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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Whether you're installing paint protection using precut kits or sheets off
the roll, installation of PPF follows these steps:
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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
- 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.
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.
- Superior Protection Against Physical Hazards Like Rocks, Bugs and Road
- Self-Healing (Depending on Brand)
- Protects Paint from Scratches and UV Damage
- Up to 10 Years of Durability
- Can Reduce the Shine of a Vehicle's Paint
- Most PPF is Not Hydrophobic (Using Ceramic Coatings on PPF Can Improve
- May Discolor and Yellow (Brand Dependent)
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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