Invisible paint protection specialists
Stewart Dyos can tell you a lot about the delicate art of applying automotive paint protection film, as practised at Peterborough-based specialist, Paintshield, where he is Workshop Manager. And despite what you might think – and what I did think before I got there – it’s interesting stuff. Only trouble is, it can be a trifle difficult understanding a word Stewart says…
No, Stewart doesn’t have a speech impediment – not in the conventional sense, at least – and nor does he have a hard to grasp accent. It’s simply that when you’re painstakingly wrapping large sheets of protective film around the complex curves and crannies, ridges and scallops of modern cars, two hands just aren’t enough: that’s when the ability to hold objects in your mouth becomes invaluable, in particular the small rubber squeegee used to expel air bubbles and liquid from beneath the film once it’s finally in precisely the right place. Unclear diction is the price you pay for easy squeegee location.
Paint protection film application is all that family-run Paintshield does. And it’s all it has done for the past 15 years. It doesn’t do vinyl wraps to change the colour of your car, or paintwork, or hi-fi installations or anything else. The company’s sole focus is to be master of this single discipline, primarily for top-end cars, but also for recently restored classics. Porsches represent a goodly chunk of Paintshield’s business, and on the day of our visit there were a brand new 991 GT3 and a Panamera E-hybrid sitting nose-high on ramps; a recently finished Ferrari 488 Spyder was keeping them company, its protection film performing guard duties for a £16,000 optional paint-job.
Paintshield’s genesis, however, did involve a connection to another sector of the automotive aftermarket, as co-founder Ann Wakeford, explains: ‘Back in about 2003 my husband Tom and I took a Toyota Celica we owned to a company called ICE Direct, for a hi-fi installation. Tom noticed a TVR in the car park that had paint protection film on the front end and asked the owner for details of where it had come from and what its purpose was.
‘Every time we took the Celica out it picked up stone chips somewhere along the way, so from a personal perspective we could really see the value of paint protection film. And we also realised that with so many other car owners facing the same predicament, this could be a business opportunity for us. After investigating the US market where it originated we opened a
small – one car – facility in Grantham in Lincolnshire. We moved to this current facility in Peterborough in 2009: it has much more workshop space increasing our capacity to seven cars, a large car park out the front, and it’s greatly more accessible being close to motorways and a mainline train station directly from Kings Cross.
‘At the time we started there was only one other paint protection film company in the UK, so you could call our customers early adopters. Even so, it was hard work to begin with: we spent days up at the NEC show, having taken the bumper off our Celica to use as a display piece. We soon began to develop our own templates for Porsches, Ferraris, TVRS and Lotuses, and we’ve kept template design in-house ever since: that way we’re in total control of the precision fit of the patterns. And with ever-more complex shapes going on with modern sports cars and supercars – front spoilers pierced with multiple vents, towering rear spoilers, aerodynamically shaped door mirrors – accuracy is absolutely critical.
‘My son-in-law and Head of Design, Joe Lawrence, has designed our templates over many years. Joe trained as a graphic designer, but it’s not just his talent on the computer that makes him so well suited to the task, he is also a protection film fitter. That means he’s got an instinctive feel for what are likely to be difficult areas on the bodywork, and how best to design the film components for really tricky pieces such as the bumpers and mirrors: he also knows how much stretch there is in the material and can adjust the templates accordingly. And like Stewart – like all of us, really – Joe has a passion for cars and a deep-rooted belief in doing the very best job possible.’
In the early days Paintshield, in common with the industry as a whole, offered just front-end protection, which is obviously where the majority of stone damage occurs on any car. But while that remains one of the options available to its customers, Paintshield has moved on to whole car coverage, a popular choice, it would seem. The beauty of the films that Paintshield uses is manifold. They don’t diffuse the car’s original colour at all, they shine like original paintwork, and they don’t yellow or tarnish with age. The film is “self-healing” from swirls and minor scratches that don’t go through the topcoat of the film, keeping it looking good for many years to come.
Another important factor is that you have to stare at the paintwork really hard to see that the film is there at all, a skill Paintshield is justifiably proud of. This is where the precision of the templates comes into its
At the time we started there was only one other paint film co in the UK
own. ‘For example, just have a look at the area around the headlamp washers on the GT3,’ insists Stewart. ‘The hole in the film is pre-cut to perfectly encircle the washer unit. Stare hard and you can see it, but you can also see how accurate and tight that hole is.
‘Some film protection companies simply drape a large piece of film over the car and then cut it to fit. With knives! We’ve actually removed other people’s films and found cut marks in the paint underneath! We don’t have knives here and certainly wouldn’t use them near the cars even if we did. It involves lots of hard work but you’ve got to get your templates right in the first instance, and then have the experience and skill to fit them properly.’
Stewart certainly seems to have plenty of the latter qualities. Watching him roll back and forth on his wheeled stool, arms and squeegee and liquid spray bottles in perpetual motion, is akin to gazing at some form of modern interpretive dance routine; it’s almost balletic. And in those moments where the squeegee is in his hands rather than between his teeth, Stewart educates me as to what he believes sets Paintshield apart from some others in the same field.
‘What’s crucial for longevity and neatness is to wrap the film over into the shuts for the doors, bonnet and fuel filler flap, as well as other edges, plus the wheelarches where they roll out of sight and into the arch. Just imagine wrapping up a curved or spherical present; the paper will wrinkle as it goes around the curves. The same thing happens with the film as you go into the arches or along the edge of a door – we call the wrinkles “fingers” and it takes a mixture of patience and knowledge to iron them out so that they sit smoothly against the metal. It can be mentally stressful to achieve this, but the results are very much worth it.’
Before the film is applied each car is intensively cleaned (using “snow foam”) and air-jet dried to remove dirt and dust, and then the panel to be covered is sprayed with a soapy “slip” solution. The pre-cut film is peeled off a backing sheet, rather like a sticker or the decals for your old Airfix
You’ve got to get the templates right in the first instance
Spitfire, and the slip solution allows it to be manoeuvred very precisely into position – even with an eye as keen as Stewart’s, this can take some time… Using his trusty squeegee he teases out the bubbles and liquid to test the fit, and if it’s not spot-on he peels big sections of it back up again, squirts in some more slip solution, and then “floats” the panel around until it’s just-so. ‘The first lesson I was ever taught on this job was “alignment, alignment, alignment”,’ laughs Stewart.
When the film panel is exactly where it should be, the slip solution is replaced with another containing Isopropal alcohol that activates the adhesive properties of the film; with the application of heated air, this fixes the film into its final resting place.
‘Stewart makes achieving a meticulous level of quality look relatively simple,’ states Ann, ‘yet it’s anything but. Our customers appreciate this, though, which is why we have so much repeat business – the gentleman who owns the Panamera EHybrid in the workshop today has been coming to us for ten years.
‘We know that our customers are busy people, so we try to make it as simple as possible for them to have film applied to their cars. We can collect and deliver using our large covered trailer, especially from dealerships, and we also have courtesy cars available at no extra cost. Because applying the film can be a long process very few customers wait around for it to done, but if they have no alternative then we have a very comfortable reception area, complete with Wi-fi and refreshments, where they can continue to work.’
Paint protection film may not be top of your list of must-have accessories when buying a new Porsche or fetching your newly restored one, but if you want to add value in the long-run and protect from stone chips, have a chat with Paintshield: probably best to ask for Ann, rather than Stewart… PW
The first lesson I was taught was ‘alignment, alignment, alignment’
There’s no shortage of Porsches through Paintshield’s Peterborough workshop. Today’s featured fitting car is a new 991 GT3. The Panamera E-hybrid belongs to a customer who has been using Paint Shield on his cars for 16-years
Patience is the key to this job. A ‘slip’ solution allows the pre-cut film to be moved into place. The inevitable bubbles are teased out with the squeegee
Paintshield’s Stewart Dyos reveals the practical secrets of successful application: You need two hands on the job and your mouth to hold the all important squeegee!
In the early days of paint protection film, most folk just had the front-end of their car treated to protect against stone chips. Now, however, most go for full coverage for ultimate protection
The car needs to be scrupulously clean before the protective film is applied. Door shuts are air-jet dried – important as the film wraps over the edges of the door for a perfect finish
Right: All Paintshield’s protective film kits are designed on computer first. Far right above: they get through a lot of this stuff. Below: Comfortable waiting area, should you need it. Most customers will leave their car because it’s a lengthy process. Paintshield can also collect, with a covered transporter
The paint-protection film is pre-cut from Paintshield’s database of templates. Right: Paintshield cofounder, Ann Wakeford, who created the company with husband Tom