Introduction: A Poor Man's Vehicle Wrap

About: I am currently converting a 1988 40' Bluebird school bus into a motor-home / workshop that I plan to live, work and travel in. This is my second such project. This one will probably be my retirement home. Sti…

I have been working on my school bus conversion for several years. I wanted to do as much of the conversion myself as I could. One of the things I wanted was a nice graphic design. I priced several companies and the prices were impressively beyond my range. A few even cost more than what I paid for the bus.

That's when the wheels started turning. Some may remember I started out with a vinyl plotter/cutter. I was thrilled with this accomplishment, yet I wanted more. I have a sublimation printer that I use in my workshop but it only prints letter sized prints. I tried piecing together a collage on the passenger side of the bus for two reasons. 1. I wanted to see what it would look like. 2. I wanted to test the durability of the prints. The images on the passenger side have been up for about a year and show no signs of fading.

But I wanted a full size graphic. I found a 13" X 19" Epson Photo printer for $20 at a Habitat for Humanity Restore and the race was on again. Next was to find a waterproof outdoor paper that size. I found paper (actually printable vinyl) at to fit my printer. It is also available in standard 8.5" X 11" and 11" X 17" sizes.

Step 1: Supplies

  1. An idea
  2. Graphic (the larger the better)
  3. Inkjet printer
  4. Waterproof printable vinyl
  5. A vechicle (or wall or anywhere else) to apply your poster
  6. Poster printer program (I used RonyaSoft)
  7. Optional (Aerosol UV Laminate Spray)

Step 2: Design Your Graphic

There are several ways you can do this. Since I have no artistic ability I decided to use pictures from the internet. I gathered pictures that I felt represented America the Beautiful. This is by no means all inclusive. It's just how many images I could fit into the designated space.

If you are or someone you know is a good artist you can draw your art work in a proportional size and scan it and use that. However you obtain your image it needs to be scanned at a high resolution to retain clarity when enlarged.

There are several free online programs to print a wall poster from a standard picture. I opted to try RoynaSoft which will allow you to print the first three pages free. I liked it so much I decided to spend the $19.95 to buy the program and print the other five pages. I knew right away that I'd be printing more full sized graphics. RoynaSoft has more user options than the online programs and allows you to save the project on your computer. When looking at the screen view it shows the poster in blocks. It allows you to print one or multiple pages in the event you need to replace one panel.

Step 3: Application

Make sure your surface to be applied is clean, smooth and free of grit and grime. I used isopropyl alcohol after cleaning to remove any residue and as a surface prep. Measure your area and draw a horizontal and vertical center line to center and keep your image straight.

You can apply a wet application or dry application. Since the temperature was in the 90's I opted for the wet application. When using the dry application at that temperature once you touch the vinyl to vechicle it is stuck. You cannot reposition it. .The wet application allows you to adjust the vinyl until you are satisfied. Once you are satisfied squeegee the panel from the center towards the outer edges to remove any excess water and air.

Step 4:

This is what the image looked like when I pieced together several images into a collage.

Step 5:

This is the first test on the passenger side compared to the second on the drivers side. I'm now plotting on the rest of the free space on the bus. The whole graphic on the drivers side cost less than a hundred dollars and took less than 30 minutes to apply. $37 for the printable vinyl and a couple ink cartridges. The vinyl is out door rated by I also purchased the UV top coat spray for added protection, and additional $15. At this rate you can experiment with different designs and change them as often as you like.

This is a cool idea for vans, campers even work trucks. It's the same process as the professional vechicle wraps except they use large printers and do the same thing in large sheets. Theirs are put together in the same manner.

Anyway, stay tuned. I've got other ideas for the bus.