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In Plain Sight – A Guide to Visual Status Indicators

In the modern era of rapid technological advancement, it's easy to assume that adding functionality to products always demands intricate components. However, improving user experience, enhancing capabilities, and ensuring product authenticity don't necessarily require complexity.

In fact, applications like visual status indicators can be both cost-efficient and exceptionally functional. It's an ideal way to get impressive value and usefulness from your innovation investments.

In this article, we delve into visual status indicators, exploring their diverse applications and essential design and manufacturing considerations.

Visual status indicators vs. printed indicators

Visual status indicators are a broad class of components that change appearance in response to specific environmental conditions or other external factors. They can provide an immediate, easy to comprehend status. The status can indicate that an excursion has occurred since the time the indicator was initiated (irreversible), or it can reflect the current status (reversible) in real time. These statuses can be conveyed by LED, electrochromic or OLED display, or a variety of other indication mechanisms.

A subset of visual indicators are printed indicators. These are often colorimetric materials that change color or appearance in response to specific chemical, biological, or environmental factors.

Put another way, all printed indicators are visual indicators – but not all visual indicators are printed indicators.

Applications of printed indicators

Printed indicators feature functional inks that change color based on changing environmental conditions or the presence of a specific stimulus. The change is typically irreversible, but can also be reversible for some applications. Printed indicators can be designed for a variety of use cases.

  • Chemical indicators: Often found in medical and laboratory settings, these indicators can signify the presence or absence of a specific chemical substance.
  • Biological indicators: Used in sterilization processes, these can demonstrate whether conditions were adequate to eliminate a specific type of microorganism.
  • Colorimetric indicators: Employed across various industries, they change color based on the presence of certain substances or conditions like temperature, UV light, humidity, and more.

Applications of other visual indicators

The beauty of visual indicators is that they can be used for a nearly endless list of purposes. They can also be designed with varying degrees of complexity. Recent advancements in printed electronics enable visual indicators to be more compact, more powerful, or used on flexible substrates.

  • LED and Flexible Displays – Used in diverse applications, their versatility and high visibility make them an ideal choice for showing status instantaneously to assess progress.
    An example of this application is a cold-chain temperature label with an LED indicator. If a product’s temperature ventures outside the safe range, an LED will flash or change color, providing immediate and understandable feedback.
  • Watermarks – Not only a security feature for banknotes, watermarks can also be used to verify product authenticity.
  • Void Labels – Also known as security printing, void labels, when tampered with, reveal a message indicating potential product compromise.
  • Smart labels – Can offer visual and/or electronic indication by leveraging radio frequency identification (RFID), near field communication (NFC), Bluetooth low energy (BLE), LoRa, or other types of passive or active communication technologies combined with various sensors. These labels are at the forefront of IOT solutions, capturing timely data insights that enable better decision making and/or can help prevent negative outcomes.

Design and manufacturing considerations

When incorporating visual indicators into a product, there are a few areas to consider during the design process.

  • User experience – Indicators should be intuitive, showing status in a manner that's easy to understand at a quick glance. This helps users instantly assess progress or condition, which is particularly important in medical and industrial settings.
  • Durability – The indicator must withstand environmental conditions, from moisture and UV light to temperature fluctuations. This is why material selection is crucial when designing any type of visual indicator.
  • Integration – Indicators should be seamlessly incorporated into the product's overall design. However, it’s also crucial that the product is designed with manufacturability in mind to ensure consistent quality and cost-effective production.
  • Regulations – It's critical that visual indicators adhere to any industry or government standards or regulations, especially for medical devices or industrial products relating to safety.

If you have any questions about visual indicators, reach out to the expert team at Tapecon. We have extensive experience with printed indicators and printed flexible electronics for high-tech visual indicators. Beyond manufacturing capabilities, we also offer design and material selection consulting to improve the quality and functionality of your product and be your trusted manufacturing partner.

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 custom materials converting services.

LET'S CONNECT Contact Tapecon for questions related to application engineering, printing, converting, and assembly processes for medical, electronic, and industrial applications.  

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