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Discussion Starter #1
I'm sharing my pov as a repeat user of clear film for paint and headlight lens protection. I have vehicles with clear film on the front end, and after many years of driving, it is evident that the clear film significantly reduced the scratches caused by small road debris over time. These films have a 5-10 year rated lifespan, so they should ideally be replaced accordingly. But it helps keep the paint in good condition, and also helps the polycarbonate lens of headlights stay clear and free from spider cracks that may develop after many years.

If you've done auto window tint DIY, this is definitely easier. Otherwise, expect to buy extra raw material to redo after the first try.

[Disclaimer: I'm not affiliated with any of the companies that make this product, and only share this from the point of view of a user that have tried several different ones over the years. I'm not implying endorsement. The product name, description, and approximate price is to give others an idea on whether it is a potentially good idea to attempt the DIY or not]

For the xc90, I bought 3M's 4th generation film, labeled as "3M Scotchgard PRO Series", available from many vendors. This has gloss clear surface; there are some I've used before that has a matte clear surface (with a different product name/label). I've used earlier generation 3M product as well as others (e.g. xpel). From a vendor via Amazon, a 30"x108" roll covers more than the width of the engine hood cover (~US$190), and a 24"x120" roll covers the side-to-frontal areas of the front bumper cover (~US$170). I should note that even though this is around the 6th time I've installed clear paint protection film (over the span of 15 years), every time is a new learning experience, unlike the professionals that get to do this on a daily basis. This particular paint protection film is around 8mil (8 thousands of an inch) thick, which is an ideal thickness in terms of ease of install and ability to protect the painted surface.

I also bought a thicker type meant for headlight lens protection. They come in either clear or tinted (black, grey, blue, yellow, etc.). For low beams, it is best to choose clear, and some colors may render your low beam color outside of the legal color allowed by local / country laws (e.g. FMVSS in the US). I bought a 12"x24" Lamin-x branded clear roll via Amazon (~US$30), which, when split into 2, is just enough to cover the headlight lens. Headlight lens films are usually available in the 20-40mil range. Since a headlight's surface is significantly smaller than any of the typical body panels, picking the 40mil doesn't carry that much more installation difficulty, but you get the most impact protection. The xc90's foglight can be covered by a 3"x12" roll with some material to spare. The closest I found was a 2 roll of 6"x12" (~US$25). The colored ones are usually only offered at the 20mil thickness.

So, without any waste due to installation mistakes, covering a little more than what a "stage 1" protection I saw offered by my local Volvo dealer, plus headlights and foglights, costs a little over US$400 in roll materials. The leftovers were more than enough to make small patches to protect the inside of the door handle, and along the a-pillar.

You also need 2 spray bottles (one for the slippery solution, another for the evaporating solution), water from a few bottled water, a bit of isopropyl alcohol (for the evaporating solution), and a drop of baby shampoo (to make the slippery solution). When you buy the rolls, they typically send you a squeegee and a paper cutter.
 

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Discussion Starter #2
Step 1: Big, relatively flat surface to start: engine hood cover

Mark reference lines for the film that protects the front part of the engine hood cover. Since I applied it freestyle, the "lateral" line references help make sure the installation lines up. The 30"x108" roll means that the front 30" of the engine hood cover is protected, which is more than what the typical "car bra" covers. The 108" length is quite longer; if I recall correctly, the engine hood cover is about 70-80" wide or so. I use blue masking tape to give me visual cues of perpendicular lines etc. I also use the masking tape to help "hold" the sheet to prevent it from falling down and gathering dirt; it needs to be absolutely clean.

Note: since this installation, I found a vendor that sells the roll in a size that can cover the entire engine hood cover of the xc90. I plan to remove this one and reapply the larger one in a few years.

This particular film has an opaque white adhesive backing liner. Other models have frosted or translucent liners. Also, some have additional temporary protective liner on the business end of the surface (like when a smartphone or bigscreen TV is still in the packaging).

 

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Discussion Starter #3
Step 2: Making a custom pattern for the engine hood cover

It really helps to have an extra pair of clean hands with this job, and even more on the front bumper cover application. But if you don't (I didn't), blue tape helps keep things in place.

With one side taped secure (see left side), simply unroll to measure the needed length (of the roll) to cover the width (of the engine hood cover):


Tape edges that are roughly in the right place, cut the roll to the proper length.

After that, add rough cuts for the headlight profile:


Important: the amount of film should ideally go past in front of the engine hood cover. This is to allow the film to be "folded" over into the engine compartment.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Step 3: Separate the film from its protective liner

To prevent dirt (e.g. from fingernails) to contaminate the film's adhesive backing when peeling the film from its protective liner just before installation, it helps to put two pieces of tape, opposite of each other. Then, you can pull the tape apart from each other to easily separate the film from the liner:



Here's a picture from my last install (before my xc90) illustrating what I mean by placing 2 pieces of tape to aid in separating the film from the liner:


After that, spraying the film with the slippery solution, and placing the liner back, will allow the film's adhesive backing to remain protected until you need to focus on a particular are to install.

Important: aside from cleaning the vehicle and your hands beforehand, periodically spray the soapy solution to your hands before every handling step where you will touch or stretch the film. Otherwise, once a tiny debris is stuck on the adhesive side, it may be difficult not to leave a mark.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Step 4 (Optional but useful): Splitting the protective liner along the centerline of the vehicle

Without the help of 1 or 2 other persons, it makes installation easier if most of the sections not being affixed remain protected by the liner. Start by making a cut along the liner so it can be peeled gradually to the side like so:


In the picture above, the film is squeegeed along the centerline, and gradually along the engine hood cover on the right side of the picture. As the squeegeeing goes further to the right side, the liner is also gradually peeled away. Any slippery solution needs to be displaced by the evaporating solution whenever that particular area will be squeegeed.

Here's another angle (from my previous install) illustrating what I mean:

Start from one end; cut the liner.


Continue from the other side if going all the way from only one side is inconvenient


The liner is now split in half


Now you can focus on one side at a time; at least in the beginning of the installation process.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Step 5: Affix the film on the engine hood cover

I don't usually take pictures at this stage, because you will need one hand to hold one end of the film to apply some tension, while the other hand applies pressure on the squeegee. There are youTube videos (of professionals) showing how this is done. Applying tension helps the film conform to contours.

Engine hood cover film install completed

Here's how it looks like when fully squeegeed from center towards the outer sections. Basically, it is almost impossible to see under most daily conditions.


Note: If necessary, find a higher platform (like the ramp shown above) to stand on, because it helps with being able to apply pressure on the squeegee evenly.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Note about the raw template

In step 2, I noted that the "template" needs to go a little bit past the engine hood cover. This is what it is for.

The extra material extending ahead and to the sides of the engine hood cover needs to be carefully fitted to cover the rounded edges of the engine hood cover. Mild heat from a heat gun or household hair dryer should suffice. I start with about half an inch of extra material to roll into the engine compartment (from my previous install):
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Step 6: Align the film roll on the front bumper cover

Now that you've completed the engine hood cover, you would get a better sense on the extent of the film's stretch and overall timing of the install. The front bumper cover is a bit more challenging. Maybe more than a bit. YouTube videos I've seen for front bumper cover install DIY typically uses an extra pair of hands to help keep the roll in place. I use masking tape like so:


The 120" roll was slightly longer than I need, but it was the closest size that provides the coverage I wanted.

While the protective liner is opaque, it is thin enough that under certain conditions, you can make out most of the necessary features (e.g. edges of the grille, lower bumper cover profile, etc.). This helps in the freehand trimming of the film (along with the liner still intact).
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Step 7: Cut the raw template for the front bumper cover

Same principle as before; remember to leave a bit extra material for the film to follow the rounded edges, and to hedge against unplanned stretching of the film during the install, that can mis-align parts that haven't been squeegeed yet:


Blue tape is your assistant. Remember to use tape to keep the roll in place as you add more cuts:
 

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Discussion Starter #10
Step 8: Installing the front bumper cover film

Again, since this is a relatively large piece, it helps to try to squeegee from the center, and gradually work your way to all sides. Splitting the liner along the center helps keep the side you're not working on protected and more or less aligned.



Gradually displace the slippery solution with the evaporating solution as you squeegee more film away from the center:
 

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Discussion Starter #11
So there you have it, front bumper cover and engine hood cover clear film applied in 8 steps:
 

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Discussion Starter #12
Headlight film

The xc90's headlight lens is relatively simple compared to many other vehicles I've installed film on. Just work your way from one side to the rest of the lens surface. As this was the thick 40mil, I actively applied heat during the installation so I can stretch the film as much as I can to allow for the convex surface to be well covered with minimal risk of wrinkles.


At least there are no concave surfaces; those are the most challenging, especially on a 40mil thick material.

I didn't have a picture of the install on the foglights (yellow film, thinner 20mil). Here is how they look; hard to see any evidence of paint protection film nor headlight/foglight film, aside from the fact that the foglight lens is now yellow:
 

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Great job and write-up. Appreciated.

A few questions:

Just wondering when applying the film on uneven surface, esp. top and bottom have different curves, will wrinkles be created and how do you handle them?

Is film completely transparent without any tint? I have a white car, not sure how it will look like.

Later on will it be easy to remove them, any residuals/adhesive left? and will colors be same between covered and uncovered areas after years of exposure of sunlight?

I found the Lamin-x on amazon, but can't find the large size bulk you mentioned for 3M Scotchgard PRO Series. Could you please share the links?

Thanks a lot.
 

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Discussion Starter #14
Great job and write-up. Appreciated.
Thank you

Just wondering when applying the film on uneven surface, esp. top and bottom have different curves, will wrinkles be created and how do you handle them?
The short answer is by stretching.

Making sure the film is not cold will help with the stretching. Also, you will need a strategy as to where to start. When you're coming up to a concave area (i.e. like the inside of a bowl), you can warm the sheet some more in order to allow it to "stretch in". When you're working around a convex area (i.e. like a ball), you will need to stretch the center as much as possible so that the un-shrunk sheet will cover the area around it without a lot of wrinkling. And to prevent wrinkling around the top of that ball, you need to make small squegee increments around it, progressively farther and farther away from the center.

The closest illustration I have is this rather challenging (non Volvo) headlight. Note that there is a flat-ish disk around the upper projector, which transitions to the sphere-ish headlight lens with a concave wall. The blue numbers correspond to the sequence I applied squegee, while keeping tension downwards as indicated by the green and magenta arrows (to allow for stretch). Then, step 8 is what I ealrier termed "stretch in" so that the film sticks to that concave wall. I haven't ran into body panel creases that pose more challenge than this. In addition, paint protection film is typically 8mil thick, which is much easier to stretch than a 40mil film like this. The principles are the same though.



Is film completely transparent without any tint? I have a white car, not sure how it will look like.
The edges could catch dirt and wax, of course.

As for how it looks; unless you stand about 3 feet or closer, it would be almost indiscernible. If you're concerned about it, you can opt for full panel coverage. If I show you pictures on my Denim Blue xc90, it would be difficult to see the edges.


Here's how it looks like on a flat-yellow-painted vehicle. The engine hood cover film goes as far back as where the white squegee sits. Aft of that is uncovered.



Note: the first picture showing the headlight film stretching steps has clear paint film that has been there since ~2002 (15+ years!), which is well past its rated lifetime. You can see that the edges have frayed a bit and collected dirt.


Later on will it be easy to remove them, any residuals/adhesive left?
If you remove them within a few days after the install, it will leave no residuals. If you leave it longer than the intended service life (which I did, due to procrastinatitis), then the film becomes brittle, so the adhesive and protective portions can separate during removal. For the next uninstall, I will try using a powered pressure washer; I've seen some videos indicating that this works well and leaves no residue.


and will colors be same between covered and uncovered areas after years of exposure of sunlight?
On a vehicle I've owned since 2001 (that yellow one), I saw no difference in paint color. I took out the film I installed in 2002 last year (2017) to install the new one pictured above. The only difference I can see is that areas that used to be covered have almost no scratches, while uncovered areas had a lot of tiny (and not so tiny) scratches from road debris impact. I observed the same in another vehicle whose clear film I recently removed.
 

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Discussion Starter #15 (Edited)
I found the Lamin-x on amazon, but can't find the large size bulk you mentioned for 3M Scotchgard PRO Series. Could you please share the links?
Sure. But this is not to be construed as a specific endorsement to these vendors (full disclosure: I had good purchasing experience).

These are the Pro version; not as forgiving when mistakes are made imho. But I like the stretchiness of the material. The protective liner for the adhesive backing is translucent; this is the sheet that you throw away before the installation.
3M Scotchgard PRO Series Clear Paint Protection Bulk Film Roll 18-by-84-inches (link here)
3M Scotchgard PRO Series Clear Paint Protection Bulk Film Roll 30-by-108-inches (link here)
3M Scotchgard PRO Series Clear Paint Protection Bulk Film Roll 24-by-120-inches (link here)


Here's an example of non-pro version; same gloss coating. The protective liner for the adhesive backing is opaque white, and has "3M" imprinted on it. This is supposedly a 4th generation product; the first time I applied paint film protection was with an earlier generation, also with the same style liner (with the "3M" logo).
3M Scotchgard Clear Paint Protection Bulk Film Roll 30-by-120-inches (link here)


Subsequently, I spoke to a vendor in amazon that was willing to make a custom item#. It is a different brand that I've never heard of before. I haven't used this; my plan is to replace the partial engine hood cover on the xc90 in a few years with this one, that is large enough to protect the entire hood cover. That way, there is no visible edge.
SunTek Top Coated Clear Paint Protection Bulk Film Roll 60-by-60-inches (link here)
Update: 60 inches is too short to cover the width of the engine hood cover. I went with the next increment, at 72 inches long (same 60 inch width).
 

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Discussion Starter #16
I just remembered. For those considering DIY clear film installation, here's information I received from a vendor that sells 3 different brands. Interesting that they state the 3M Pro is easier to install than the non-pro version.

All films are great films and are about the same thickness.
SunTek’s Base film, top coat and adhesive combined equal 8mil; 3M Scotchgard PRO Series base film and adhesive combined are a 8mil and Xpel Ultimates film base and adhesive are 8.5mil.

Below is a breakdown on th film’s properties.

3M Scotchgard PRO Series Paint Protection Film:
3M was one of the first film manufactures to enter the paint protection market over twenty years ago. 3M Scotchgard PRO Series is the latest generation of Paint Protection Film manufactured by 3M. No need to worry about damage that can happen to your vehicle’s painted surfaces from daily driving. Rocks, insect acids, salt and gravel don’t stand a chance against the new 3M Scotchgard PRO Series. This generation of film not only provides excellent protection like the original 3M Scotchgard film, but it also has a scratch resistant and self-healing top layer. The film is also clearer and more elastic when compared to the original 3M Scotchgard Film. The new Scotchgard PRO formula means easier installations and a better looking finished product for do-it-yourself types. The film is easily maintained without any special care required. Just wash the vehicle as you always have before. Expected life span is 7 years and comes with a 7-year warranty again yellowing, cracking and peeling due to cracking.

SunTek Paint Protection Film:
SunTek's paint protection film is becoming extremely popular. Their PPF offers breakthrough technology in paint protection applications. SunTek film offers invisible protection against rocks, insects, salt and other road debris. It has a proprietary, self-healing top-coat formulation which is scratch resistant, does not crack over time and the film's surface offers a high-gloss finish just like the paint of your vehicle. The film offers a superior optical clarity compared to other films on the market. The stretch in this film and the stable adhesive offers an easier installation for most do-it-yourself types. Expected life span is 5 years and comes with a 5-year warranty again yellowing, cracking and peeling due to cracking.

Xpel Ultimate Paint Protection Film:
Xpel Ultimate is a well-known paint protection film brand with a loyal following. The film is constructed from a combination of elastomeric polymers and has self-healing properties in the surface. Xpel Ultimate film can resist contamination and prevent UV rays from penetrating the film. Both issues can cause film discoloration over time. The self-healing properties of Xpel Ultimate film can resist light scratching and swirl marks from washing your vehicle or daily driving. Just the warm sun on the vehicle or a little heat from a hairdryer can cause scuffs and scratches to disappear. Simple problems like bird-droppings, insect residue, road tar and tree sap can easily be removed from the films surface with a soft cloth. Xpel Ultimate film has an adhesive that may be a little aggressive for the do-it-yourself types, but it will adhere well to extreme curves and body edges. Expected life span is 10 years and comes with a 10-year warranty again yellowing, cracking and peeling due to cracking.

Hopefully this information will help you in your decision.

Best Regards,

Customer Service
 

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Discussion Starter #18
Thanks a lot.

I might give it a try when my car is here.
You're welcome. And do share how it works out for you once you installed the film. If you do some rough cut ahead of time, you may be able to practice with a small piece on a relatively flat body panel (e.g. the door panel) to get a feel of it. Areas like side mirror (mostly very convex) and the gap behind the door handle (mostly very concave) are on the "hardest to install" spectrum of difficulty.
 

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Thanks for sharing this PPF DYI! I was planning on finding a vendor to do this until I read through your post on how to do it by oneself. A few questions:

A) How long did it take to do the hood? Front bumper area? How long do you estimate for a beginner?

B) You mentioned applying heat to stretch the PPF for high curvature locations. What type of heat source do you recommend? Hair dryer or something more "professional?"

C) When working with the 3M Pro PPF is there a limit to how many "times" water can be sprayed under the PPF? Is there adhesive on the PPF surface touching the car that can be washed away by overspraying it with too much water?

Before going all-in I might try putting PPF first on the small side mirrors. If that goes well then I'll have some confidence for the larger PPF sheets.
 

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Great write up saytra! Clearly you’re more talented than most of us.

Though not as cost effective, I like to buy the precut pieces of film from invisiblemask.com - saves me from messing up a cut and scrapping a piece.

I’ve tried cheaper films, but 3M is hands down the clearest and most durable. I tried R-vinyl, purchased from amazon, and it looks like I put orange peel on my headlights. I will be redoing that project.
 
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