How-To: 3M Clear Film Application

Discussion in 'Appearance and Body Modification' started by DrWebster, Jun 26, 2011.

  1. DrWebster

    DrWebster Guest

    After 5 years and 82,000 miles of wear and tear on my 3, I learned quite a bit about the common places to see paint chips and rust/dirt on the car. When we brought the Demio home I quickly decided that I needed to give it some sort of protection, as it would likely see similar, if not worse, wear as time went on.

    When we bought the Demio, the finance lady at Morries pitched the clear film installation, saying it would only increase our monthly payment by $18. I declined it, because while $18 doesn't sound like a lot, after 36 months that's $650. And all the film would have covered would be the front of the hood, headlights, and side mirrors. Ouch!

    I figured I could do better than $650, and I was right. $74.99 plus $8 shipping bought me a 12" by 12-foot roll of 3M clear automotive film. I cut the roll into two 6-foot segments, and this weekend I installed half of it on the car. I wrapped the front 11 inches of the hood, and with the scrap I covered the door sills to protect from shoe scrapes. (The other 6 feet will be used to wrap the bottom edges of all the doors, as well as the rear fender lips -- both are places that are rusting pretty good on my 3.) This how-to illustrates the process of applying those door sill pieces (with pictures of the hood at the end).

    I wasn't able to provide pictures of every detail, as at some points I was time-limited, had two wet hands, or both. Thankfully, those details don't really need pictures as they're self-explanatory.

    Materials

    --3M or VentureShield clear film
    --Quick Detailer spray or equivalent
    --Spray bottle filled with water and dish soap mix
    --Spray bottle filled with water and isopropyl alcohol mix (optional)
    --Masking tape (optional)

    Tools

    --Plastic squeegee
    --Several microfiber towels
    --Razor blade
    --Scissors
    --Ruler and cutting mat (optional)

    Background

    3M (or VentureShield, a competing product) is a clear vinyl sheet that has a strong adhesive on one side. The adhesive is weatherproof and sticks very easily, but is also safely removable from car paint (with the right chemicals). Applying the clear film isn't like applying a vinyl decal to a window; it's a lot closer to installing window tint than anything. If you've been to a Tint Day and watched Tint Pros work, then you should have an idea as to how this stuff is installed.

    Application Process

    1. Make sure you have enough material to cover the area you want to apply it to. This may seem obvious, but keep in mind that most car body panels are curved in at least one direction, and this will mislead you as to how much material you'll actually need. Measure out the area in both directions with a fabric or vinyl roll-up tape measure, not just so it won't scratch the paint but also so it will conform to the surface and give you a more accurate measurement.

    2. Once you have your measurements, cut a piece of the film roughly to fit. Don't bother trying to get it perfect; just get a square or rectangle big enough to cover the area. If you're doing a flat area like the door sills I'm using as an example, then you could conceivably cut the piece to its final size. For rough cuts, a pair of sharp scissors should work; if you need clean edges, use a ruler and razor blade on a cutting mat. Razor blades cut this material much better than scissors do. A path I took when cutting the piece for the hood was to use masking tape to stick the sheet down roughly where I wanted it, then do the rough cut with a pair of scissors.

    3. Get your spray bottle of soap and water solution ready. The ratio of soap to water will vary on how big, and how complex, of a piece you're trying to apply. The more soap in the mix, the longer it will take for the adhesive to bond, and thus the longer working time you'll have. You may think that more working time is a good idea, but this is a double-edged sword; if there's too much soap, you may find yourself with a piece that's still sliding around on the car when you really want it to start to stick. I used more soap when I applied the piece to the hood than when I did the door sills, mostly because the hood is a much more complex surface and I needed the working time.

    If you're doing a piece where you plan to wrap an edge (say, the leading edge of a hood or bottom of a door), it would be helpful to have another spray bottle with a mix of water and isopropyl alcohol. This mix does the opposite of the water and soap; it drives the soap away and helps the clear film stick more quickly.

    4. Work in a garage if at all possible. You need to control the environment you're in as much as you can, because you don't want dust, dirt, etc getting stuck under the film as you're applying it.

    5. Clean the area you're applying the piece to. It's great if you can wash the whole car first, but not required. Use some quick detailer to give the area a first pass, then wipe clean with a microfiber. Then, clean the area again with the soap and water solution. The soap in the water will have the added benefit of stripping any wax on the paint, which will help the clear film adhere better.

    6. Clean the area again. I mean it, you really want the area as clean as you can get it. Make sure there aren't any tar spots, rail dust, rock chips, etc that you don't want to be trapped under the clear film. The clear film will prevent any existing rock chips from rusting, but if there are any that you want to hit with touch-up paint, now is the time to do it.

    Here is the area we'll be doing as an example, it's all nice and clean:

    [​IMG]

    7. Spray down the area with the soap and water mix liberally. You want the entire surface covered evenly; it's better to wet it too much than too little.

    [​IMG]

    8. Wash your hands well, then spray the soap and water on both of them. You need to do this to 1) prevent the film from sticking to you and 2) keep from transferring dirt, fingerprints, etc to the adhesive side of the film. Always keep your hands wet while applying the film!

    9. Peel off a little of the backing to the film, and spray the adhesive side (yes, the sticky side) with the soap and water. Peel a little more, spray the newly-exposed adhesive. Keep going until all of the backing is off and the whole piece of clear film is dripping with soap and water. (You don't want to pull the backing off in one shot and then spray the soap and water because the film may curl up and stick to itself -- and if it does, you pretty much have to throw it in the trash.)

    10. Lay the piece down on the area you're applying it to. The soap will make it slide around the area easily; this lets you move it into position exactly where you want it.

    [​IMG]

    11. Now is when the timer starts ticking. As the soap and water dries, the clear film will stick to the paint better. There will be a point where it's too late to pull it back up and reapply it if you positioned it incorrectly. Work quickly and diligently from this point on.

    12. Take your plastic squeegee and, from the middle of the piece and working outwards, firmly press the piece and work any bubbles out to the edges. The company I bought the 3M film from threw in a plastic squeegee for free, but it had a bit too rough of an edge and had a tendency to scratch the film, so I wrapped the edge with a thin towel to soften it.

    [​IMG]

    13. Get any large, flat areas tacked down first, then work towards the edges. It does no good to have the whole piece sliding around if you're trying to stretch an edge to go around a curve or something. After just a couple minutes, if you're squeegeed properly, the piece should stop sliding around.

    14. As you work, keep re-wetting your hands as they get dry. Also, if there are areas of the film that are starting to feel sticky but you don't yet want them to be, you can re-wet them as well.

    15. Once you've worked your way out to the edges, you can pull on the edges of the film to stretch it if you need it to conform to a curve. The leading edge of the hood was the most difficult; it took me quite a while to get the film stretched properly and stuck down without any bubbles or wrinkles. In our example of the door sills, I decided to wrap the film down the front edge for some added protection; this went pretty smoothly as the film only needed to turn in one direction. Just go at it with the squeegee over and over again until it's stuck down and the bubbles are worked out.

    16. If you're applying a piece where you want to wrap an edge (again, like the hood), get the top of the piece stuck down fully, then open the hood/door/trunk/whatever and trim off any excess film. Leave about an inch of film sticking out past the edge of the body panel, to provide enough to wrap around the panel and stick decently. Don't bother trying to use scissors for this; get a plain single-edged, new (i.e. sharp) razor blade and freehand it as best as you can. Remember to keep your hands wet! Then, lightly spray down the underside of the panel (I sure hope you cleaned it well first!) with the soap and, from the middle outwards, slowly wrap the film around the edge of the panel. If the film isn't sticking well enough, you can use some of the soap and alcohol mix to get it to stick better. If you come to a corner, you may need to slit the film so it can lay over itself and not be bunched up.

    17. You should have the piece fully stuck down, with no big bubbles, wrinkles, etc. It's OK if there are a few small bubbles here and there; I think it's an inevitable part of the installation process.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Here's a slightly better look at the film after I applied it to the passenger side of the car and backed it out onto the driveway:

    [​IMG]

    18. Give the film some time to "rest" and adhere better. In a couple of hours, you can come back and clean up the area with more quick detailer, and apply any wax that got stripped off of places you didn't apply film to. You can also wax (or apply sealant) to the film itself, 3M just recommends that you don't run the car through an automatic car wash for 24 hours after applying the film.

    So I showed you my door sills; here's how the hood turned out:

    [​IMG]

    Had a couple of minor difficulties, but I expected worse since the hood was the first piece of 3M I had ever tried to apply (talk about trial by fire -- if I had screwed up this piece, I would have been out about $40!). One of the corners managed to start to stick to itself; I was able to unstick it but a couple of bubbles got left behind:

    [​IMG]

    Couple of bubbles near the edge of the hood:

    [​IMG]

    How I learned to wrap the squeegee with a towel was after I started noticing that the film was getting a little wrinkled/scratched as I was applying it. You can only notice it when the light hits it just right and you're up close, but I have a half-dozen spots like this on one side of the hood wrap where it's wrinkled like this:

    [​IMG]

    Overall, I'm very happy with how the door sills worked out, and reasonably happy with the hood. IDK why I did the hood first; it would have been easier to learn by doing the door sills first, but I'm kind of stupid that way. For reference, it took me about half an hour to do both door sills, but over 2 hours to apply the hood (the front edge of the hood alone took about an hour to get stretched/stuck down). The only casualty of the application process was the knuckle on my left pinky finger; as I squeegeed the film down it would slide against it and at the end it was starting to bleed a bit.

    I also understand why it's so expensive to have this film applied by a pro -- the material itself is somewhat spendy, but the application process is quite labor-intensive. Plus, if the pro screws up or a piece gets miscut, they could end up having to throw out a $100+ piece of film. If I decide to get the front bumper and mirrors covered with the film, I will definitely be paying a pro to do it.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 26, 2011
  2. very nice job i used to install that stuff when i used to detail. never thought about using it on the door sill will have to keep that in mind.
     
  3. Big Nate

    Big Nate Chaos Engineer

    Great job.

    Do you have a web site where i can get some of this film from?
     
  4. mndsm

    mndsm I'M OFFENDED!

    IIRC he bought it on eBay.
     
  5. DrWebster

    DrWebster Guest

    Yeah, there's a bunch of sellers offering it in various widths/lengths on eBay.
     

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