What’s it cost to produce the graphics for this ambulance?

By John Shoffner

Posted on Saturday, June 3rd, 2023

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A local air-and-ground ambulance service recently asked me for a bid on the graphics on all of their new ground ambulances. Currently all of their graphics are two-color reflective vinyl. For consistent identification, they wanted the same graphic design that they had used on their past vehicles. I have since done several ambulances for them and one supervisor’s response vehicle.


11 yards of 30-in. blue reflective vinyl @ $35 per yard: $385

2 yards of 15-in. blue reflective vinyl @ $18 per yard: $36

7 yards of 15-in. Ruby Red reflective vinyl @ $13 per yard: $127

15 yards of application tape @ $3 per yard: $45

1 roll of 3/4-in. masking tape: $7

1 plotter blade: $25

Total: $625


Computer: create/edit original layout: 4 hrs. 0 min.

Prep, line layout: 30 min.

For blue reflective vinyl:

Group for cutting: 15 min.

Cut right side graphics, weed, mask and separate pieces: 45 min.

Repeat for left side: 45 min.

Cut remaining lettering, numbers, logo and misc. pieces: 45 min.

Application on right side: 2 hrs. 0 min.

Repeat on left side (includes doors): 2 hrs. 0 min.

Application on rear doors and hood: 1 hr. 0 min.

For red reflective vinyl:

Group pieces, cut, weed: 20 min.

Repeat of left side (includes rear doors): 20 min.

Apply right side: 1 hr. 0 min.

Apply left side: 1 hr. 0 min.

Misc. time for re-cuts, mistakes and odds and ends: 1 hr. 0 min.

Total: 15 hrs. 40 min.(excluding the original design set up time)

The first step was to get the graphics into my system, then scale them to fit the layout of the new ambulances. I scanned the logo from their letterhead and recreated the logo and graphics from scratch—a time-consuming task, but not a painful one. It helps to have accurate measurements of the vehicles, so I took those in advance.

It took approximately four hours to recreate the graphics and piece them out for cutting. The time spent taking the initial measurements was applied to the first ambulance, then each additional ambulance had the same set price.

Planning for future ambulances

The first ambulance was the most time consuming. I made it a point to take very good notes and measurements as I laid it out. I knew it would pay off on the second, third, fourth and so on.

After the unit was cleaned and prepped, I selected a horizontal line to work from. Then I cut a few of the blue 3M Scotchlite reflective vinyl graphics out at a time, taping them to the side of the vehicle and making adjustments as needed. Once the layout flowed and fit together correctly, I started applying them to the vehicle.

The numbering and lettering was the easy part. The “M” graphic was harder to get lined out. Another time-saving tip I used was to color-code the different pieces on the computer so that I’d know where they went on the ambulance when it came time to apply the graphics.

Application tips and timesavers

Taking the time during the design stage to add a few inches to the graphics at the edges helps at application time. It’s nice to have a little extra to wrap around the inside of the compartment doors, rather than cutting them off at the edge of the door. Wrapping the film around the edge of a door can help prevent peeling and chipping later on, and it makes for a much more finished job. It doesn’t take much extra time, and it helps impress your customers with the quality of your work.

I also took extra time to make sure that all seams and joints started and ended at compartment doors or hinges. I have only one seam on the graphic, due to the size of the “M“ on the left side, but it is designed to fall at a natural seam at the end of the “M“ and is not noticeable. That was another detail that my customer was happy about.

Once all the blue reflective vinyl film had been applied, I cut the red reflective vinyl film and applied it. I started out using application tape on these 1 1⁄4-in. strips, but I removed it as I found that it was easier to apply it without application tape. I simply used a 4-in. piece of clear application tape at the end of each piece so that I had something to hold onto while adjusting the position. It worked great! The red overlapped the blue just slightly, which helped me to see exactly where I was with the red during application.

Again all pieces were either wrapped around a door, or tucked inside and trimmed nicely to match and look like a continuous line of vinyl. The door handles were a challenge, but it all came together nicely.

Since I knew I would be doing several of these units, I made careful notes of my time throughout the process. It took me 2 1⁄2 days to do the first ambulance, making sure everything was right. Thanks to my notes, the second ambulance only took 1 1⁄2 days to complete, with interruptions.

Taking just a little extra time in your design layout and giving a little extra attention to detail on the finish end of your job makes your work much more professional. It also makes for some very happy customers!

John Shoffner’s shop, Studio 36 Graphics, is in Medford, Oregon.

This appeared in the July/August 2010 issue of SignCraft. While the prices have been adjusted for inflation as of June 2023, they may not accurately reflect current pricing for such signage.



Group right side pieces for cutting: 15 minutes

Wipe down vehicle, prep and layout lines forgraphics: 30 minutes

Apply right side graphics, plus layout and adjustment of the “M“ for application: 2 hours

Apply graphics to rear doors (the window decals came with the unit): 1 hour

Apply graphics to left side; detail of the only seam not at a door: 2 hours

Remove an electrical outlet for a smooth vinyl application: 20 minutes

Group red reflective vinyl for cutting: 20 minutes

Application of left side red reflective vinyl: 1 hour

Detail of vinyl wrapped around the compartment doors

The finished product