Success by Software September/October 2022August 29th, 2022 by Nathan Hobbs
Analyzing Automotive Film Pattern Programs
By Chris Collier
Are you old school or new school? In other words, are your installation bays personalized by hand-cutting methods or persistent trips to the plotter? The road to a perfect installation certainly isn’t black-and-white, but film suppliers offer advanced film pattern software with a technological backbone.
The New Age
Eastman first introduced its Core cutting software to a group of dealers in 2020, with Version 1.0 going live on April 27, 2022. Marshall Couch, digital product owner, Eastman Performance Films, says hand-cutting remains valuable for unique vehicles, but a pattern will generally be much faster.
“Seventy-five percent are using plotters and cutting software; 25% are still hand-cutting,” says Dustin Hall, NAR (North America) technical services manager, Eastman Performance Films, of the company’s dealer base. “There’s less of a learning curve when using a plotter. This results in less frustration when installing, more efficiency and increased volume—that can ultimately translate into more profit.”
The impact of evolving patterns are “near and dear” to Hall’s heart.
“As an installer of 25 years before joining Eastman, I was cutting by hand for 20 years—taking pride in that fact,” Hall says. “The last five years, I adapted to using a plotter as patterns improved. I started to see the benefits of implementing one in my shop. It helps save time, improve efficiency and eliminate a lot of frustration. Patterns are the same every time—if you make a mistake, the pattern is easily reproduced in minutes.”
XPEL introduced its Design Access Program (DAP) in 1999. Chris Hardy, U.S. sales manager – East, XPEL, says the program is part of its competitive edge. More than 90% of its paint protection film (PPF) customers and more than 50% of its automotive tint customers use the software.
“We have an entire dedicated team for our DAP programs and have already released several improvements this year, with more planned,” Hardy says. “One small example is how we incorporated job boarding into DAP. This helps each installer understand what has to be done to each car as well as delivery times and more. Since our product offerings include PPF, auto tint and ceramic coatings, there could be multiple products being outfitted to each car.”
Avery Dennison released its Vehicle Design Template (VDT) cutting software in 2019 and has seen subscribers increase since its launch. Graeme McKnight, marketing associate, Avery Dennison Graphics Solutions – Window Films, says plotters are pricey but provide multiple avenues of value.
“It can depend heavily on what type of customers you have,” McKnight says. “For example, if you are an installer or work at a shop that works directly with local car dealerships, then it can be very beneficial to have a plotter with cutting software. In that instance, you would be plotting material for mostly the same make and model of vehicles that can save you multiple hours each day. Another benefit of the plotter is the risk factor when installing. When using a hand-cutting method, you take chances cutting the film directly on the car where the smallest mistake can cost you.”
The Madico Advanced Cutting System (MACS) launched in 2015. Like McKnight, Steve Wood, business development manager, key accounts, Madico, believes various factors determine the ideal tool.
“There are circumstances where plotters are not an option,” Wood says. “Typically, plotters are used in a static location. Mobile installations usually are done by hand-cutting. That being said, there are still people that prefer cutting the patterns themselves.”
Give It a Go
“Fit Pro is our new pattern cutting software program and we are very excited to finally be able to provide this software to our customers around the country,” says William Davidson, sales manager for Johnson Window Films. “We first released the program at SEMA 2021 and have received lots of positive feedback from our users in the months since. The software is available as a combination tint and paint protection patterns software. It has thousands of available patterns made up of not only make, model and year spanning several decades but also short and long window patterns and other paint protection options depending on installer preference.”
3M’s Pattern and Solutions Center has been part of the company’s offering for more than 15 years. 3M product marketer Anna Nelson says the program currently has more than 1,300 global active users, with most being located in the U.S. Access is currently limited to 3M auto film dealers and but the company has expansion plans in the works.
“With both window film and PPF, we estimate a 15 to 20% time savings when using patterns,” Nelson adds. “Film savings with PPF patterns can be significant since small parts can be ‘nested’ with larger parts, users can reduce film cost by an estimated 10-15%.” Autobahn, Edge and Hüper Optik USA lean on industry cutting program Film and Vinyl Designs as an option for its dealers. Chief operating officer David Kratz says 70% of the company’s dealers use the service.
“We currently offer Film and Vinyl Designs for window tint and PPF,” Kratz says. “We offer a 30-day trial to our authorized dealers to try out the service. They then have options to renew annually on our online dealer portal. If they experience any issues with their software, they will have access to our dealer support team, their own sales representative and our technical team available by phone or our online chat service.”
This issue features the most expansive Top Dealers ranking to date. Are patterns and software essential to a dealer’s climb?
“In terms of volume, it’s pretty much a necessity,” Couch says on the crucial nature of industry programs and plotters. “You can do great work either way, but a plotter is going to make it easier to expand business. It helps to increase the number of vehicles you manage in a day, making training easier since it’s not do or die like hand-cutting. Not all of your tinters have to be artisan hand-cutters when you have a plotter to help with consistent installs.”
Miguel Detres, technical services manager for Solar Gard, says more than 1,300 window film users count on the company’s ComputerCut Pro for installations.
“Time is money and the top argument for investing in a plotter and film-cutting software,” Detres says. “More often than not, the phrase, “I can cut faster than a plotter!” is the immediate response—which for many may be true—but I think you have to be a little more open-minded.”
You’ve heard the supplier perspective, but where do dealers stand?
Are they team hand-cutting or team plotter/pattern software?
Mike Powell, owner of Day To Night Window Tinting, Roanoke Rapids, N.C.
(Huper Optik’s 2021 Horizon Dealer of the Year)
“I learned by hand-cutting and purchased a plotter a little over a year ago. I love the plotter for pushing cars in and out, but I still feel the true art of a window tinter falls into his Olfa blade. We can train to squeegee and stick, but the hidden artwork is hand-cutting. So I do love to hand-cut, but day-in, day-out applications we plot.”
Raphael Van Dexter, owner of Dynamic Tint and Paint Protection, New Jersey
“We went from hand-cutting to going full pattern computer cut in 2017 and never looked back. It made us so much more efficient where we are able to do much more volume. We sometimes hand-cut if it’s an older vehicle or if the vehicle is not yet in the software. But it is very rare that we hand-cut. I was never a believer until finally manifesting computer cut patterns with XPEL’s DAP.”
Gabe Fletcher, owner of Ceramic Pro Pottstown, Pottstown, Pa.
“We do a hybrid of both. We do computer cut installs on some cars and bulk installs on others. Some cars we do both—it can change for the needs of the client and the type of vehicle. I would say that hand-cutting is great but if you want to build and scale more efficient installers, computer-cut films are the way you do that. Bulk installing is a great way to get started, but it’s also the number one way you burn up film.”
Salvador Hurtado, vice president of Sal’s House of Tint, San Marcos, Texas
“I use both, but team hand-cut all the way. A plotter will never make a better car pattern than my hand … ever.”
Chris Collier is the assistant editor for Window Film magazine.
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