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July 20, 2010

Wrap Your Boat

Vinyl graphics can make a boat look like new again.

Henry Ford started it all. His insistence that all Model T cars be black apparently rubbed off on boatbuilders, because for the longest time, if you wanted a fiberglass saltwater fishing boat, the hull was going to be white - no ifs, ands or buts. Eventually the "fighting lady yellow" craze came along, and today you can pick from a seemingly endless palette of gelcoat finishes. But in a graphic, visual world that changes with every software update, it was only a matter of time before boat appearances morphed again. That time is now. I recently spoke with Kevin Kempf, aka Professa Grafix, about the growing popularity of vinyl boat wraps.

Kempf, who has a degree in graphic design, operates in New Orleans. A one-man show, he designs, prints and installs vinyl boat and transom wraps. Grand Slam, a classic 31 Bertram moored in nearby Venice, is his latest project.

"We needed to redo the transom after I moved the boat from Grand Isle to Venice, and I was looking for something easier to maintain," Grand Slam owner Brian Mendenhall told me. "My captain was familiar with Kevin's work, so I gave him a call. We traded e-mails with a photographer to secure the image and finalized the sailfish design after a couple of proofs. I love it. Soot washes right off with a little Dawn. Before, we had to use a heavy-duty detergent to get the soot off.

"The marina manager at Cypress Cove says he gets about 10 inquiries a week about our transom," he continued. "I'm very pleased with the wrap. It looks great. But when it's worn, I can peel it off and the boat will still look new underneath."

Before going to work on the computer, Kempf carefully measures all the angles, curves, seams and cutouts that will have to be incorporated into the design. Flat surfaces like transoms are easier to work with than curved hulls are, but things like exhaust ports and transom door seams still require careful calculations.

Based on the client's concept, Kempf designs the wrap using Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator or other computer software. He can incorporate photographs into the design as long as the digital files are high-resolution.

"The larger the file, the better the wrap," Kempf explains. "A 10-megapixel file will print a vinyl sheet 58 inches by 48 inches straight off the camera. I work with full-size files at 72 dots per inch so the images are sharp when they're printed."

After the design is approved, Kempf prints it onto rolls of adhesive vinyl. The rolls come 150 feet long, although the working limitations are panels 12 feet long by 5 feet tall. The vinyl is 4 mils thick with an adhesive underlay and a protective outer laminate. Kempf says it has 10-year durability under normal wear and can be removed up to four years after application without much trouble. It can still be removed after that, but the process is much harder.

Before the wrap can be applied, the boat needs to be cleaned and prepped. "Any imperfections will show, so if there's existing paint or a name, that needs to be wet-sanded smooth then wiped down with rubbing alcohol and a solution that removes all grease, wax and dirt," Kempf explains.

After the surface is prepared, instal-ling a wrap can take as little as 30 minutes, depending on its size and boat accessibility. Kempf uses a squeegee and heat to work out any air bubbles trapped beneath the surface. Once the vinyl is set, he trims and cleans it and seals the edges with more adhesive.

Vinyl wraps are limited only by imagination and budget. Besides doing transom wraps like the Grand Slam's, Kempf has completely wrapped hulls ranging in size from a 24-foot Pathfinder up to a 41-foot Fountain sport cruiser. Teams fishing competitively on the redfish, king mackerel and striper circuits often use wraps to showcase sponsors.

Quality vinyl like the Orajet 3951RA that Kempf uses averages $10 to $16 a square foot. He charges $60 an hour for design and installation. A transom wrap for a midsize convertible will run less than $500. Full wraps cost from $2,400 for a 26-foot center console up to several thousand dollars for a large boat and an intricate design.

In four years, Kempf hasn't had to replace a wrap due to material failure, but damage caused by operator error is not covered. Because they are relatively inexpensive and easy to apply, wraps offer an alternative to painting hulls.

So what are you waiting for? You could be the first at your marina to have a grander marlin or monster mako adorn your boat. Be forewarned if you do - it's hard to fish discreetly when your boat is easily recognized.

Wrap Artists

Hi Image Graphics

Boom Wraps

Professa Grafix