The Evolution of Paint Protection Film
The Strange Turns in PPF’s Path to Stardom
by Katie Hodge
Paint protection film has come a long way from its days of protecting
military helicopter blades and the high-end vehicle market is reaping
Every once in a while a product comes along that seems to
surprise everyone. Paint protection film is one such surprising product.
Its origin is fascinating and the evolution of the product is impressive.
Much of the industry has yet to discover what the product is really capable
of and how it might change the way manufacturers and dealers produce and
sell. It’s also become an add-on profit center for many window film dealers.
A Look Back
The United States is engulfed in a war on the other side of the world.
On the home front, industries are working hard to invent and produce new
technologies to protect soldiers fighting abroad and the equipment they
use. Helicopter maintenance engineers dealt with constant sand abrasion
on the blades of the aircraft. They were looking for a solution to protect
these master machines. Enter paint protection film. Years later, the product
was reformulated and introduced into the automotive market to protect
vehicles from the wear and tear of the road.
“The first films were thicker and less compliant,” says Kathy Lam, marketing
manager for the automotive division of 3M. “Their purpose was to help
keep helicopter blades from eroding in the harsh, sandy environments to
which they were exposed. Because the blades were flatter and less complex
than automotive surfaces, they didn’t demand a highly flexible, conformable
Paint protection films originally entered the automotive industry to protect
the vulnerable parts of an automobile’s finish.
“Urethane film evolved from an OEM part to an aftermarket accessory, which
was great for the car dealers to provide an upsell opportunity,” says
Mark Gershenson, global automotive segment director for LLumar. “The car
dealers and the film dealers grabbed this opportunity to sell paint protection
film as an accessory on the leading edges of the car, the rocker panels,
the side view mirrors, the door steps and the door edges.”
As paint protection film garnered interest with car dealers, the areas
on which film can be applied increased.
“As the car dealer saw more and more opportunity to up-sell, the applications
became larger and more complex, even covering the whole hood,” says Gershenson.
“A lot of the companies began focusing on the designs for the computer
cut patterns to make the installation more efficient and precise. This
seemed to open up the floodgates for numerous entries into the market.”
“Automotive film utilizes a clear coat for superior weathering and durability.
This is important for automotive applications because the film needs to
maintain its visual appearance over the life of the application,” says
A New PPF
These days paint protection film is a viable force in the fight against
vehicle damage. Consumers see the value in protecting their cars as much
as possible in order to get the best trade-in value later.
“Today, 3M paint protection films are still designed to protect against
abrasion and weathering, but the automotive formulations are thinner and
far more flexible and compliant than the original version,” says Lam.
“The characteristics of both the adhesive and the film enable it to adhere
to complex curves and shapes typical in today’s automotive applications.”
Paint protection film has made improvements across the board in durability,
aesthetics and in the ease of installation.
“The product has evolved in terms of the conformability to stretch to
the shape and curves of the car,” says Gershenson. “Performance of the
adhesive system has also been a big advancement. The adhesive system needs
to allow the product to be re-positioned, yet have a strong enough bond
to keep it there for the length of the product. It also needs to be able
to come off of the car without leaving a lot of residue or damaging the
Installers have seen improvements over the years as well, noting that
the ease of installation and coloration of the film has made dramatic
“When it first came out there was a lot of orange peel,” says Ryan Tounsley,
division manager for Protective Film Solutions with locations in Scottsdale,
Ariz. and Orange County, Calif. “The orange peel is still there, but it
is pretty close to the level of orange peel that is in factory paint.
The stretchability or ease of install has probably tripled. It’s still
very tough to install, but not how it used to be.”
“They have gotten more inventive,” says Timothy Davidson, owner of Contour
Tinting in Chantilly, Va. “When I started they only had a four mil and
now they have moved it to an eight mil. It’s much clearer and doesn’t
have a lot of orange peel in it like it used to.”
In addition, the texture of the film has come a long way from its early
days. A smoother film has made printing and installing films easier.
“The smoothness of the surface of the product has been an area of improvement
that has done two things,” says Gershenson. “It allows the product to
perform better through the computer cut plotter systems without sticking
or jamming. Also, the smoother it is the less chance it will be scratched
during the installation. And finally, wider widths of film create these
Having improved so quickly over such a concentrated time, the future of
paint protection film seems to be open. With other industries featuring
protective films, such as the electronics and medical industries and the
military, the automotive market is just a part of the protective film
industry—and it’s a part with great potential.
“The penetration rate of cars with paint protection film is extremely
low so as an industry we have a long way to go to achieve similar penetration
rates to window film and other aftermarket accessories,” says Gershenson.
“To achieve this it’s going to take a lot of marketing, product improvements
and setting the expectations for performance.”
Manufacturers will need to continue to work on the product to make a more
desirable product each year. While installers are happy with the growth
and the products they look forward to the product of the future as well.
“If paint protection film could eliminate discoloration it would be ideal,”
says Tounsley. “Over time the color of paint protection film on a car,
particularly a white car, does change.”
“If they are looking to advance the product in the future, continuing
to make it easier to stretch and improve the adhesive on the film would
be two key areas,” says Davidson. “When you go around corners it would
make installation easier if the film were to attach faster.”
However, installers are quick to compliment the product and manufacturers
on a stellar job so far.
“The old black vinyl bras that everyone used to put on their cars to protect
from rock chips were a huge pain,” says Tounsley. “This product really
is the way to fix that problem.”
“They really have done a great job with the product that we have available
to us now,” says Davidson.
In addition to product improvements some within the industry think success
depends on continued expansion both within the United States and beyond.
“In a lot of developing countries it has been cheaper to re-paint a car
than to invest in protecting the finish and that is due to the lack of
environmental and health regulations around painting cars in these counties,”
says Gershenson. “However, as these countries continue to develop and
these regulations are enforced the cost of re-painting will increase thus
creating more demand for paint protection film. There are a lot of opportunities
for this product in those areas.”
However, the industry will need to make changes to keep up with growth.
“Additional installers,” says Lam when asked what the paint protection
film industry needs. “[We need] trained professionals that can help spread
the word about a virtually invisible protect. We need more people to go
into the business and tap into a market that has huge potential.”
With so much opportunity, the paint protection industry’s success relies
on its ability to evolve—something the industry has already proven they
Katie Hodge is the editor of Window Film magazine. She can
be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow her on twitter @windowfilmmag.
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No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.