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Decoration of Plastics

• The surface of a plastic article film or sheet may be coated,
marked, mechanically finished or otherwise altered for
appearance or performance reasons.
• The decorating process might be performed in line with other
processes and the rate of decorating should not slow down
the operation.
• A plastic part may be of irregular shape, as many injection
molded parts are, or it can be processed in the form of a film
or sheet.
• The choice of decorating method might be determined by the
shape of the surface.
Decorating Methods
i. Painting
ii. Printing
iii. Vacuum coating techniques
iv. Plating
v. Dyeing
vi. Labels & Decals
vii. Mechanical surface changes
Painting involves application of a
liquid coating onto the plastic
surface. The coating is dried or
otherwise solidified after it has
been applied to the surface in the
required manner and at the required
It is the application of a
liquid coating over a
relatively small surface
area. It is identical to the
painting process except that
different application
techniques are used.
Decorating Methods…
Vacuum coating Techniques
Where a coating, usually metallic,
is applied as a vapor or as small
particles to the surface.
Decorating Methods…
Plating, which involves deposition
of metal by either electrolytic or
electroless processes
Labels and Decals
Decorating Methods…
Dyeing, where dye molecules
penetrate below the surface
Labels and decals, which involves
affixing of a predecorated material
to the plastic surface.
Mechanical surface changes
Mechanical surface changes, such
as polishing, grinding and
Coatability & coating adhesion
Good adhesion between the coating or printing ink and the
plastic substrate is required in order to obtain a lasting
product. Coating adhesion is often tested by the tape test.
Tape Test, in which an adhesive tape is
applied over the coating and peeled away at
a sharp angle. Poorly adhered coatings are
removed by the tape. This test is a useful
and simple qualitative method to eliminate
poorly adhered coatings
Coatability & coating adhesion…
Several quantitative methods are also
used to test the coating adhesion. These
tests involve adhering a probe to the
coating surface and then measuring the
force required to pull away the probe, or
employing a probe to scratch the
surface of the coating.
In order to obtain a good coating adhesion
between the coating and the substrate, the
coating must wet the substrate. Wettability
is determined by the difference between the
surface tension of the liquid coating and the
surface energy of the solid substrate.
The coating viscosity must be low enough to
allow the coating to flow. Usually the coating is
applied by some mechanical means, and thus is
spread over the surface by the forces acting
during coating.
Surface Treatment
A plastic surface might require cleaning if it has become contaminated
during processing. The removal of release agents used in molds might
be necessary. Surface cleaning treatment may be carried out by various
means as listed below
• Water washing
• Solvent cleaning and etching
• Mechanical abrasion
• Chemical etching
• Priming
• Flame treatment
• Plasma treatment
• Ultraviolet and other irradiation
Priming is a deposition of a thin coating of
another polymer between the plastic surface
and the paint to improve the paint’s adhesion.
Chemical Etching: Treatment of plastic surface
by exposure to solutions of reactive chemical
compounds, usually oxidizers. It may cause
chemical change of the plastic surface.
• Plastic surfaces are easily electrically charged, and such static
charges attract dust and dirt.
• The elimination of such surface charges is required in order to
minimize the contamination of plastic surfaces.
• Ionized air blowers are used to remove the surface charges and to
clean accumulated dust form the surface.
• Charge development is minimized at high humidity conditions
and plastics cleaning and painting area might be humidified by
water spray
Surface Treatment…
Coated Products
• Many of the molded plastics used in automobile
industry are painted or metallized.
• Structural foam is used very widely for electronic
equipment housing and similar applications. The
surface of such rigid foams often inhibits swirl and
other imperfections and requires extensive
finishing including priming and painting.
Coating Techniques
• Spraying
• Dip coating
• Flow coating
• Curtain coating
• Roll coating
The choice of the most suitable technique is determined by the
geometry of the plastic part (the irregularly shaped part require
different coating methods form those used for flat films or sheets)
Roll Coating
In roll coating the coating reservoir
lies between the smaller doctoring
roll and the application roll, the
sheets are run between the applicator
and the supporting roll.
Roll coating is suitable for low
viscosity fluids and for the
application of relatively light weight
Roll Coater
Printing is a variation of the coating process in which ink or paint is
deposited in small selected areas over the plastic surface.
• Screen printing
• Flexographic printing
• Gravure printing
• Pad printing
Methods of printing
Screen Printing
Screen printing is widely used for plastics decorating for
several reasons such as
• The equipment is simple and inexpensive
• Good quality multicolor printing is possible
• Includes coverage of large surface area
However the process is slow and mainly suited for short
Screen Printing…
• The screen, which is the most important component of the screen printing equipment,
consists of a stencil bonded to a fine weave fabric and tensioned in a frame.
• Ink is pushed through the screen openings by a squeegee and deposited onto the
plastic surface.
• The squeegee is simply a shaped flexible blade in a wood or metal holder.
• Polyurethane elastomers are most often used to make squeegees.
Mechanics of the screen printing process
Screen Printing…
Mechanics of the screen printing process
Screen printers can be flat bed, rotary or cylinder
configurations and they can be simple, manually operated
units or completely automated machines. An automated
machine can print above 8000 items per shift.
Screen Printing…
Automation may include automatic feed and take off,
nest carriers to hold objects to be printed, and other
Various ink types are used. Screen inks are specially
formulated to behave as a solid and not drop when placed
on the screen. The ink should flow easily through the
screen when a force is applied by the squeegee and it
should level well after its deposition.
 Solvent borne inks require drying and the printing unit
usually is followed by a dryer unless air drying is possible.
 UV- radiation curable inks also used for screen printing,
because of their rapid cure.
 Screen printing may be applied over flat or cylindrical
surfaces, but it is not suitable for the printing of irregularly
shaped surfaces.
In-mold Decoration
• Plastic parts may be decorated by various in
mold processes that eliminating a separate
decoration step.
• In mold decorating may consists of decorating
the mold wall prior to molding or incorporating
the pre - printed insert or label.
Vacuum Metallizing
Vacuum metalizing of plastics is a process
widely used to deposit a thin aluminium layer
over the surface of many different plastic
products like
Jewelry components, automotive
interior parts, bottle caps, plumbing
accessories, trophies, etc
Vacuum Metallizing…
• A metallic coating can be deposited on an
exposed surface or it can be deposited on the
second surface of a transparent plastic item. In
the later case, the metallic coating is protected
by a layer of plastic.
• In order to obtain a smooth and glossy
coating, the plastic surface may be undercoated
with a lacquer.
• It also may be over coated with a transparent
top coating to improve its abrasion resistance.
•The metallic coating is usually aluminium but
other metals also can be deposited by
Vacuum Metallizing…
• The metallization takes place in
vacuum in order to allow the metal vapor
to reach the plastic surface before the
vapor is oxidized by the oxygen in air.
• The metal is heated to the point at which
it will vaporize under vacuum conditions.
• The substrate is at a sufficiently low
temperature to allow the condensation of
metal vapor.
• Parts to be metabolized are held in an
appropriate fixture that might rotate in
order to expose all surfaces to be
Schematic diagram of a vacuum evaporation system
Vacuum Metallizing…
 Several metal evaporation sources are used.
Resistance heated tungsten filaments are used
most often for applying decorative coatings.
 Plastics films are vacuum metalized for
packaging uses as well as for hot stamped foils.