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By Kenny Pravitz | Jun 12, 2018
Plastic decorating options at GMN

What makes plastic decoration at GMN unique? Along with dedicated engineers to support your projects from concept to creation, state-of-the-art equipment, a robust quality system, and complementary capabilities to plastic injection molding like value-added assembly, GMN provides all the decorating options for plastics under a single roof.

To determine the most appropriate plastic decoration technique for any application, there are multiple factors that go into consideration, including the plastic type, environmental requirements (exposure to fluctuating temperatures, humidity, and moisture), component dimensions, cosmetic requirements, regulatory requirements, and production volume. In this blog, we will be skimming over all the plastic decorating options available at GMN to understand their core advantages and pitfalls.

1) Pad printing - In this printing process, the image is engraved on a plate which is then coated with ink and transferred to the desired surface via a silicone pad.

Advantages:

    • Same set-up for multi-color
    • Can accommodate fine artwork and detailed graphics

Disadvantages:

    • Difficult to print on heavy textures or surface finishes
    • Cannot pad print on swooping or curved surfaces
    • Cannot use metallic inks
    • Size restrictions

 

2) Screen printing - In this method, the artwork is transferred on to the plastic surface using a mesh screen and a squeegee.   

Advantages:

    • Quick set-up time
    • Can accommodate larger artwork
    • Ideal for high-volume production

Disadvantages:

    • Can only be performed on flat surfaces
    • Needs different screens for different colors
    • Longer curing times
    • Challenging to achieve finely detailed graphics

 

3) Hot stamping - This dry printing technique utilizes heat and pressure to transfer colored foil onto the plastic surface.     

Advantages:

    • No ink-mixing or curing of part required
    • Can accommodate metallic colors

Disadvantages:

    • Ribbon can be expensive due to the minimum order of quantity (MOQ)
    • Raised surfaces only
    • Size restrictions

 

4) Laser etching - As the name indicates, this technique employs a laser beam to etch a design on the plastic surface which would have otherwise been difficult to mark mechanically.

Advantages:

    • Details are permanently etched into the surface of the part
    • Ideal for products with barcodes, lot numbers, backlighting, or intricate artwork

Disadvantages:

    • Longer cycle times depending on size and detail of the image
    • Size restrictions

 

5) Spray painting - Often used in conjunction with laser etching, spray painting utilizes either an automated robotic spray or manual hand-spray method to apply the ink on the desired parts. 

Advantages:

    • Can hide flaws on the plastic surface
    • Can utilize the manual method for low-volume to mid-volume production and utilize the automated method for high-volume production
    • Can accommodate multiple colors and materials

Disadvantages:

    • Detailed masking may be required, making the process labor intensive
    • Requires a clean environment
    • Requires longer lead time

 

6) In-mold decoration (IMD) - This advanced technique allows for the printing of highly durable and complex three-dimensional shapes.  

Advantages:

    • Can achieve compound curves and complex 3D forms
    • Well suited for designs incorporating small windows or backlighting  
    • Offers versatile decoration options
    • Ideal for high-wear applications

Disadvantages:

    • Development phase can be long depending on the design
    • Automation can be expensive
Chris Passanante, GMN
By Chris Passanante | Dec 6, 2016
This plastic part was decorated using hot stamping.

In part three of our plastic decorating series, we will discuss hot stamping. This is a mature technology that continues to produce high quality parts year after year. Hot stamping utilizes heat and pressure to transfer predried ink or foil from a roll of film to a plastic part. The process is achieved by running the foil between the hot stamping die, then heating the die, and finally pressing the die down to apply the foil to the part. The decorative foil will only be applied to whichever part of the plastic is raised the highest.

Through hot stamping, a two-color, two-tone part can be decorated without having to do the time-consuming tasks of masking or painting. Another benefit of this process is that the ink doesn’t need to cure. Since the foil is transferred to the plastic part via heat, there is no need to run it through an oven afterwards. Intricate details can be achieved through this process as well. However, due to machine limitations there are restrictions on size.

This is an optimal technology for achieving metallic colors, and the shiny ink tones produced are unique within plastic decorating. In addition, the foil applied during hot stamping is durable and can withstand harsh environmental conditions.  

In our next article, we’ll explore the unique technology of vacuum metallization. 

Check out other blogs from this series to learn about more plastic decorative options: