Guest Column July/August 2022

June 29th, 2022 by Nathan Hobbs

Answering Six Common PPF Questions

By Jason Schaner

The global paint protection film (PPF) market has doubled over the past five years and continues to grow. As a supplier of thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) for PPF, we increasingly find ourselves answering questions from installers, consumers and others with a vested interest. These are six of the most common.

1 What ingredients make up PPF?

Four components comprise PPF.

1. The surface layer consists of a thin coating, usually acrylic or urethane-based and is designed to provide stain resistance.
2. The next layer is considered the core and is made of TPU. This TPU is stretchable, long-lasting and durable for preventing paint chips by absorbing stone impacts.
3. Below the TPU is a thin adhesive layer, most commonly acrylic-based. This is designed to bond the TPU layer to the vehicle’s surface and formulated to result in a strong bond while enabling clean removal with no damage to the vehicle finish.
4. Protecting the adhesive is a liner film made of polyester and removed just prior to the installation process. Together, these materials are roughly 10 mils thick (0.25 mm).

2 How do PPF products differ?

There are many differences, most significantly recognized through the surface coating and TPU chemistries.  Coatings are most commonly formulated with either self-healing or maximum stain resistance. Maximizing self-healing compromises stain-resistance and vice versa.

The performance characteristics of TPU depend on its chemistry, which can be changed and tailored to meet specific needs. The right stretch properties, achieved with consistency, are critical to the installation process for yielding an efficient and high-quality installation. Some TPU will turn yellow or lose mechanical properties following long-term exposure to the sun’s powerful ultraviolet (UV) radiation. A TPU best formulated for long-term durability and non-yellowing can maintain a colorless optical clarity that not only protects the vehicle’s finish but makes it look great at the same time.

Finally, ideal adhesives will provide the optimum level of initial tack with time for repositioning during installation. Long-term bonding should prevent edge lifting and result in clean release without paint removal or leftover residue if removal is necessary.

In its final construction, PPF made with carefully selected materials can protect the vehicle’s finish for more than a decade.

3 Why does some PPF have a greater life expectancy than others?

The chemistry of the components matters. Any sacrifice to the quality and performance of any individual ingredient can result in undesirable performance. A premium PPF product starts with premium materials. Any compromises could be recognized through staining, scratching, yellowing, peeling or cracking. With lesser materials, performance suffers.

Accelerated weather testing is a valuable tool used to predict and quantify effects of real-world exposure over time. Advanced knowledge of these tools and the materials science behind the ingredients increase the accuracy of such predictive testing. These tests are notable for their ability to condense testing timelines from months or even years to a few days—saving significant
time and money for vehicle owners and installers alike.

4 Why Consider TPU for PPF?

TPU is a remarkably versatile material with basic properties that lend themselves well to PPF. The chemistries of TPU can be manipulated to deliver specific characteristics, including several that are central to PPF performance, such as optical clarity and resistance to yellowing, impact resistance and the ability to stretch and return to the original form. It also can be processed to deliver innovative PPF characteristics, such as creative colors and finishes.

5 How is chip protection performance determined?

There is a test method specifically designed to quantify this capability, much like the accelerated weather tests mentioned previously. Using an apparatus known as a gravelometer, 250-300 stones are launched at a panel at a speed of 30 to 60 miles per hour—parameters established in SAE J400: Test for Chip Resistance of Surface Coatings.

Previously titled SAE International, the Society of Automotive Engineers is a U.S.-based association and standards developing organization for engineering professionals in several industries.

6 What are the latest trends and innovations?

Current trends are focused predominantly on three areas.

1. Continued optimization of surface capabilities. Specifically, improvements and optimization of stain resistance and self-healing properties—two areas that can contribute to the extended life of the PPF.

2. Full-body coverage and film thicknesses for efficient installation. These go hand-in-hand. Consumers increasingly are interested in going beyond the traditional partial installations (hoods, bumpers, etc.) and  instead installing PPF over the entire vehicle body. It’s not surprising; full-body PPF provides the ultimate protection not just from stones and road debris but also from sunlight and UV rays that can affect paint color over time. By optimizing the thickness of TPU according to placement on the vehicle, the overall investment is more justified by the vehicle owner.

3. Colored PPF is primarily used for accent features at this point, for example, on roofs and trim. Matte PPF can be applied to transform the finish of a typical gloss paint through a full-body application. We anticipate that the performance and availability of colored PPF products will provide more opportunities for restyling as a paint alternative in the coming years.

This is an exciting time in the PPF industry. Demand has never been higher, and PPF brands are becoming more active with innovation to bring these and other new developments to the market.

Jason Schaner serves as applications engineer for Surface Protection at Lubrizol Engineered Polymers.

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