How to Vinyl Wrap a Jet Ski

Vinyl wrapping has become all the rage for decorating vehicles quickly and easily. Vinyl wrapping can produce amazing effects with printed graphics or in simple solid colors. But can you vinyl wrap a jet ski?

Yes, you can vinyl wrap a jet ski. You can take your jet ski into a shop to get it vinyl wrapped, or you can buy the tools and film so you can do it yourself.

Let’s take a look at what’s involved in vinyl wrapping so you can decide if you want to take on such a project.

What is Vinyl Wrapping?

Vinyl wrapping is an alternative method for replacing the color or graphics of cars, trucks, boats, and other vehicles. After preparing the surface, the vehicle is “wrapped” using a sheet of vinyl with an adhesive backing.

You can purchase rolls of vinyl wrap in many colors with satin, gloss, matte, and metallic finishes.

It is possible to print graphics on vinyl, making the color combinations endless. Curing times vary, but it will take no more than two weeks for the adhesive to fully cure.

Vinyl was used on flat surfaces like signs for advertisements before the practice spread to vehicles. When it did spread to vehicles, it was largely limited to use on small areas or as lettering at first.

Large vinyl decals were advertised in the 1950s by Newhouse Automotive Industries of California.

These were usually only applied to the roof or doors of the car, however, and only came in plaid and polka dot patterns (source).

The first mobile billboards were produced in 1991 by Contra Vision in New Zealand.

Full-vehicle color changes with vinyl came only a few years later in 1993 when Kay Premium Marking Films (CSK) used it on German taxi fleets.

Digital printed vinyl was used by Pepsi that same year. Since then, vinyl wrap has been applied to everything from boats to ATVs.

The Advantages of Vinyl Wraps

Vinyl wrapping is a good way to restore a paint job that is faded or discolored quickly and easily.

Due to its low labor intensity, having a jet ski vinyl wrapped can sometimes cost about half as much as getting a new paint job. You may even decide to try it as a do-it-yourself project.

The main advantages of vinyl wraps:

  • It’s cost-effective for special finishes.
  • It can be easily changed.
  • It can be done in large or small sections.

Cost and Downtime

You can get a lower quality paint job for less than a vinyl wrap, and a high-quality paint job with regular colors will cost about the same as a vinyl wrap.

Where vinyl wrap really shines is when you’re looking to achieve special finishes like a matte finish or one with special graphics (source).

A chrome or metallic finish would be even more expensive to achieve with paint than a matte or satin finish would be.

In this case, you can save as much as one-third to one-half the cost with a vinyl wrap compared to the price of a professional paint job.

This is largely due to the reduced labor and downtime spent in the shop.

A regular paint job might take several weeks to properly cure, whereas a vinyl wrap will take about a week to two weeks for the adhesive to properly set.

The average cost from a shop will vary by location, the size of your jet ski, and the film they use. Many auto shops charge $12 to $15 per square foot to install cast vinyl wraps and $5 to $8 per square foot for calendered wraps.

Other installers base their prices by the overall length in feet instead of by square feet.

For example, some boat wrapping companies will charge around $1,400 for a 14-foot boat (source).

A jet ski, or personal watercraft (PWC), is typically less than 13 feet long and no less than 8.7 feet long.

Wake Graphics, located in Austin, Texas, sells a half wrap kit for jet skis at $800 and a full kit for $1200. This is not an affiliate link.

They can install the kit themselves on-site or ship it to your local installer of choice (source).

Wholesale Decals has numerous kits and designs on Amazon if you don’t want a full wrap package but want to change your look. Check their current list and pricing at that link.

AquaSportsPlanet is an Amazon Associate. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

It Can Be Easily Changed

Having your jet ski vinyl wrapped is a quick way to change its appearance if you want something with a little more flare.

One of the greatest advantages of vinyl wrapping is that, even if you regret making a color change, you can peel the vinyl off later (source).

A vinyl wrap will help preserve your original paint job, which can be a huge advantage if you ever decide to sell your jet ski.

The adhesive used on the vinyl wrap is not intended to be permanent, so it can be removed with a little added heat and careful peeling.

Just be careful not to overheat the vinyl when removing it since this can leave unwanted adhesive residue that can damage the paint.

You will also want to use a plastic squeegee to gently remove the vinyl.

You Can Work in Sections

Another advantage of vinyl wrap is that you can easily do small or large sections.

When it comes to jet skis, you have the option to do the whole jet ski or just above the waterline if you desire.

If one section of vinyl becomes damaged, you can just replace that section without having to redo the entire jet ski.

The Disadvantages of Vinyl Wraps

While there are not many downsides to a vinyl wrap, there are a few worth taking into consideration:

  • It doesn’t last very long.
  • It doesn’t cover up imperfections.
  • It may be hard to find a local installer.

It Doesn’t Last Very Long

One of the major downsides to vinyl wrapping is it’s only expected to last for five to seven years.

Some wraps may last as long as 10 years, but that’s usually pushing it. When cleaning a vinyl coat, you will want to avoid powerful solvents or the use of a pressure washer.

It Doesn’t Cover Up Imperfections

Any scratches or dings will stick out like a sore thumb through a vinyl wrap.

Vinyl wraps are designed to adhere so closely to the surface that it might actually accentuate any imperfection.

If you have peeling paint, you will need to repair the paint job, not just attempt to cover it up with vinyl. Or possibly paint the entire ski or just the bottom.

It May Be Hard to Find a Local Installer

Since vinyl wrapping is still relatively new, especially when it comes to jet skis, it might be a bit of a challenge to local an experienced installer near you.

If you’re willing to put in the time and effort, you might choose to do a vinyl wrap yourself.

DIY Jet Ski Vinyl Wrap Supplies

If you’re considering doing a jet ski vinyl wrap yourself, you’ll need to have the right tools and materials. The typical tools that you will need for DIY vinyl wrapping include:

  • A heat gun or propane torch.
  • A utility knife or breakaway knife.
  • A plastic, Teflon, or felt-edge squeegee.
  • A tape measure.
  • A spray bottle with a 50-50 solution of alcohol to water.
  • Several microfiber washcloths and towels.
  • A clay bar to decontaminate the paint.

In addition to these, the wrap institute has a number of specialty tools that they recommend (source).

Specialty tools for DIY:

  • A rolling stool.
  • A PERFect Edge cutting tool.
  • Rivet tools.
  • Vinyl cutting tape or knifeless tape.
  • Edge sealing tape. 

The rolling stool just makes it easier on you to get around while not placing undue strain on your knees and back.

A PERFect Edge cutting tool contains a guide on the side of the knife that will help you to cut a nice, clean edge.

Rivet tools include rivet brushes and rollers that help you to form the vinyl over rivets and other objects.

Vinyl cutting tape, or knifeless tape, allows you to cut vinyl by pulling a thin strip of low-tack tape up from underneath the vinyl. This requires the use of safety gloves to handle properly.

Edge sealing tape will be very important for use on jet skis to prevent any moisture from getting underneath the vinyl wrap.

Unless you intend to have a protective coat done over the entire wrap, you will need edge sealing tape.

An excellent DIY full process video

Cast Vinyl vs. Calendered Vinyl

Vinyl wrap comes in two main types: calendered vinyl and cast vinyl. Calendered vinyl is cheap and is better suited to flat surfaces.

It’s mostly used for posters, temporary advertisements, and decals since it’s not very heat-resistant (source).

Cast vinyl is more durable and doesn’t shrink as much. It usually ranges in thickness from 2 mils to 4 mils.

Thinner vinyl is best for printable media, while thicker vinyl is best for solid colors. If you’re looking to cover larger surfaces on your jet ski, you’re going to want to go with cast vinyl.

Rolls of vinyl film are usually about 60 inches wide with various lengths available from 12 inches and up.

What Materials Work for Boats Compared to Cars?

You need to be careful when choosing a film for a marine vessel, whether it’s a boat or a jet ski, because some films that will work well on a car will not work well in water.

You should avoid films that advertise “air egress” technology such as 3M’s Comply or Avery Dennison’s EZ series (source).

These films are designed to release air bubbles quickly and easily as you apply the film through the use of channels in the film.

If not properly sealed on a marine vessel, these channels will quickly take on water. It’s even possible that water flowing through these channels at high speed could rip the vinyl off.

The two most common films used for vinyl wrapping marine vessels are 3M’s Wrap Film Series 1080 and Avery Dennison SW900 (source).

3M vinyl, in particular, has a reputation for being of the best quality and as being the best suited for marine use (source).

One of the reasons for the popularity of the 3M 1080 series is that it comes in over 269 variants and in a wide variety of colors.

These also come in finishes such as “matte, satin, gloss, carbon fiber, and brushed metal” (source).

Avery Dennison SW900 film is highly recommended for beginners since it’s very pliable at room temperature and has a very mild adhesive, which allows for more repositioning.

Some other vinyl films may require a tack reducer to make them easier to reposition during installation.

The main downside to Avery Dennison is that the color selection is limited compared to 3M vinyl films at about 100 variants.

There’s a Difficulty Curve for Different Finishes

Some vinyl wrap film finishes are more challenging than others, but they can all be overstretched. The easiest vinyl wraps to use are solid gloss wraps followed by satin wraps.

Matte, metallic, and chrome films are all more difficult. If matte colors are overstretched, they can become too shiny, and metallic pigments can become dispersed too much when overstretched.

Chrome, satin chrome, holographic chrome, brushed metal, and carbon fiber film finishes are the most easily damaged during installation (source).

Salt Water vs. Fresh Water Use

Salt water is hard on everything, and a vinyl wrap over your jet ski can help protect the original paint.

Salt water is still very hard on vinyl as well as on jet ski components, like the impeller housing ring of some models.

If you do decide to take your jet ski to the beach, make sure that you hose it down afterward and flush out the system to prevent corrosion.

To prevent damage to the vinyl wrap, there are a number of options for a protective coating like gel coat, ceramic coating, regular clear coat, or paint protection films (PPFs).

Companies like FlexShield sell paint protection films for automotive use, while marine paint protection films are gaining in popularity to protect boat hulls (source).

Wrapping your ski can get you pumped!

DIY Jet Ski Vinyl Wrap

Vinyl wrapping a jet ski yourself is not that difficult; it just takes a little time and patience. The main steps involve prepping the surface, measuring, cutting the material to size, and then applying the vinyl wrap.

Before you attempt this, you should make sure that it will not void your warranty on either the jet ski or the vinyl wrap itself.

The warranty for vinyl wrap kits sold by Wake Graphics, for example, are void if they are not installed by a certified 3M installer.

Step 1: Prepping the Surface

Before applying the vinyl, you will need to properly prep the paint surface by removing any decals and thoroughly cleaning the surface.

You can use special paint cleaners or just use a 50-50 mixture of water to alcohol (source).

Thoroughly rinse the surface with water and dry it. Next, use a clay bar with water to decontaminate the paint.

If your jet ski still has a good gel coat, then using a clay bar may not be necessary. After using a clay bar, rinse and dry the surface again.

Remove any parts that might be in the way of the wrap like mirrors or rub rails. If you do pull out the rub rail, make sure you reseal it afterward.

Step 2: Measure

Measure the surface that you are going to apply the wrap to and cut it into manageable sections.

On sections where the film will have to be pulled over edges, like on hoods, allow for about two inches on each side.

You have the option to wrap the entire jet ski, but most boat wrappers would recommend that you only wrap above the waterline.

If you do wrap below the waterline, the wrap is more likely to peel unless you put a special coating over it, hull and all.

Using proper measurements, you can anticipate where your vinyl will overlap. You can then place knifeless tape in these areas before applying the vinyl to create a nice seamless look.

Step 3: Applying the Vinyl Wrap

Remove the backing from the vinyl sheet and apply it to the surface. If you don’t have someone to help, you can use masking tape to tape the sheet to the surface with the adhesive side down.

You could then slowly remove the backing as you go along.

Most modern adhesives become most sticky after a 24-hour period, so you should be able to reposition it easily.

Be very careful not to overstretch it around curves since it will want to stretch back to its original form over time.

Step 4: Work the Wrinkles and Bubbles out of the Film

As you apply the vinyl to the surface, use your felt-edge squeegee to smooth out any ripples or bubbles, starting in the center and working your way out.

You can use a heat gun to help the material stretch but, again, be very careful not to overstretch the material.

Make sure that you post-heat any areas where you had to stretch the film. Heating the vinyl to about 180 degrees Fahrenheit will cause it to lose that tendency to return to its original shape (source).

For marine applications, some vinyl wrappers use a primer around the edges to help it stick better. Next, they follow this up with edge-sealing tape.

Step 5: Allow it to Cure

The adhesive becomes most tacky after 24 hours, and some films require a 72-hour cure time.

For example, 3M recommends that you do not try to wash a car that has been vinyl wrapped until after seven days. The same principle would apply to a jet ski.

Final Thoughts

If you’re one who likes to stand out from the rest of the crowd and would like to change your jet ski’s color pattern to reflect this, vinyl wrapping will be perfect for you.

Even if you get tired of the color over time, you can always peel it off and start with something new.

Tim Conner, M.D.

Tim Conner, M.D. started boating in 1974. He has been involved in recreational boating continuously since then. Dr. Conner has been active in boating and watersports safety education for decades. He rode his first jet ski in 1997, and rejoined the personal watercraft arena in 2012 with a Sea-Doo GTX 155, followed by 2 supercharged SeaDoos. Scuba certification came in 1988, and he and the family have traveled the world snorkeling and scuba diving for decades. The family has recently taken up paddle boarding. Click the photo for a lot more.

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