What is cast vinyl? And When is it the Right Choice for Your Vehicle Graphics

by Deborah Scott on July 29, 2016


What is cast vinyl?

Cast vinyls are premium grade vinyls that begin their life as a liquid.  (A strange, but important detail we will get back to in just a bit.) This liquid is poured into a HUGE casting sheet (aka a flat mold) in an extremely thin layer to create the vinyl. 


The unique quality of cast vinyl is that it does not have a memory of its original shape.  Like a chameleon that takes on the colors of its surroundings, cast vinyl adopts the surface shape or contours of the surface it is applied to. 

Why is Cast Vinyl Important for Vehicle Graphics?

According to Tekra, vinyl industry manufacturing experts:

"Cast films are considered the industry premium. These films start in a liquid state with the ingredients blended together and then poured onto a casting sheet. The casting process produces a thin gauge film—usually 1- to 2-mil thick. By casting film on a sheet, the film stays in a more relaxed state, resulting in a durable, flexible, conformable and dimensionally stable film that retains color well. These films are ideal for complex surfaces such as vehicles and where a smooth finished look is expected."

Cast vinyl will not shrink and will adhere to the contours, recesses and indentations and complex curves of a vehicle.  These qualities make it the best vinyl for graphics for odd shaped objects, like vehicles. The thin vinyl takes on a paint-like appearance when applied to the vehicle surface.

Cast vinyl creates vibrant paint quality color and the highest level of durability that lasts for years.  

Are There Other Types of Vinyls?

The other primary type of vinyl is calendered vinyl.  Calendered vinyl is manufactured in a style similar to pasta.  It runs through a series of rollers and heaters until it achieves a consistent even thickness.  Due to the manufacturing process, calendered vinyl begins its life as vinyl in a flat state and wants to retain its flat shape over time.  Calendared vinyl is perfect for signs and window graphics which match the flat characteristics of the vinyl.  This process is more efficient and economical, resulting in a less expensive vinyl than cast vinyl.  

What is the Problem with Using Calendered Vinyls for Vehicle Graphics?

The problem with using calendered vinyls on curved surfaces, like vehicles, is pretty simple.  Calendered vinyl ultimately wants to return to its original flat shape.  And while it might look good when you pick your newly wrapped vehicle, it is not going to look good for very long

In the very short term, calendered vinyl can be heated and conformed to most shapes.  But the vinyl doesn't relax into the shape.  There is tension between the vinyl and the adhesive holding it on to the surface.  The adhesive tries to hold tight to the vehicle surface while the vinyl pulls against the adhesive in its efforts to return to a flat shape. This creates a lot of tension in the vinyl.  Eventually, the adhesive will not hold up creating tenting over recesses or releasing at the edges to release the tension.

For short term promotional wraps that stay on a vehicle less than 90 days, the risk of vinyl failure is low and the cost savings of using a calendered vinyl make it a good choice.  But for long term vehicle wraps, make sure your company works with premium cast vinyls or otherwise warranties their work so you are not stuck with the bill to re-wrap your vehicle due to vinyl failure.

How do I tell them apart?

cast_or_calendered_vinyl_riveting_wraps_seattle_wa.jpgThis is a little bit tricky because it is very difficult to tell the two vinyls apart. If you are familiar with vinyl, you will find the cast vinyl to be much softer and thinner than calendered vinyl.  However, this can be difficult to discern for a novice. We recommend the following:

  1. Ask what vinyl will be used on your vehicle before making your final decision about a vehicle wrap company.
  2. Look for certified vehicle wrap installers.  They have been trained by the vinyl manufacturers in the best practices for vehicle wrap installation. These installers focus on work they can be proud of and they are sought out in the industry by those who value a quality wrap.
  3. Looks at reviews and past work.  Riveting Wraps is a division of RainMaker Signs who has been trusted by large national brands like McDonalds, national franchises like Precision Door Services, regional and local businesses for years. Riveting Wraps was formed as a new division specifically to focus their talented vehicle graphics designers and installers on the areas they excelled at and enjoyed the most. 
  4. Work with a vehicle wrap company you trust.  If you have your doubts, listen to your instincts.  The lowest price players may skip post heating to cut time and costs out of their process.  

Quality Begins with the Right Materials

New Call-to-actionWhile vinyl wrap types and names are the most jargony part of this industry, understanding these references can help you make the decisions that result in a great wrap rather than a disappointing one. But how the material is printed, handled and installed are equally important.  Using the proper material is an important step in creating a durable long lasting wrap. Learn more getting a high quality wrap.

These vehicle wrap failures can come with a very steep price.  Get the straight facts on vehicle wrapping, contact Riveting Wraps at (425) 368-5007 or email us at hello@rivetingwraps.com. 

Topics: Wrap It Right

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