Is Paint Dead?

Photo Credit: Paint is Dead

In 2012, Austin Smith was invited to a car show at his friend Caesar's paint shop. The two went way back, both having been involved in the local car scene for years. Caesar had a thriving paint shop in town — Green Cove, Florida, just outside Jacksonville — and Austin had recently founded a shop of his specializing in vinyl wraps.  

At the time, vinyl wrapping personal cars was a tiny industry — still just a blip on the automotive radar. Austin decided to show his 1998 Acura Integra wrapped in matte black to raise awareness of his niche shop and its offerings. It wasn’t a super exciting or exotic build, but especially back then, bringing a wrapped car to a paint shop’s car show was a funny, conversation-starting move. 

And a conversation was what Austin was after.

But why stop there? Taking things one step further, Austin decided to double down on the conversation-starter energy with a fluorescent yellow decal declaration on his windshield: “Paint is Dead” It was a phrase he had used for a while. Back in 2012, it felt almost ironic. Paint was certainly alive and well, but according to Austin, it was old news. And a little friendly rivalry never hurt anyone, right? 

It started as a friendly joke at a car show in 2012, but a decade later, vinyl wrap is everywhere. It’s now the norm at some car shows. And we can’t help but wonder: was “Paint is Dead” a slogan, or was it a self-fulfilling prophecy?

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Photo Credit: Team Hybrid / Jason Helmick

The Beginning of the End

The weather on the day of Caesar's car show was perfect. Not too hot, not too humid. It was the kind of day that beckoned everyone to get outside. The show featured about 150 cars, but the nice day drew a bigger crowd than expected. Around 600 people were in attendance, and they all had something to say about Austin’s car and its bold declaration.

“My attitude was: let's just see what happens. I definitely touched a nerve, and I lost my friendship with Caesar for a brief time. But my car was by far the most talked about thing at the show that day. When I saw how big of a reaction it created, I knew I was onto something.” – Austin Smith, Founder, Paint is Dead

From that paint shop parking lot car show, “Paint is Dead” grew. Today, Austin runs much more than just a wrap shop. Currently, “Paint is Dead'' is a nationwide network of highly-trained installers who work at over 50 shops. Together, they fuel what is at its heart, a lifestyle brand that draws people together who are passionate about wrap. Along with a line of specialized tools, supplies, and merch, Austin curates a highly-followed vinyl wrap inspirational Instagram account @PaintIsDead.

“My mission with the Instagram page is to keep pushing the envelope of what wrap is. People are creating really cool things out there, and by spreading the word, we can help them keep evolving.” – Austin Smith, Founder, Paint is Dead

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Photo Credit: Team Hybrid / Grant Senn

What a Sticker Can Do

In the early 00s when Austin first got into wrapping, the process was very DIY. Rather than ordering what you wanted from a catalog of offerings from companies like 3M or Avery Dennison, in the early days, shops printed their own colors, then laminated them and applied finish textures all in-house. Austin remembers getting creative to offer some customers what they were looking for, using what he had on hand to make new wraps out of old technologies. 

“The first car we ever officially wrapped at the shop, we did the face and lips of the wheels, the body, some interior pieces, and the brake calipers. My goal was always to push the limits of what a sticker can do.” – Austin Smith, Founder, Paint is Dead

Today, with multiple major supply companies offering ever-growing catalogs of vinyl colors, designs, textures, and finishes, the possibilities are much broader, and the process is more streamlined. But even in the 2000s, wrapping a car was significantly faster than a paint job. It’s one of vinyl’s huge benefits — the lack of dry time makes transforming your vehicle with a wrap substantially quicker than with paint. Completion times vary from shop to shop and project to project, but in short: Paint takes weeks. And wraps take days.

“At my wrap shop, I can take a car in on a Monday and confidently deliver it back to its owner by the end of the week in a completely different color. As an enthusiast who wants my car in my own garage so I can drive it every day, that difference is huge.” – Austin Smith, Founder, Paint is Dead

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Photo Credit: Team Hybrid / Mark Buffington

Wrap v. Paint

How does vinyl wrap stack up against traditional paint in other areas?

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Photo Credit: Team Hybrid / Jason Helmick

The Pros Know

For the upfront cost of a few hundred bucks, vinyl wrapping your vehicle is something you can do on your own in your garage. But Austin recommends you go into a professional shop anyway. A well-trained pro can offer you a smooth vinyl application that won’t bubble up or begin to peel a year into use — a common fate of the DIY-er. But more notably, a professional will have a wealth of inside knowledge about the possibilities that vinyl can offer you. 

You might have an idea of what you want for your vehicle, but a well-seasoned professional will likely have an idea or two to plus up that plan. With a world of colors, graphics, textures, finishes, and other features to play with, enthusiasts can run into the problem of not knowing what they don’t know. Consulting with a professional who has tried many different things on many other vehicles can help you zero in on the perfect solution for your build.

Have you considered a contrasting yellow for your brake calipers? What about this pattern inside the door jamb? Maybe graphics are a bit much for you, but what if it was just a subtle spot gloss logo? Wouldn’t it be cool if we did this gradient but turned the vinyl 90 degrees on the hood for a different shift? Did you know that they make this color in self-healing vinyl?

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Photo Credit: Team Hybrid / Mark Buffington

So…is Paint Dead?

It’s hard to look at the explosive growth in the vinyl wrap space in the last decade and not entertain the notion that paint may indeed be dying. According to Austin, the big vinyl wave hasn’t even crested yet. New technologies in the wrap space emerge every day, and big players are still hopping in to join the movement.  He sees no signs of things slowing down any time soon. 

“The vinyl products that we’re using today are lightyears ahead of what we were using even five years ago. It’s exciting because I know there are still lightyears ahead for even more improvement and growth. We’re seeing OEMs getting into the wrap space in an attempt to offer new things to their customers. There’s a lot of potential. The wrap industry can and hopefully will be four, possibly five times what it is now one day.” – Austin Smith, Founder, Paint is Dead

As vinyl continues its journey towards the mainstream, does paint make its way to become niche and unique? Perhaps one day, we’ll be talking about paint as a charming retro modification option championed by vintage car enthusiasts and nostalgia chasers. Only time will tell.

What do you think: is paint dead? 

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Photo Credit: Team Hybrid / Grant Senn

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