Here at Tapecon, one question we often get from customers is, “What’s the best material for a graphic overlay?” As much as we’d like to give you an easy, definitive answer, the truth is…it depends.
There are two films that are commonly used to construct a graphic overlay (also known as the faceplate of a membrane switch): polyester and polycarbonate. Both are excellent materials, but they each come with their own advantages. In general, polyester is the more durable and rugged option for harsh environments, but polycarbonate has unique attributes for different applications.
Let’s take a deeper look at the benefits and differences between polyester and polycarbonate for graphic overlays.
Benefits of polyester graphic overlays
Polyester (PET) is not only the most widely used material for graphic overlays but one of the most widely used plastics overall. Polyester is typically considered the most durable material for graphic overlays in terms of both ruggedness and fatigue resistance. As part of a membrane switch or control panel, you should expect about 1 million switch actuations (under typical conditions) before a polyester graphic overlay begins to break down.
Polyester is also best suited for applications used in harsh environments. The material is resistant to many external factors, including chemicals, temperature, abrasion, and more. You can also add a hard coating to enhance the strength and durability of a PET graphic overlay. Aesthetically, polyester graphic overlays offer a consistently textured and glossed surface.
When you add it all up, polyester graphic overlays are ideal for applications subjected to heavy use or harsh environments. This type of overlay is commonly used in industrial, medical, and consumer goods products.
Benefits of polycarbonate graphic overlays
Polycarbonate (PC) is generally recommended for applications with lower flex requirements, as the material has an expected life of 100,000 actuations. However, PC graphic overlays offer several unique benefits that may make it the best choice for your specific application.
One of the most significant advantages of polycarbonate is flame resistance. The material has a high heat tolerance and can be made to be fire retardant. Additionally, PC is more resistant to abrasion than PET. Hard-coating finishes can also be added to polycarbonate graphic overlays to improve surface durability.
PC offers several visual and production advantages. The material is easier to print on (including color matching) and die-cut than PET, and comes in a broader range of thicknesses, texture, and finishes. So, if appearances are more important to your application than durability, polycarbonate may be the way to go.
Polycarbonate graphics overlays are used in various industries, including aerospace, automotive, industrial, and safety products.
Polyester vs. polycarbonate for graphic overlays
Switch actuation life
Choice of textures and finishes
Ease of printing/production
Selecting the best material for your graphic overlay
When deciding between polyester and polycarbonate for your graphic overlay, you must consider the durability requirements, environmental factors, design requirements, and visual preferences.
If you’re still unsure which material is better for your application, our expert team is ready and happy to provide guidance. At Tapecon, we’ve combined materials expertise with advanced manufacturing and printing capacities to become a leader in graphic overlay design and production.
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 graphic overlay applications.