What Is the Deal with Paint Protection Film?

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What is the Deal with Paint Protection Film (PPF)?

Regardless of whether your ride is a show car only or a daily commuter, there's no question that protecting its paint is the best way to keep it looking brand-new. And, not surprisingly, there is no shortage of ways to achieve that end: there are literally hundreds of different sprays, waxes and creams you can use to protect your car's painted surfaces from the elements and UV radiation but what about rock chips and other debris? Enter paint protection films (PPF) stage right. Made from a thin, polyurethane film or polymer, these so-called PPF kits act like a second, invisible skin on the surface of your vehicle to protect from rock hits and other desultory detritus including mineral deposits, acid rain and more. But, like everything else on the internet, there's a lot of conflicting and, in some cases, just plain wrong information out there so stick with us as we break it all down for you so you get the facts you need to make a smart choice.

Table of Contents

What is Paint Protection Film?

What is the Difference Between Regular and Self-Healing PPF?

What Types of Paint Protection Film are Available??

Is There a Difference Between PPF and Vinyl Wraps?

Can You Install PPF Yourself?

How to Install Paint Protection Kits

How Long Will Paint Protection Film Last?

What are the Pros and Cons of Using Paint Protection Film?

Paint Protection: The Final Analysis

What is Paint Protection Film?

Despite many people's relative unfamiliarity with paint protection film it's actually been around for awhile. In fact, it was first developed in the 1960s for military applications in the Vietnam War. You see, delicate parts of vehicles, Jeeps and helicopter rotor blades were being repeatedly damaged by shrapnel and other flying debris. In order to figure out a way to prevent this damage the military contacted 3M™ to have them create a protective film that would be both lightweight and completely transparent.

Within a short time after having received the contract, the wizards at 3M™ came up with a solution to the military's request: a custom, urethane film commonly referred to as helicopter tape. These first protection films were rough and tumble and weren't much to look at — in fact, they had a cloudy, matte finish but they did an excellent job of protecting the surfaces they were applied on. They saved tons of equipment from shrapnel hits, UV damage and surely saved a life or two.

Modern paint protection films have come a long way from the days of 60s and are now synonymous with the premium-quality, polyurethane films that is often applied over the paint jobs of both new and used cars. Available in a variety of colors and in an optically clear variation as well, you cam find PPF in a number of different thicknesses too. Whichever brand and thickness you choose, you can rest assured that it will be incredibly resistant to acids and corrosive chemicals while protecting your ride from bug hits, bird droppings, UV radiation and more.

What is the Difference Between Regular and Self-Healing PPF?

Most of the higher-end films that don't claim to have ceramic coatings are self-healing. What exactly does that mean? In short, the topmost layer of the paint protection film is made of an elastomeric polymer substance which helps the material maintain its shape once it’s been stretched or applied. This elastomeric layer allows the PPF to “self-heal” when light scratches occur.

Regular paint protection films were once all that you could find although they have largely been replaced by self-healing PPF. Perhaps the most well-known of these films was Ventureshield. It was a really versatile and flexible film because it didn't feature a hard clear coat like other paint protection films. This made it easier for inexperienced installers to apply, but lacking a clear coat the material quickly dulled - especially in extreme weather environments.

What Types of Paint Protection Film are Available?

PPF was first invented by 3M™ and they have had a lock on the industry for decades but there are now a number of alternatives available. Other leading PPF brands are Suntek, Xpel, Llumar and Clear Bra. These days there are also a select number of companies who offer some of these brands of paint protection film in a precut kits for your year, make and model vehicle. Xpel offers this service as a cut-file to be downloaded for use whereas companies like Rvinyl (that's us) offer precut paint protection kits that can be ordered online and shipped right to your door. 

Is There a Difference Between PPF and Vinyl Wraps?

There is a difference between paint protection films and a vinyl wrap but it's not solely, or even mostly, a difference in thickness. Some people state that PPF is thinner, but in our experience, most protection films are actually thicker (unless you're talking about textured vinyl wraps like ORACAL® 975 Structure Cast films). The real difference is that vinyl wraps are meant to change the appearance of your vehicle (not protect it) and so are available in a variety of styles and colors. PPF, on the other hand, is usually crystal clear, and is self-healing when scratches occur. Unfortunately for us, no one has yet invented a self-healing vinyl wrap.

Can You Install PPF Yourself?

If you listen to the internet, you're probably going to find that most sites recommend professional installation of paint protection kits. And, as much as this is due to companies trying to promote their own services it also has a lot to do with the fact that PPF application is not an easy task. Most shops that do PPF installations are also vinyl wrap installers and offer custom auto body services too. Many of them also use machine called a cutter-plotter which actually cuts the vinyl into sections for the hood, fender, mirrors and other areas of the vehicle to protected. Naturally, this makes installing much easier and form-fitting, like installing headlight protection film or on door sills. And, although there is still a lot to be said for the skill of these guys, when you buy precut paint protection kits from Xpel or Rvinyl, you are taking a lot of the worry and difficulty out of the equation. 

How to Install Paint Protection Kits

Whether you're installing paint protection using precut kits or sheets off the roll, installation of PPF follows these steps:

  1. Clean and Prep Your Surface: Most installers use a good degreaser to remove debris and oils without removing waxes or polish. Although many will actually undertake a complete wax and polish before installing PPF to improve the shine we recommend stripping the wax before applying a new coat.
  2. Cut the PPF to Fit Sections (Skip this Step for Precut Kits): Once the car's paint is cleaned and prepared, cut PPF material for installation. The concept is similar to using sheets of film to install window tint and usually it's easier to install in sections, such as a hood, fender, bumper rocker panels, quarter panel, side mirrors, and other section less than five feet square.
  3. Line Up PPF Sections to Car: Whether you're using precut paint protection of have cut sheets yourself, the next step is to line them up and prepare for installation.
  4. Spray Slip Solution: Almost all PPF car bras require an activator which is also called a fitting solution. This activates he PPF's adhesives, which is what causes it to stick to the paint surface. Depending on the brand of PPF used, the solution can range from nothing more than water to a soap-like fluid.
  5. Fitting and Application:  PPF is a two-dimensional film that is being applied to a three-dimensional surface so it doesn’t just fit perfectly with no effort. Paint protection film requires a repeated process of spraying, squeegee, heating and stretching to get into the right shape and position. The final part of this phase is to squeegee out the air bubbles and slip solution from under the film.
  6. Curing: Once the PPF has been applied, and all bubbles and creases are gone, the final step is curing or heat-activating. Use a heat gun to activates the adhesive and cause the PPF to stick to the body. This thermoforming process also shrinks the material and creates a tight bond.

How Long Will Paint Protection Last?

Once you install or have your paint protection kit installed you can expect it to last for years to come. According to 3M,  professionally installed polyurethane film or PPF should last from 5 to 10 years and, when installed by certified pros, they often come with warranties e—something to consider when thinking about going the DIY route.

Regardless of whether you do-it-yourself or choose have PPF professionally installed the factors that impact the durability and life of paint protection film include the following:

  • Prep & Cleaning:  While PPF is a protective layer, it’s only as good as the surface underneath. Prep work is often the most time consuming, but important steps for installing PPF.
  • Installation: Installing PPF is a complex and delicate procedure. If there are bubbles or creases in the material, it will warp – and not adhere correctly. The smoother the installation – the longer it will last.
  • Environment: One of the best attributes of PPF is its ability to hold up against heat. But, too much exposure to direct sunlight will decrease lifespan. It’s also important to understand that PPF is not bulletproof. If it’s continually exposed to debris, blowing sand, bird droppings or other damaging materials, it can wear thin.

What are the Pros and Cons of Using Paint Protection Film?

PPF is a great product for protecting paint and extending the lifespan of any vehicle’s surface. However, it’s not without flaws or some disadvantages. Listed below are a few of the pros and cons of using PPF.

PROS
  • Superior Protection Against Physical Hazards Like Rocks, Bugs and Road Debris
  • Self-Healing (Depending on Brand)
  • Protects Paint from Scratches and UV Damage
  • Up to 10 Years of Durability
CONS
  • Can Reduce the Shine of a Vehicle's Paint
  • Most PPF is Not Hydrophobic (Using Ceramic Coatings on PPF Can Improve This)
  • May Discolor and Yellow (Brand Dependent)

Paint Protection: The Final Analysis

Both Precut Paint Protection Kits and PPF are a great way to  protecting the exterior of any vehicle from damage caused by rock chips and other debris. It isn't intedned to make an older car look newer or shinier and generally isn't very hydrophobic. If your goal is to hide older paint or change the look of your car altogether then you may be in the market for a vinyl wrap instead.    

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