Though there are now over one hundred PPF film types being sold around the world today, most are abysmal variants coming out of China or the developing world. For the purposes of this article, we will focus only on the leading brands being sold and installed regularly throughout Canada and the United States. This article will focus only on TPU (thermoplastic urethane) based films. There are cheaper PVC based films, but these tend to be the lowest quality in the market.
First, a short history on the product itself. As many in the industry know, paint protection films were originally a military/aerospace creation by the 3M company for American military purposes as early as the Vietnam War. At some point even as early as the 1990’s, people began experimenting with these films on other surfaces such as vehicle hoods and bumpers to protect them from stone chipping and road debris. This burgeoning industry really started in the early 2000’s when new car dealerships started to up-sell this product to their customers. As more dealerships standardized this product, the 3M Company then developed a partnership with a third party software company to create pattern templates for vehicles to reduce install time and labour costs.
For years there was only one manufacturer of PPF, 3M. Of course as the popularity of the product grew, this could only last so long. The very software company that had partnered with 3M, then went to market with their own competing product under the new brand name, Xpel. Immediately terminating the partnership, 3M and Xpel became vicious competitors. This competition drove innovation in the marketplace, and the advent of the self-healing top coat became the new normal. These new films not only could recover from scuffs and scratches just by heating up, the top coats also fixed the yellowing, discolouration issues of the earliest products. This competition culminated in a drawn out lawsuit with 3M accusing Xpel of stealing their patented adhesive molecule. This eventually culminated in a settlement in 2017.
Let’s fast forward to present day, as much has now changed in the industry. The proliferation of competing brands exploded worldwide as demand for these products increased exponentially around the world. Here is a short list of manufacturers currently popular around North America:
To make this even more complicated, all these manufacturers make multiple product types. As price competition has driven the market’s lust for cheaper films, it is typical to see both a 10 year warranty, self-healing, colour-stable PPF, as well as a 5 year warranty film with no top coat. Films without top coats have the upsides of being much cheaper, but also the downsides of yellowing over time, and acquiring swirl marks and scratches, leading to these films looking worn and beat up. after only a few years.
Here is a breakdown of these options, separated by brand and subtype:
3M Pro Series Gen 5.0 (Self-healing, colour-stable PPF)
3M Original 946 Series (No top coat)
Xpel Ultimate Plus (Self-healing, colour-stable PPF)
Is your brain hurting yet? So which option is the best for you? For long term vehicle ownership, obviously the 10 year, self-healing options are going to look the best for longest, but which brand is the best? This is of course, a question that cannot be answered outside of your own experience as every dealership and shop trying to sell you these products will invariably tout their brand as the best. In terms of sales, 3M and Xpel still dominate the market, but the world is changing fast, and with new brands constantly emerging in the market, new technologies are quick to follow. Always make sure you do your due diligence and know exactly what you are buying. Brand, sub-type, warranty information, and obviously the local reputation of the installer. Google reviews are always a good indicator