Paint protection film (PPF), also known as clear bra, clear movie, or clear paint film, is a thermoplastic polyurethane that often self heals and is applied to the painted surfaces of new or used cars to protect them from damage such as stone chips, insect splatters, and minor scrapes. OEM approval is granted to virtually all automobile manufacturers.
Manufacturers may apply paint protection film on specific pieces of the car at the plant (e.g. the rear arches of Porsches). This film is usually applied to high-impact areas such as the hood and front fenders. This is due to the high risk of damage to these panels from rocks and other road detritus from vehicles nearby, or even driving on the roads. The film is typically installed by professionals who have been certified and receive supplies from dealers and distributors outside.
Military origins for paint protection film
Like many other consumer products paint protection films were created and first used by military personnel. Flying debris and shrapnel often caused damage to helicopter rotor blades as well other parts of military transports during the Vietnam War. To protect these delicate parts, the US military asked 3M for a low-weight and discreet solution.
It was clear that replaceable film had a better benefit than replacing and repairing damaged rotor blades. This was evident immediately and the adoption rate by the US military was remarkable. PPF is still known as “helicopter tap”, even though it has been adopted by the US military at a remarkable speed.
Adoption of PPF in the automotive sector
The military still uses paint protection films. 3M has a large range of military and aerospace films. Despite the difficulty in working with the original films, PPF was quickly adopted by the automotive industry. Kathy Lam, marketing manager at 3M’s automotive division said that the original films were thicker and more flexible to keep the blades of helicopters from eroding in harsh, sandy environments.
Current automotive paint protection film
Automotive PPF is very conformable today and optically clear. Available in various thicknesses (measured as mils in the US), and colors. The new products come with a multi-layered topcoat that can self-heal itself from scratches and scuffs, maintaining clarity for over ten years. Some vendors offer products with hydrophobic characteristics, similar to ceramic paint coatings. For modern applications, a gel or slip solution is required to keep the film from sticking to the panel. To apply film too complicated surfaces, advanced and custom applicators use heat guns, steam, and torches. For complex curves and wraps, pre-stretch and prep-form of films can be used.
Types available for installation
PPF installation can take many forms. A plotter is used to create a pattern according to the panel that the film will be installed. An installer or their customer can alter a plotter’s software pattern. Expert installers are able to create template panels from scratch and then convert the templates into digital format. The software can then digitally cut any custom work. Because the film is installed directly onto the vehicle’s surface, it is not possible to install the roll without a plotter.
Aside from the in-place installations by certified shops, dealerships, and factories, there are a few vendors who sell precut and vehicle-specific paint protector kits. Additionally, these kits can also be sold online through individual sellers or auction sites.
PPF is a paint protection product that protects against road debris and scratches. This is unlike sealants that are typically in liquid form. They are intended for chemical and UV resistance. Sealants can harden your paintwork’s clear coat, but they are not intended to protect it from any physical damage. PPF and sealants may be used to protect panels in various ways on vehicles.
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