cases where the installer’s skill, customer’s desires and situation dictate what is done, not a hardened rule that is unable to account for the nuances that are so pronounced from client to client and panel to panel.
It is pretty unfair to say that someone that prefers custom wraps inherently is more likely to not be able to afford a plotter, lacks the space or refuses to pay for the software. For posterity’s sake, I have 3 large format plotters myself but do not always do pre-cuts. I can afford whatever I want in terms of the logistics and the money does not dictate my choice for the style of wrap for a panel. We do full pre-cut wraps, full custom wraps, modified pre-cuts and partial pre-cut/custom wraps on everything from a single panel to a full body clear bra wrap. I also happen to know many who face the exact same scenario per job/client.
It is fair to say that some may be in the situation where they go custom merely because of the cost associated with owning/running a plotter but the light you shed is one of only the possible negative reasons some may only offer custom wraps. You left out the possibility that some may just prefer the fit and finish of a custom wrap and are capable of doing so without damaging the paint. I know some who have the resources for running a plotter, own them and yet still choose to go the custom route because they feel it is honestly a superior wrap for their client.
When it comes to the use of a knife you said it best Greg. Even pre-cuts require trimming from time to time. Show me someone who does not have the ability to custom trim on a car, whether on a pre-cut that needs it or a custom piece, and I will show you someone hacking up paint. It is the ability to trim without damage and in a beautiful way that is part of what can command a higher price as discussed earlier.
Trimming may appear difficult, but once you get it, it is literally like riding a bicycle. Kinda just like how there are surgeons who have hundreds/thousands of hours cutting on humans in a life/death situation. They manage to not goof up with a knife because they are skilled at their craft.
I do think there are a lot of folks hacking up paint and I have seen it as I am sure everyone that has removed any measure of PPF has. But in the same paragraph you said that “This super precise system(a plotter) eliminates the unnecessary dangers of cutting through PPF on the vehicle and accidentally cutting clear coat. Sometimes patterns still require small trimming,” This sends mixed signals to folks. The bottom line is that trimming without damaging the car is a skilled that is absolutely required. The measure of trimming can be dictated by many things. But at the end of the day, one needs to know how to do it because it will be needed. To undermine that ability is to undermine a necessary skill all PPF installers should have. -My personal desire is that everyone understand how to trim safely. Not all do as is shown by the cut paint that I’ve seen.
When you talk about low end bids on PPF it is probably fair to say those exist in all forms of wraps; pre-cut and custom. I have seen both with hacked paint. Neither is a sure bet.
You are right about when people can usually see a poor trim job. It is usually long after the fact. There are a lot of fly by nights doing PPF installations now. One possible safeguard is to go with a trusted installer that is known to stand behind their work. But as we know, some measure of trimming will likely be needed with even a pre-cut. So buyer beware!
Not all corners can be completely wrapped. I agree. Some can. The skill of the installer and the corner in question dictates that.
You know, this is one that many fight. A lot of us in PPF and detailing like to push ourselves and go for that 10/10 fit and finish don’t we haha! I think the solution is more PPF installers should keep cars longer. Once dried out and properly locked in place, many tight edges can be wrapped to stay. But cutting a car loose quickly can lead to additional lifting that could have been addressed if just kept over night and reinspected.
When buttoning up a wrap after giving the car many hours to sit, dry and film cure, more can be done with wrapping. But just like you noted Greg, sometimes less is more and not wrapping a tight little crevice is the most responsible thing. Like most things, it is not an absolute this or that type of situation.
My take away from this topic is PPF installers should keep their work longer, invest more time in giving their work time and reinspecting their work the next day. I guarantee that the fit and finish for most jobs would improve.
Removal of parts for advanced wrapping:
This is one of those topics that an installer should openly and frankly discuss with a client. Some installers may have multiple tiers of installation styles. Some are very basic and won’t remove so much as an emblem to allow for fewer seams and some will spend many hours removing pieces from cars. As a business owner, the installer is entitled to dictate the level of tear down they want to be a part of. But in my opinion, the necessity is up to the owner. If the owner wants it and the shop doesn’t offer it, time to move on unless that shop happens to still be the most qualified to not wreck someone’s paint with a knife or something similar.
For a business that offers removal of parts to limit exposed seams. When they educate their client about the pro’s and con’s of that type of service, the client is capable of making a choice based upon their desire of exposed seams. From my personal experience: 95% of my clients want and pay extra for us to remove pieces that are reasonably safe to remove to limit seams. For a skilled technician, removal of reasonable parts is very easy and it provides an owner with a beautiful installation and fewer seams to care for and keep clean. These same clients come to us because others may not offer this style of wrap(there is NOTHING wrong with making a choice to not offer this) and they will bring their next cars back to us to have it done again and again because they love crazy OCD-like fit and finish. Though, there are a few that just want something very basic too. This is a department where the abilities/desires/model of the business meets with a client’s wants.
Many people will pay a premium for the best fit and finish possible. This is why companies like Porsche can sell cars at a premium when the owner could otherwise get VERY similar power/speed/performance out of a C7 Z06(nothing wrong with this car BTW…LOVE me some Z07 action!!). The exact same argument can be made for paint correction and detail work.
People work very hard for their money and some are willing to pay more to get more. That is up to them. It’s fair to say once educated about the nuances of different styles of PPF wraps, they are pretty qualified to make a choice as to if they feel a more expensive wrap that may cost more to repair is worth it or not. If they weren’t, I would not be in business.
My company is precisely known for the same style of wraps you are making some arguments to not use. Many other very qualified experts have the same model. Despite this being my bread and butter for PPF work, I do not convince people why a basic pre-cut PPF installation is terrible. Why? Because it is not necessarily terrible, bad or anything else that could be negatively inferred. The only people it is bad for are the ones that want something else. I suppose that is the point to my post. It’s to share insight on how some of the negative input given is not seen as accurate to everyone in the industry(as a NUMBER of folks sent this to me to get my feedback and expressed concern themselves). I disagree with you on how you present some of these arguments Greg. The absolute bad stuff like it not being okay to cut paint, lie to people or trick them…yeah it’s bad. No one should do that. But maybe there could be a bit more balance in how some of this content is presented in a “fear of damage” kind of way to people who may not understand the nuances of these topics. The installer handling the car, client and knife is the wildcard. Not really the methods that are being criticized and blanket covered in this piece.
To me, the bottom line is this. There are no absolutes except: “do no harm”. There are many types of car owners that have different wants, many types of PPF installers, many different skill levels and many different specialties among installers. An owner should do their due diligence to find the right fit for them. The business should do the best they can do to give a wonderful job that fits the description outlined and stand behind it. There are many ways those items are accomplished.
Thanks to both of the PPF installers for providing us with insight on PPF installation. I see your differences in opinion to be very similar to detailers and their daily trials trying to explain why a coating is better than a sealant (not always) or a wax. Experience is the key in PPF installation and detailing. Look for someone that has been in business for awhile and ask for references and take a look at the persons actual work. A warranty is only as good as the person giving it. I’m looking forward to more pieces of this interesting discussion.
Well said Robert.
Thanks for the article a Greg!, it was a great read. Also, working on both my wife’s and my own schedule so you can do the wrap on her car.
Hey Greg, thanks for the write up! I’ve always had my cars installed w/ PPF. I believe my installer does a great job. I tried it once and it was definitely harder than it looks. Anyway, the first car I had PPF installed was back in 2010, and I went with the partial coverage. The brand was Ventureshield, and it got pretty hazy over the years, I couldn’t tell if it was yellowing due to my car being black. It wasn’t until I removed it yesterday that I noticed there’s adhesive that seems to have etched into the paint, including that cut off line. The adhesive that was left were literally a PITA to remove, even with 3M’s all purpose adhesive remover. I buffed the area with a medium cut polish, and finished it up with a final polish, but at certain angles that cut off line and the area where it seems like the adhesive etched into the paint is still there. I have a feeling only wet sanding can get that off. I guess my question is, does that happen often? Right now my current cars have the Xpel Ultimate shield on, which they warranty for 10 years. I feel like I should remove the film way before the 10 year mark because I sure do not want any adhesive etching into the paint again. Thanks!
interesting that there is no comment on the wrapping of lights. A good good film on Plexiglas or even old style glass light covers can prevent some hefty loss claims, especially on low slung fog lights and turn indicators.
Hello to all, I’ve had an “Armadillo Paint Protector” put on my newly purchased cars for the dealership. Has anyone ever heard of it, or know anything about it? It was explained to me as it’s being a top coat, helping prevent rock chips, and sun damage to the paint. I don’t remember the cost, but I think it was about $300, but my cars have never had many chipping or sun fading to date. My car is now 14 years old and still looks brand new! So my question is … was my $300 worth it or should I have gone with your after-market PPF? By the way, I live in the south where temperatures reach over 100 degrees. I’m leaning towards PPF for my next new car, are there any detail companies located in the Dallas, TX area that install PPF? hardwaresavingsite.info
Seldom do I have the time to read articles online but I am glad I came across this one and would like to thank Greg for writing and Jean-Claude for his contribution. This provides an open discussion on the subject of PPF which benefits the consumer. With no governing body for paint protection film (ppf) installers, consumers can easily be misled and misguided. This frank and open article is just one of many that will prove helpful.
Good morning Greg,
We just started implementing the services of PPF in our business. Using high grade 3M Pro Series film.
Application goes great, looks nice when finished, but we’re experiencing lifting in some areas. I’m wondering if we should keep the vehicle indoors in a temperature controlled environment for a period of time before releasing to the customer?
Similar to window tint, I’m guessing some of the issues we’re experiencing might be caused due to the adhesive not having time to fully cure prior to the customer driving off and subject to wind and rain?
Hi Jim Nash – I have from a few vendors heard that its sometimes better to use a heat source around the lifting areas as it will cure quicker and prevent this from happening. Some of the other installers I know like to keep the vehicle an extra day or two if possible – double/triple check everything daily until customer picks up. Usually if there isn’t any lifting during those checks – we are pretty confident that it will stay on there. But again, knowing Murphy’s law, sometimes even having kept a car for 5 days, the customer has come back with some lifting – we only have this issue when wrapping around things where we do not have a whole lot of room to work by the way.
I like that you mentioned that a paint protection film’s effectiveness is very reliant on the craftsman that worked on it. I will remember that when getting such a treatment for my car. I just got it repainted and I recently got a close call when it almost got scratched when it was parking outside my home.
Good articles with excellent information. Some excellent replies as well. The technical requirements to install PPF seem quite high, hence, though no specific or guesstimated costs are mentioned, the install can be expensive I would think. That said, If this “protection” requires removal and reapplication after some time period, 5-10 years(?), I believe I will pass and, if needed, simply have my hood reconditioned by a paint shop. I had that done on my 2010 Odyssey around 2017 and the results were excellent. Traded that boy for a 2020 and received about $2K above trade-in value! YMMV, as we no longer have children at home and do little long over the road traveling.
Grand Touring is a fading joy. Of course when the road is filled with lumbering RVs, Freude Am Fahren fades quickly.