Pre-cut vs. hand cut Paint Protection Film (PPF) patterns
There are pros and cons for either, mainly from the point of view of the installer as these imply different equipment costs and different labour times. The aspects presented in this article are limited to our personal opinion, although we will try to give the motives behind our chain of thought.
The unspoken details many customers aren’t told regarding an extraordinary PPF installation are in connection with the pre-cut and hand cut patterns. While some customers inquire about computer cut film, others do not even think about this sort of details, choosing to go after the best price they can obtain while comparing the offers existent on the market.
We would like to mention from the very beginning the difference that is not emphasized between the pre-cut and hand cut PPF patterns. While HAND CUT patterns are perceived as being always customized, PRE-CUT PATTERNS are almost always regarded as kits designed by an experienced installer and available on a database/software, having a standard design and providing good-fit for most current model vehicles. What the large public is not aware of is the fact that there are well-trained PPF installers – like our team members, who are capable of designing particular patterns and/or altering the design of the standard pre-cut patterns in order to offer you a fully customized coverage of your pride and joy (through pre-cut film only).
There are installers who sustain that they “[…] have tried and tested a few of the computer film cutting software products on the market, and have found that, as of yet, none are simply up to our standards. Until the technical issues are cleared up in the industry, we will continue to deliver our superior handcrafted attention to detail service that our customers have become accustomed to”.
Unfortunately, from our experience, even if “superior handcrafted attention” is promised, when installing a hand-cut PPF pattern the results may often be dissatisfying – mainly if this is combined with a poor installation technique. We will try to cover issues connected to protection/level of coverage, alignment, paint cuts and general aesthetics provided through standard pre-cut, custom pre-cut and hand-cut patterns.
The methodology of hand cutting PPF on a vehicle has been born more out of necessity that out of preference. When the concept of Paint Protection Film came into being, there were very, very few pre-cut kits on the market. The concept of hand cutting PPF on a vehicle was, more or less, a throw-over from the window tinting industry, where hand cutting is very, very common (although pre-cut tint patterns are gaining in popularity today). Cutting on and around glass is entirely different than cutting on paint.
Comparing to pre-cut PPF patterns, when cutting the film by hand in order to provide a “customized fit” for your pride and joy, there is no guarantee for a full and almost perfect coverage. Most of times, the edges and corners – some of the areas which are most prone to damage due to road debris will not be perfectly covered through a hand-cut PPF installation – as you can see below.
Talking about hand-cut patterns, one of our clients expressed his thoughts: “Really? I thought it was better for them [installers] to cut on the car because you avoid alignment errors and the wrap goes around the edges for a seamless install. I was told that the cutting happens in the panel gaps for the most part, so it is pretty safe… I think”.
No, alignment shouldn’t be an issue with a proficient installer. The ease of mind for the owner is greater with standard or custom pre-cut kits, as they don’t have to cut circles out of the film for the sensors, for instance. They’re also precisely done on the plotter to avoid an oval or uneven circle around the sensors. With pre-cut kits, they allow for the edges to be wrapped. At Dragon AutoShield we only use standard and custom pre-cut kits – and the over 600 supercars on which we applied PPF until now are the proof that a well (custom) designed kit with wrapped edges will often look almost identical to an expected-to-be-perfect-hand-cut job; more than that, the experience in the field always allows us to take advantage of the opportunities and to do cars that patterns are not available for (old hot rods, aftermarket bumpers/parts, motorcycles etc.).
Regarding the alignment, there are some installers who argue that the end result of a good hand-cut custom install translates into a less visibility of the film on the car and more coverage. In our opinion, this may not ever be true. Why? We customize our pre-cut patterns after testing them – even if these originate in the national and international databases.
Here are some examples of extremely poorly aligned pieces.Considering the advanced technology we are using, a custom-made pattern properly done using the digitizer and the cutter offers way more coverage than a hand-cut custom installation. Compare the previous and next images in terms of film visibility, coverage and areas exposed to damage. While the hand-cut pattern goes around the logo, the computer-custom created pattern offers maximum protection, following the exact edges of it. Also, the corners exposed to damage are much more reduced when talking about our customized pre-cut patterns, while the seam edges are virtually invisible.
Although those who do not use pre-cut kits will tell you that they never cut into the paint, common sense tends to tell you otherwise. No one’s hand is steady enough to make that a certainty, 100% of the time. Also, consider that when a film is stretched, as is necessary in certain areas of a vehicle, it becomes slightly thinner… so the film does not always have the same thickness from area to area, making the entire hand cutting process more of a “feel” game.
Even when an installer has a wide experience in installing hand-cut PPF patterns, lack of concentration and fatigue can occur after hours of working, causing errors that sometimes are more than just aesthetical (cutting into paint).
We were recently called in to remove the old film that was applied on a Lamborghini Huracan Avio and to replace it with a new one. Once we saw the installation, we almost knew what to expect – yet the owner was not happy at all when he discovered what was hiding underneath his film:Because the concerns of damage to the car are correct, if you decide to go for a hand-cut install, take the time to find a pro with several years of experience, who is insured, and can list many satisfied customers over the years. Either so, keep in mind that the damage that can occur from hand-cutting is often not evident until the film is removed, because any blade mark in the paint is masked by the edge of the film itself.
On the other hand, when choosing to have a pre-cut pattern installed on your pride and joy, the risk of having you pain scratched is totally removed:
Today, there are several good design houses that can provide well-fitting pre-cut kits for most current model vehicles. More than that, there are well-trained PPF installers – like our team members, who are capable of designing particular patterns in order to offer you a fully customized coverage of your pride and joy. Your best bet, we believe, would be to do some research and find an experienced installer who can provide you with a pre-cut kit (either standard or custom-made) that suits your particular needs and pocketbook.
Do not forget that, even with a well-fitted standard kit, the installer’s experience is crucial when it comes to aesthetics and coverage. Otherwise, even with pre-cut patterns, an installation may look as below:While in the USA (as in the UK) almost everyone does custom installs due to the “better end result” (and ease of work in handling big pieces of film rather than exact patterns, smaller investments, lack of knowledge and reduced installation skills), here at Dragon AutoShield we choose to go the extra distance and customize all our pre-cut patterns in order to offer the best results on the market. More details can be found in our blog article “Custom Pre-Cut Paint Protection Film patterns: the process”.Find a good custom installer. It is hard to do, but try. Most installers have not had the opportunity to learn from another professional custom installer. Also, most people don’t have the time or patience to learn to install this way. Keep in mind that the installer’s skills and the coverage are crucial when it comes to PPF. If you can get a quality film, installed by a quality installer that can wrap edges, that’s your best bet.
If you find a good installer who isn’t a hack you will be much happier with a custom pre-cut install. The problem is that there are a lot of unskilled installers out there! We have to fix their work all the time. See what makes us different than other PPF intallers on the market.