First appearances may be deceiving. Take the graphic overlay, for instance. At initial glance, this may seem like a relatively simple application. But the truth is, there are many factors to consider and choices to make when designing a custom graphic overlay.
In this article, we’ll cover the areas to concentrate on to make the optimal graphic overlay for your application.
What is a graphic overlay?
A graphic overlay (also called a nameplate or faceplate) is the thin, top layer of a membrane switch or placed over the top of a control panel. The graphic overlay performs several roles, including protecting the sensitive circuitry of electronic devices, providing the user with control guidance, improving the product's visual appeal, and more.
Design considerations of graphic overlays
1. Size and design specifications.
Incorporating a custom graphic overlay in your product provides significant flexibility and unlimited options. The caveat is that you need to determine the specifications before getting too far into the design process. That includes the graphic overlay's size, shape, thickness, and placement.
These specifications may be determined by where the overlay will be placed in the product and how much space is available to connect with the underlying circuitry. The basic specs can also impact other decisions, such as circuity design, button placement, and other overlay options.
2. Durability based on environment and usage
Where and how the final product will be used will impact the performance and durability of the graphic overlay. Here are a few factors to consider:
- Extreme or fluctuating temperatures
- Exposure to water or liquid chemicals
- Exposure to UV light
- Exposure to dust, dirt, or debris
- Potential of impact, vibration, abrasion, or friction
- Frequency of use
Identifying the environmental conditions and type of usage will likely influence material selection of your graphic overlay. For instance, polyester graphic overlays are typically the most durable in harsh conditions and last for over 1 million switch actuations. On the other hand, polycarbonate overlays provide 100,000 switch actuations but offer the benefits of flame resistance and easier production (such as printing and cutting).
3. Add-on features and functionality
Custom graphic overlays can include various add-on features that enhance functionality or improve the user experience. Common features include:
- Embossing – Raised areas of the faceplate that can be decorative (for a logo or border) or functional (for a keypad)
- Tactile switches – A type of embossing to create buttons that can be pushed down and “clicked,” creating a user experience similar to a mechanical switch
- Windows – Clear areas designed for viewing LCDs, LEDs, indicator lights, etc.
- Cutouts – Holes in the faceplate and switch required for displays, lenses, mounting screws, or other hardware.
- Dead-front panels – An icon that is not visible on the graphic overlay until it is backlit.
There are two types of lighting that you should consider. The first is external light, which relates to the environmental factors we covered earlier. Extreme lighting conditions, including dim light and intense glaring, make the graphic overlay more challenging to see and the product harder to use. Thankfully, there are solutions for each of these challenges.
The second type of lighting is internal lighting. Backlighting can be incorporated in a graphic overlay to improve appearances, add functionality such as status indicators, or provide illumination for improved legibility. If backlighting is desired in your user interface, it must be accounted for in the design of the graphic overlay.
5. Surface finishes and treatments
A wide range of coatings and treatments can be applied to the top layer of the graphic overlay. These finishing techniques can improve the look, durability, or convenience of the overlay. A few popular options include:
6. Printing and cutting processes
- Gloss or matte finishes
- Textures or patterns
- Metallic finishes
- Anti-glare coating
- Protective coatings
- Anti-microbial coatings
Getting your converting partner involved early in the process can help optimize your design, ensure manufacturability, and avoid production surprises. The graphic overlay’s specifications and materials could influence the printing or cutting processes to achieve the highest-quality product.
7. Adhesive selection
While the focus so far has been optimizing the graphic overlay, it’s also critical to consider how the overlay will integrate into control panel housing. Choosing the most appropriate adhesive will streamline assembly and ensure a long-lasting bond. When selecting an adhesive solution for your graphic overlay, a few considerations are surface energy, bonding material (plastic or metal), and surface conditions (textured, smooth, painted, powder coating, etc.).
Manufacturing partner for graphic overlays
When creating a simple yet effective graphic overlay, there’s more than meets the eye. That’s why it helps to have an experienced manufacturing partner on your side to make sure none of these critical considerations slip through the cracks.
At Tapecon, we have extensive experience designing and manufacturing high-quality graphic overlays for a wide range of industries. Our full-service team can help you take your faceplate from concept to completion – including material selection, design consultation, printing with advanced color-matching capabilities, and a top-notch quality assurance department.
Let’s make something great
With over 100 years of manufacturing experience, Tapecon works with product teams to solve challenges, create products, and enhance lives. Learn more about our graphic overlay applications.