Protecting your car’s paint job is a great way to safeguard your investment, and there are several options available to you for achieving that goal. If you like your car’s factory paint job, the careful application of wax on a regular schedule is the tried-and-true method. Recently, clear vinyl wraps have progressed to the point where they now provide an attractive and useful alternative to wax.
If you don’t need to keep your car’s factory color, or you’re interested in a new look anyway, vinyl wraps are available in several styles and dozens of colors. Another popular option is Plasti-Dip, which has gained a decent foothold in the car customization market.
Which choice is best for you? We’ll take a look at each option in depth so you can make the best decision for your car, your wallet and yourself.
What Is a Vinyl Wrap?
Vinyl is a popular option for car exterior customization because of its ease-of-installation, low cost compared to a full paint job and the possibilities it offers regarding finished products. Sheets of the vinyl film are cut and stretched to fit each body panel precisely. The sheets have an adhesive applied to one side, so there are no additional materials involved.
All you need are the right tools and some patience — or the phone number of a local shop you trust to do a good job.
What Is Plasti-Dip?
While the concept of Plasti-Dip may remind you of a product from a late-night television infomercial, it has, in fact, become a popular and successful aftermarket solution for car exterior modification. Originally, Plasti-Dip was marketed in spray cans to provide a rubberized, waterproof coating on just about anything you could imagine.
Eventually, its manufacturers developed a specific formulation to be used on automobiles. As you can imagine, painting an entire car by hand one spray can at a time is just asking for a repetitive stress injury, not to mention a solid week of your life down the drain.
Instead, Plasti-Dip products are also packaged by the gallon in buckets and designed to work with a standard paint spray gun.
Which Should You Choose?
Making a choice between Plasti-Dip vs. vinyl film won’t take a lot of effort. There are always several factors to consider, but just a little bit of research will make the decision pretty easy. The tough part will be deciding what to do with all the money you saved by not forging ahead with the traditional paint job.
We’ll take a look at each aspect of this debate and give you an idea of who comes out ahead.
To most of us, the bottom line is the most important factor. We’ll argue later on that there’s a more important consideration, but we certainly respect the weight cost will carry in the final decision. So how do these two products compare on cost?
The vinyl film will be more expensive, but if you don’t trust yourself to apply the Plasti-Dip, the labor cost of taking it to a professional shop will close the gap pretty quickly.
A good vinyl wrap installation from a reputable shop will be in the $1,500 ballpark, give or take material and labor costs. The larger the car, the more time for installation and the more vinyl film required, of course.
The raw materials for a Plasti-Dip will only run a hundred bucks or so, but that isn’t the end of the story. To apply the protection spray, you’ll need a few special tools: A spray gun, a hose and the necessary taping supplies to combat overspray. If you don’t have access to these tools, that will add expense to the project — and what are you going to do with a spray gun after you’ve finished the job?
Both a vinyl wrap and Plasti-Dip will be less expensive than a conventional paint job, which explains why they are the two options most commonly compared. If anyone is seriously deciding between a five-figure paint job and a vinyl wrap or Plasti-Dip, they’ve already decided money is not a factor and will lean toward the paint job anyway.
On the other hand, those of us with limited car mod budgets will appreciate the lighter price tag and the resale value investment offered by both vinyl wraps and Plasti-Dip.
We would strongly suggest that no matter which solution you choose, you take your car to a professional. But if you’re a confident do-it-yourselfer or are working on a project car that doesn’t have to be perfect, both Plasti-Dip and vinyl film are possible to apply yourself.So which is easier?
From an equipment perspective, you’re more likely to have all of the tools you need to apply the vinyl film: Squeegee, heat gun, utility knife, magnets and another person. Even if you’re missing one of these tools, they aren’t all that expensive to procure. In a pinch, you could use a hair dryer instead of a heat gun.
To apply the Plasti-Dip, you will need a spray gun, a hose, taping supplies and a whole bunch of tape and paper to protect your windows and other areas from overspray. The only substitute for the spray gun is ordering the Plasti-Dip in aerosol cans, but as we mentioned before, that would not be the most ergonomic option.
Additionally, the Plasti-Dip job is a multi-step process: Applying base coats, then several coats of the color itself and waiting for each coat to dry before moving onto the next. The drying time may not be significant, but you basically have to do the same job six or seven times over. Each coat requires you to travel an entire circuit around the car.
Applying a vinyl wrap might be a painstaking process requiring patience and a delicate hand, but at least you know that once you cover the car, you’re finished. If you’re going to do the job yourself, vinyl is the clear winner.
The most important consideration in this whole exercise is the durability of each product. After all, neither vinyl film nor Plasti-Dip can fulfill any promises of protecting your car and its paint job if they can’t take care of themselves. Both products are durable to a point, but one has a clear advantage.
Vinyl is quite resilient on its own. The sheets resist tearing, cracking and chemical breakdown. Chips from stones and other road debris might introduce small imperfections in the vinyl film, but the vinyl will win far more of those battles than it loses.
Plasti-Dip is certainly capable of taking a beating, but to get the most out of a Plasti-Dip coat, you’ll want to apply additional products: UV protectant coatings to battle the sun’s rays, a gasoline protector so you don’t eat away the area around the fuel door, and so on. These additional protectant layers will add time and money to your job.
Bird droppings and insect impacts can also degrade the Plasti-Dip’s outer layer. Experts recommend that you clean your car often to wash away these foreign substances before they do permanent damage. We’re sure you like to keep your vehicle clean anyway, but you shouldn’t feel like you have to rush home to wash your car every time you notice you got hit by a bird or finish a highway drive collecting bugs.
Vinyl film naturally resists both UV rays and the corrosive effects of all sorts of foreign substances that might all be on your car. Bird droppings and insect debris are unsightly, and you’ll surely want to wash them off to keep your car looking its best, but it’s good to know you don’t have to worry about these substances causing permanent damage to your vehicle’s finish.
In the matter of durability of protective sprays vs. paint protection film, the paint protection film takes an easy victory.
As you weigh the costs and durability of the two options, you should also have a good grasp on the expected lifespan of whichever solution you choose. You can reasonably expect vinyl film to last upwards of ten years. If you’re planning to keep your car for a long time, it’s comforting to know you’ll only have to do this job once.
Plasti-Dip, on the other hand, will start to break down around the three-year mark. This isn’t good news if you’re in it for the long haul, but perhaps you only plan to keep the car for a while before you trade it in or sell it. In that case, a three-year lifespan isn’t a deal-breaker.
Calling a winner here isn’t as easy, because not every application will need to last for a decade.
Continual Care and Maintenance
Caring for vinyl film and Plasti-Dip coatings involves the same process: Regular washing with soap and water. Vinyl can take a little more vigorous scrubbing than the Plasti-Dip can, so you don’t have to pull out the kid gloves for your vinyl wrap.
Neither covering requires you to apply wax nor other additional layers or products in routine maintenance. However, keeping the surface free from the winter road treatment chemicals, bird dirt and insects will do wonders for the long-term survival of both the protective film and the protective spray.
If your vinyl film does incur damage, you can replace the damaged panel without having to repaint your entire car. Since your vinyl film won’t fade from exposure to the sun and the elements, you won’t have to worry about mismatching panels.
If your Plasti-Dip coating gets chipped or eaten away, you can spray the affected area and do some touch-up work to blend the repair in with the rest of the surface and hope the rest of the coat hasn’t faded enough to make the new spray stand out.
By a nose, we think vinyl film has the edge.
Ease of Removal
You probably aren’t going to keep this car forever, and a big reason for choosing a paint protection solution is the ability to remove it and return the vehicle to its pristine factory paint job. So how easy is it to remove your vinyl film? It’s as simple as freeing up a corner of each panel and pulling it up slowly and carefully. The vinyl adhesive may leave some residue behind, but that’s easy enough to clean up with some soap and water.
Removing your Plasti-Dip coating can also be as simple as finding a corner and peeling it all off. The coating will stick to itself and come off in one sheet. Special cleaning solutions do exist for removing any stubborn bits of residue, but since those products are designed to dissolve one type of paint — the Plasti-Dip — you want to be careful they don’t dissolve your car’s original paint job, too.
Removing vinyl film will be a much more straightforward process, and therefore gets the edge in this category.
Now that we’ve gotten all of the practical considerations out of the way, we can talk about your aesthetic options. The cost and the performance of your protective coating are undoubtedly important, but a cheap, durable solution that looks hideous might be worse than an expensive, fragile solution that looks fantastic.
So in the visual attractiveness department, what are the differences in dipping vs. wrapping?
As far as which looks better between wrapping and dipping, subjectivity will always play a role. What looks good to you is so personal that it’s impossible to pass judgment here in this article. We can give you an idea of what you have to work with, though.
With traditional Plasti-Dip, your options were limited to all of the colors of the rainbow in a matte finish. After all, it’s essentially a coating of rubber on your car, and it’s tough to make rubber look shiny. But the market demanded, so suppliers provided solutions to give your Plasti-Dip coating a desirable shine. If you like that matte look, a Plasti-Dip coating will be the ticket. If you want shiny but also want Plasti-Dip, you’ll have to shell out a little more to get a special finishing spray.
In the vinyl arena, the sky is the limit on finishes. You can have glossy, matte, metallic, mirrored, chrome or even carbon fiber. Color options are also limited only by your imagination. Films of all styles and finishes are produced by the same method, so the choices are staggering. Vinyl film also unlocks the potential for mixing and matching, creating patterns or adding graphics to your car. It’s quite difficult to add an overlay on a Plasti-Dip finish.
Vinyl runs circles around Plasti-Dip here, based on the sheer number of possibilities.
If you want to protect your rims, Plasti-Dip is the only option. You won’t be able to apply vinyl wrap to your wheels and achieve any satisfactory results. Wheel bands are an option, but that will only protect your rims from curb rash. While road debris damage on the face of your rims is relatively rare, only Plasti-Dip will provide that protection.
Other Installation Options
Perhaps you don’t feel the need to cover your car’s entire exterior and would rather focus on the areas that take the most damage. If you would prefer to save some money and address a single area of your car, the front bumper and fenders are your smartest choice. So how do you decide on Plasti-Dip vs. a clear bra for protecting the front of your vehicle?
Clear vinyl film will be your best option here because you don't have to fuss over the best way to implement a two-toned paint job. A clear vinyl car bra will let the original paint shine through but still offer the rugged protection of a vinyl wrap. Clear Plasti-Dip does exist, but if the recommended number of coats is six, you’re starting to add measurable bulk to the front of your car and nowhere else. So even if the result is truly clear, it will still stand out.
If a two-toned look is no problem for you, deciding on protection sprays vs. vinyl bras seems to be an easy call as well. We’ve seen a few well-executed spray jobs that pull off the matte-black finish for the front of the car, but it’s far more likely that your spray job will scream “junkyard bumper replacement.” This is probably the exact opposite of what you’re going for. In this case, the vinyl bra is still the clear winner.
Vinyl holds a distinct advantage over Plasti-Dip in every category but price, and we could indeed apply that outcome to the adage, “You get what you pay for.” That being said, Plasti-Dip does have its uses. If you would prefer to go for the more flexible option that gives you a ton of visual possibilities, browse our inventory of vinyl protective film and contact our helpful sales staff for input. We’ll get you on the road to a new ride in no time.