Wrap it up!
Wrap it up!
Burlington Graphic Systems moves into the retail side of RV graphics, including wraps and replacement designs for pre-owned RVs. “Our library of designs and parts and shapes and sizes for the RV and marine industries is extremely large. There’s a good possibility that for any retail consumer who calls, we have what they need,” said BGS vice president Doug Graham Jr.
By Bruce Hampson

iven the escalating prices of new motorized and towable RVs fueled by pandemic-related parts shortages and rising manufacturing costs, it’s not surprising that owners are opting to hold on to their current motorhomes, fifth wheels and travel trailers well past the time they otherwise might have traded up for a new model.

Older RVs come with their own set of problems, though, and while it’s fairly easy and relatively inexpensive to update interior layouts — especially when tackled one project at a time — exteriors present sometimes seemingly insurmountable hurdles to restoring an RV’s former appearance. When you consider the harsh environment the outside of your RV is forced to endure, it’s understandable — from the oftentimes bitter winters of the north to the unrelenting summers of the south and west, virtually no RV is immune from being ravaged by weather conditions. And we haven’t even touched on the toll taken on exteriors by everything from bug splatter to road debris.

Unfortunately, you can’t just restore an exterior in phases unless you want to stand out in the campground for all the wrong reasons. If the weathering isn’t extreme, exterior surfaces can sometimes be restored by anyone knowledgeable about cleaners, cutting compounds and waxes — but even then, the original factory graphics usually can’t be brought back from the grave. That’s when RV owners usually discover that their dealership — and their manufacturer — don’t normally stock older replacements.

Doug Graham Jr standing in warehouse

Doug Graham Jr., BGS vice president and general manager, inside the Elkhart, Indiana, facility’s warehouse area where orders await shipping out to RV manufacturers for use on new models. BGS, said Graham, works with and touches almost 100% of the industry at some level.

But Burlington Graphic Systems (BGS) does. In a manner of speaking, anyway. The premier supplier of graphics to the RV industry, the Racine, Wisconsin-based supplier has archived all of the graphics it has designed for use by RV manufacturers and recently opted to offer its services — including wraps and replacement graphics — to the public.

“We’ve been in business almost 40 years, and I can get you designs dating back 40 years ago,” said Doug Graham Jr., BGS vice president and general manager of the company’s Elkhart, Indiana, facility. “Our library of designs and parts and shapes and sizes for the RV and marine industries is extremely large. There’s a good possibility that for any retail consumer who calls, we have what they need. We will have instant access to that design.”

That’s a big deal, because many OEMs and dealers only stock designs for three years after the specific RV is produced. The continuing technological improvements of digital printing, however, allow BGS to meet requests for out-of-date designs “rather quickly.”

And the company has the staff to get the job done. “We’ve always been the designer and supplier of graphics, never the installer,” Graham explained. “But over the last few years, we’ve built a really strong team of trained professional installers. The primary reason we added them to our team was to assist our OEM customers when it comes to prototyping units before they go to production. Beyond that, it was to help train manufacturer technicians hone their skills on the production line when they’re installing graphics. But looking at our volume of vinyl and the ability of our installers, it’s a natural fit for us to go into the installation part of this, as well.

BGS facility exterior
BGS facility interior
Known for its stylish stainless-steel exterior, the BGS facility in Elkhart includes a design center, product warehouse and 7,500-square-foot showroom, where vintage automobiles attract visitor’s attention. Soon to come: a massive 50-foot video screen with 3D capability for displaying life-size designs for RV OEM clients without having to physically install them on a unit.

“The world of vinyl is growing tremendously,” he added. “The technology’s gotten incredible — to where it truly can take the place of paint, in most instances. In fact, in some cases it provides superior protection to paint. And with the surge in the RV market of painted towables and motorhomes, there’s really not enough capacity to get RVs painted. That’s why we started looking at presenting wrap designs and graphics to the market — and with our ability to design, print and now install the product, we’ve opened this up to consumers that want their vehicle wrapped.

“Vinyl just offers a quick, clean and, in many cases, less-expensive alternative to paint.”

Obviously, however, not every consumer in the U.S. can bring their unit to the BGS facility in Elkhart. BGS also is developing a program to educate RV dealers with the ability to install wraps and graphics, either at the BGS facility in Elkhart or at the specific dealerships.

“But here again, that speaks to one of the strengths of wrap versus paint — in every town in America, you could find a vinyl shop of some sort with people that have the ability to install graphics,” he said. “On top of that, we have been actively working with the OEMs to get their dealer body aware and ready and trained to be able to install wraps.”

While it’s not recommended that a consumer attempt to tackle a wrap, replacing or updating graphics is another story. While contacting the specific manufacturer should always be the first move, consumers faced with an out-of-date unit can reach out to BGS. After determining it has graphics on file for a specific make, model and year — the company, said Graham, works with and touches almost 100% of the industry at some level — the order is placed and the graphics are printed and shipped to either the customer’s selected installer or the owner themselves. For do-it-yourselfers, the package includes easy-to-follow installation instructions.

Customers also can work with BGS designers to update or personalize existing graphics.

side view of Pirates of the Caribbean themed RV
door of Pirates of the Caribbean themed RV
When RV Enthusiast visited the BGS facility in Elkhart, installation specialists were putting the finishing touches on a host of Forest River products wrapped in various themes for a company-wide Halloween event. The printing capabilities of BGS are amazing, as is the fine detail found in the finished vinyl.

“You can freshen up the entire look of an RV just by wrapping the front cap,” Graham said. “Typically, that’s where RVs suffer the most damage — and it can be difficult to get paint repaired out in the field. But beyond that, maybe someone bought a new tow vehicle and they have a blue graphic on their coach that doesn’t match their new truck. In less than a day, they can refresh the entire look of the coach and match it to whatever they might be towing it with.”

Full-body wraps are another story and should only be undertaken by a professional shop — or performed at the BGS facility in Elkhart. Known for its stylish stainless-steel exterior, the Elkhart location houses its design studios and warehouse — but less-known is the fact that adjacent to this 35,000-square-foot facility is another 30,000 square feet of enclosed space that previously was used for painting. BGS has eliminated that aspect of its production — and rededicated that space to retail product applications.

“This facility had, at one point, five downdraft paint booths we used to paint front caps and supply them to the RV industry,” Graham said. “We made the decision to eliminate paint and shift our focus completely to vinyl.”

Circus themed RV wrap

As this additional Forest River travel trailer illustrates, the sky really is the limit when working with BGS designers on a custom wrap. As an alternative to paint, wraps are oftentimes less expensive and easier to repair should the tough vinyl experience a rip or tear due to an accident.

Regardless of the facility selected, Graham recommends that owners undertake some initial cleaning of the unit before delivery.

“In that respect, it’s no different than paint — the devil’s in the details,” he said. “The prep work before you do a wrap is very important. You could wrap over the current decals that are on a coach if you wanted to save time and money, or you could bring it to us. We would design, remove, prep and then install either new graphics package or a full wrap. Preferably, the unit would have the old graphics removed to present a clean sidewall, but a new wrap will hide some blemishes, paint fade — anything that doesn’t look right on the side of a coach. Now, if the RV has dents and cracks and things like that, they might show through the vinyl — but overall, it gives the RV an instant new look.”

Consumers also will have the option of selecting a color change or creating a custom design.

man trimming vinyl
Full-body wraps can be designed to cover — or not cover — windows and doors. Installation specialists carefully trim the vinyl around critical areas such as electric hookups and water heater vent doors.
screen printing at Wisconsin headquarters
While the screen-printed process is done at its Racine, Wisconsin, headquarters, the Elkhart location cut the no-ink vinyl shapes often used on RV exteriors. Most original-equipment designs are a combination of printed and non-printed pieces.

“There will be some preset templates — from one for a laminated travel trailer to a stick-and-tin, fifth wheel, motorhome — that somebody could just buy off the shelf, so to speak. But our design services and the ability to print whatever someone might reasonably want is available as well,” Graham pointed out. “It’s important to note that there are really two types of wrap — there’s a custom-printed wrap, and then there’s what is referred to as a color change wrap where we don’t need to print anything, we just use a specific vinyl in a color and give it a color change. I see that becoming popular in the RV market — in particular, on a front cap.”

While a custom design adds to the time element, the process of fully wrapping an RV is a four- to five-day project, from drop-off to pick up.

Graham also touts the ability of the vinyl used by BGS to stand up to the elements and its ease of installation, something home installers will appreciate.

BGS wrap up close
up close of wrap
BGS stocks about two dozen stock colors, while its screen-printing process allows for virtually unlimited colors through the ability to apply multiple colors onto white vinyl.

“Arlon is our partner in the RV world for vinyl,” he said. “It was the first to pioneer ‘air egress’ technology, which is the material that releases air pockets and bubbles during application. Made in the USA, Arlon also is much more focused on vehicle wraps — and wrap material is another of its strengths.” The company has upwards of two dozen stock colors, while its screen-printing process allows for virtually unlimited colors through the ability to apply multiple colors onto white vinyl.

Graham, for one, sees the ability to restore or change an RV’s appearance central to the ongoing popularity of the RV lifestyle.

“As the customer base continues to grow — either through new or pre-owned RV sales — customers are going to need resources to take care of their coaches. It’s really no different than an owner of a car who wants to change it from, say, white to silver. The power of wraps in the automotive market has gotten really strong over the last five to eight years — and it’s starting to trickle its way into the RV market. It’s an inexpensive way to create an entirely new appearance.”

Interested in wrapping your RV, or needing replacement or new graphics? Contact:

Burlington Graphic Systems

Ellen Damron
(262) 554-8808
[email protected]