When it Comes to PPF, Tools Play a Major Role
By Tyler O’Hara
Every PPF install in our shop starts before the film is ever cut—by prepping our tools each morning when we arrive. In this column I am going to discuss the tools we use every single day and that are necessary to doing great PPF installations.
Let’s start with the most used tool for any install–the squeegee. Every installer I’ve ever talked to has their own opinions and preferences when it comes to squeegees. I will try to stay neutral and just talk about what options are out there. At the core though all squeegees are a blend of polymers and is the main tool used to smooth PPF down onto the surface. The industry standard is the yellow or black turbo usually 4-6 inches long. Turbos also come in other colors like red, green and pink. Each color represents a different hardness of the polymer and can yield a much different feel while installing PPF. The go-to squeegee in our shop is a 3M black rubber 2- by 3-inch wet dry squeegee. This conforms to our edges and rolls on front bumpers better than anything else. Paired with a Fusion Hornet this is our go-to. We also carry a geek wraps wet-edge hard card in our tool pouches and a silver platinum hard card. We really like to use these hard cards to tuck PPF edges and wrap into tricky areas.
Sprayers and Tanks
The second set of tools we use the most are our sprayers and tanks. For the most part, installers either use trigger spray bottles or pressurized tanks to spray slip solution. We use pressurized tanks that I make from beer kegs for our slip solution and Zep spray bottles from Home Depot exclusively. The kegs are 2.5 gallons. I like this size because, for me, the 5 gallon tanks are too tall and pose the risk of falling over and damaging something. Plus every day we like to mix a fresh batch of slip solution. We feel that when slip sits overnight it changes enough to sometimes cause some trouble during an install. So by mixing fresh slip every day we stay consistent and with only 2.5 gallon tanks it keep water wasting to a minimum. Many people run different nozzles on their sprayer set ups but I like the small Gilmore sprayer tips. I like that it can be adjusted from a mist to a stream so you have a lot of flexibility. Paired with a 25 foot Flexzilla hose to prevent kinks our tanks really work well and get it done! Our tack solutions are hosed in Zep spray bottles. We like the Zeps because the tip has a good range of adjustment, the trigger is large and sprays a lot of solution per pull if needed.
Knives and Blades
The use of knives and blades for paint trimming is highly debated and is subject to preference. In my experience, any blade holder that is housed in metal needs to be thrown away for the simple reason that it dulls the snap off blade as you extend and retract it. One of my guys argued with me about this for a long time and one day he finally caved and tried out a Harbor Freight plastic blade holder that I had been raving about. Sure enough, he came around and even agreed that the metal blade holders dull the blade. If you look down the barrel of the knife it’s very easy to see. Our blades stay sharp through the last break off! Some people have also talked about using scalpels. To me, this is very risky for you and the car because it cannot be retracted and poses a safety concern. Furthermore when you cut PPF you should only use the tip of the blade. So with break off blades you should have a fresh
tip every time. We use Olfa 9 mm black carbon-coated blades. They are also readily available at Home Depots or online so there’s no hassle restocking the shop.
Tweezers and Needles
Another very valuable set of our tools are tweezers and needles. We use tweezers to lift little edges of film after we trim it. This saves us a lot of headache when you just need to trim off a tiny sliver of film, and with big hands it can be difficult to pick up. We simply use household tweezers that you can find at any drug store. As for our needles to suck out small bubbles we are a little more specific. We like a 30-32 gauge needle with a shorter length. The shorter needles tend to bend less and last longer. Anything lower than 30g and the shaft of the needle is too thick making prick marks where you poke and suck a bubble. We order our needles from Amazon Prime.
Although we have thousands of dollars in overhead lights, Saber stand up spotlights and floor drop lights, the guys and I still use our handheld flashlights and headlamps the most part. For our handheld flash lights we like the Streamlight Stylus Pro. It’s a rechargeable blue spectrum light that casts 100 lumens. It’s the perfect amount of light for double checking edges and for illuminating edges of film to hand cut seams. For our headlights, we love the Olight H16. This light is super trick for a few reasons, the first being it has three power levels and is rechargeable. The second is that it has a motion activated on/off feature. You simply swipe your hand in front of your head and the
light will turn on or off. This single feature is extremely handy when doing PPF because there are times when you need light and then immediately need it off. The motion feature makes it really fast to toggle!
A steamer is a must have for PPF installs in cold climates! Even when it’s hot we usually have one on standby ready to use in the shop. In the cold, a steamer will soften the PPF to make stretching easier. Steamers also relax the film should you crease it or need to lift it back up. We also use steamers to relax fingers down. Some installers even use steamers to remove films. We also use steamers on delicate projects to clean out the cracks and crevices where dirt may be trapped.
Rags are almost as important as squeegees. We use specific rags for each process of every install. Micro fibers are rated in grams per square meter (GSM). The higher the number GSM the thicker the microfiber pile is in the towel. We have microfiber towels that are specifically for drying the vehicles after being washed. These towels have a double twist thread loop for extra absorbency and tend to have a higher GSM. Then we have 16-inch square white edgeless towels for panel wiping with degreasers to ensure all our edges, nooks and crannies are clean before we lay any film.
These white edgeless towels have about a 350 GSM and work great for ceramic coating installs as well. The towels we use for installing PPF are red 400 GSM super towels measuring 16- by 24 inches. We like this slightly larger towel for installs because it has more absorbency. Lastly we have a high GSM 700+ towels for final wipe downs, waterless washing and soft paint.
Tyler O’Hara is the owner of American Wrap Company in Thousand Oaks, Calif. He won the gold in the 2018 International Window Film Conference and Tint-Off™ PPF competition and has also competed and placed in the last four WFCT competitions.
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