What’s it cost to produce these trailer graphics?

By Mark Yearwood

Posted on Friday, February 23rd, 2024

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Have you ever had one of those big trucks or trailers pull up in front of the shop, and you wanted to run and hide for fear of having to put graphics on it? The thought of applying vinyl or paint to that huge surface and dealing with all the screws, rivets, door hinges and other obstacles can make you cringe. The shear size of some of these trailers can be intimidating to those used to working on a smaller scale.

Materials (excluding markup):

Digital prints including setup: $1551

Vinyl/Transfer tape: $41

Masking tape/paper, sanding pads: $32

Miscellaneous: $24

Cost to have body shop spray graphics (includes paint/materials and use of shop): $650

Total materials: $2298



Design/sales: 3 hours

Production/Application: 13 1⁄2 hours

Travel: 1⁄2 hours

Time (myself): 17 hours

Time (helper): 10 hours

Total time: 27 hours

That was me the first time I took on one of these jobs. But once I got past that initial fear and actually completed one, there was no looking back. Now our shop does several enclosed trailers and box trucks each year—and we really enjoy doing them.

In this case, the owner is one of our regular customers and has a fast-growing lawn service. He has an upbeat and aggressive approach to advertising the business and wanted to stress a quality image on his enclosed 24-ft. trailer. I had created the logo earlier in my sign-cutting software and had done several pickups with layered vinyl graphics. On the trailer, he wanted to move up a notch and add the grass graphics across the bottom as well as tune up the logo.

I suggested doing the effects in Photoshop and having digital prints made to give it more impact, along with painting the graphic band onto the trailer. I prefer aluminum trailers that are assembled with screws instead of rivets. The screws can be removed in the area of the graphics and reinstalled after application, making the job much easier. The screws can also be painted to closely match the image to help hide them.

This trailer was a little too large to fit in the shop and have room to work around. Since it needed to have the green sprayed on, I called on a local body shop for help. We had plenty of room there to work, as well as a clean space to spray the urethane paint and clear-coat. I often use Charlie Mosier of Creative Colors to help with spray painting and clear-coat work.

The client is very pleased with the job. This summer it will be all over town—advertising both his lawn business and our shop’s work at the same time.

So the next time one of these rigs drives up at your shop, think of it as an opportunity to display your work on a rolling billboard. Have no fear of screws or rivets. Go for it!

Mark Yearwood’s shop, Yearwood DesignWorks, is in Tecumseh, Oklahoma

This appeared in the March/April 2004  issue of SignCraft. While the prices have been adjusted for inflation, they may not accurately reflect current pricing for such signage.

Design/setup: 4 hours, 30 minutes

I had previously designed the logo for this customer but had to build a new file with all the effects in Photoshop to have the digital prints made for the trailer. Here Dustin Newman is cutting the vinyl for the town and phone numbers.

Cut and weed digital prints: 1 hour, 30 minutes

I outsourced the prints then hand cut the graphics to remove the excess vinyl. Since the graphics were going on a black trailer, I had set up the prints with a small black outline to allow some tolerance when cutting. What’s left of the outline blends in with the trailer.

Mask digital prints: 45 minutes

Here Dustin applies transfer tape to the printed decals. We worked together on the larger graphics to speed things up.

Cut/weed/mask: 50 minutes

Dustin gets the secondary copy ready. We used Avery Graphics A8 high performance vinyl for this.

Make pattern for graphic: 30 minutes

A section of the grass pattern was drawn on the computer and plotted on paper for pouncing. The pattern was repeated on the bottom of the trailer. A few adjustments were made at each overlap to make the pattern flow together.

Remove screws and prep: 1 hour

Many enclosed trailers have screws with an 8-pointed head. We found that a square bit that fits snugly will work in these. We used a drill to remove them before cleaning the surface with Rapid Prep.

Apply mask and pattern: 45 minutes

We applied 24-in. R Tape Conform application tape to the bottom of the trailer, and the pattern was pounced with powdered charcoal. The rest of the trailer was covered in masking paper and automotive plastic sheeting to protect it from overspray.

Cut mask and peel: 1 hour, 30 minutes

We used #11 X-Acto knives and quickly hand cut the graphics.

Prep for paint: 30 minutes

Here Charlie Mosier, owner of Creative Colors, scuffs the area to be painted with a sanding pad.

Spray grass graphic: 1 hour

Charlie then sprayed the bottom with PPG green urethane and followed with PPG clear coat. The screws for this area were stuck into a sheet of cardboard and painted green.

Remove mask: 30 minutes

After the paint had tacked for about 30 minutes, we started carefully peeling the mask. Doing so before the paint gets too dry allows the edges to flow out nicely.

Apply all graphics and reinstall screws: 4 hours

Dustin and I worked together and applied all the graphics without a hitch then reinstalled the screws. Yes, we applied all of the graphics dry.

The finished trailer is a rolling billboard for the customer.

Rear door graphics pay off:

This is where the phone number and other information were placed. I always stress to the customer the impact of having the logo and phone number on the back. People following or sitting still at a stoplight have lots of time to read the inform