Law enforcement vehicles deserve great graphics

By signcraft

Posted on Monday, June 20th, 2022

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Virtually every community in North America has a fleet, large or small, of vehicles for their law enforcement officers. That adds up to a lot of vehicles—over 400,000 in the US—and a lot of graphics.

Erik and Cheryl Dickson have operated Erik Designs for nearly 40 years in their hometown of Rumford, Maine. In the early 1990s, the Rumford Police chief asked Erik to do a new design for their vehicles.

“They had been using navy blue Chevy Impalas with an 8-in. emblem on the door,” says Erik. “The chief wanted more visual impact—a full-vehicle design with ‘Police’ large on the side and bold stripes. It was a change in awareness. Back then, we were the first ones in the area to do anything like that and now it’s just standard procedure. Every department has some sort of graphics with their lettering.”

Most departments replace the vehicles every four years. And often when a new chief takes over, he or she wants to change the look, so the graphics are replaced with a new design. Departments also usually have associated special use vehicles—trailers, trucks and such—which add to the volume of work.

Over the years Erik has handled the graphics for several area police departments. Some are small, with two or three vehicles, and others are larger, like a county sheriff who has over 40 vehicles.

“When I started, police vehicles weren’t much of a market. It was mostly a matter of putting the department-seal-on-the-door and that was it. Over the years, though, the work gradually got more elaborate and more custom. Departments didn’t want to look like every other department.”

A design for a law enforcement vehicle begins with knowing the look that the department is going for—trendy, conservative, flashy, professional. Erik often coordinates the graphics with the colors the department uses on their uniforms. He also likes to use graphics to involve the whole vehicle to identify it as a police vehicle.

“The design of the graphics is a reflection of the officers who it represents,” he says. “It’s the same as branding a commercial business. These designs tend to evolve over time, too. Most departments like us to do some little tweaks periodically so that the vehicles look fresh.

“The graphics on law enforcement vehicles must be bold and legible. They need to deliver the message very quickly and efficiently. You also don’t want people to mistake it for an ordinary commercial vehicle.

“Stripes and panels help make it obvious that this is a police car. I usually design the message first, then add any graphics so that they complement the design. The graphic swoosh or panel can’t compete with the message.”

Erik uses a lot of reflective films, for all the obvious reasons. Reflective film is proven to be a huge safety issue. He is also adding safety chevrons on the rear of the vehicle to increase that visibility and make it clear that it is an emergency vehicle that’s up ahead, even in the dark.

“Removability of the graphics is important, too,” Erik says, “because they don’t want to spend a lot of money getting rid of their graphics before they sell the cars. We use films that are designed for easy removal, including the reflective films. I use primarily 3M 7125, 3M 180mC or Oracal 751 for non-reflective and either 3M 680-CR or 3M 5100R for reflective.”

As a sign designer, Erik was influenced by race car graphics since his earliest days in the business. He has always designed color schemes for stock cars and lettered them. That influence shows up in his designs for law enforcement vehicles.

“I think my motorsports background comes through in this work,” he says. “I like the cars to look slick and professional, and to have some motion in the graphics. I like them to look like you could shine them up and take them to a car show. I guess that’s from my motorsports background.

“I’ve done the vehicles for the department in my hometown for my entire career—38 years. It’s a great relationship. There have been many design changes at each department over the years, and I’ve always been as proud of their vehicles as they are.”


Erik adds reflective chevrons to most of these vehicles.

Black reflective film was used for the chevrons.