Multi-faceted – 5 Unique Purposes of a Graphic Overlay

Posted by Casey Cephas | 9/2/21 10:00 AM

Do you consider yourself a multi-tasker? There’s ongoing debate whether multi-tasking is truly possible. On one side, some people feel more productive when juggling several tasks at once. On the other side, some studies show that the brain isn’t wired to switch focus back and forth effectively. 

While multi-tasking is up for interpretation, there’s no question that being multi-talented is a great skill to have. That reminds us of the unassuming but overachieving graphic overlay. 

What is a graphic overlay?

Graphic overlays can go by several other names, including faceplate, nameplate, membrane switch overlay, and panel. Regardless of what you call it, the graphic overlay is typically used as the top layer of a membrane switch. Graphics are printed on a thin, durable substrate to create buttons, branding, instructional text, and other interface features for the user. 

What you may be surprised to learn is that there are several uses of a graphic overlay.

Creating a user-friendly interface

First and foremost, a well-designed membrane switch can enhance the user experience and improve input accuracy for a wide range of electronic devices. When placed on top of a membrane switch, the graphic overlay provides a visual and even tactile interface. Raised, clickable buttons can be created by embossing the graphic overlay and placing metal domes between the overlay and conductive track. 

Protecting internal components

Membrane switches are commonly incorporated in devices used in harsh environments or demanding conditions. The graphic overlay has potential to allow the membrane switch to be fully sealed, reducing the risk of moisture or debris damaging the buttons or internal components. In addition to a continuous surface, a graphic overly can feature films and coatings to make it resistant to:

  • Water and bodily fluids
  • Extreme temperatures
  • UV rays
  • Chemicals
  • Scratches and abrasions

Extending life of the device

Membrane switches are often more durable and rugged than other user interface options such as mechanical keyboards and touchscreens. This is partly due to the graphic overlay, which acts as a buffer layer between internal components and impact that could break or wear out the switches. Thanks to the durable material of the graphic overlays – often polycarbonate and polyester – the service life of a membrane switch can be millions of actuations.

Adding backlighting and dead fronting

Graphic overlays can be designed and produced with unique features that further enhance the user experience, including backlighting and dead fronting. 

  • Backlighting, typically with LED lights, is used to illuminate the entire interface area or certain buttons/functions. 
  • Dead fronting is a technique that reveals a graphic, icon, or symbol by turning on a light source only during predetermined circumstances. When the lighting is turned off, that graphic is essentially hidden, and only a blank surface is visible. A good example of dead fronting is the “check engine” light of a car dashboard. 

Customizing branding and graphics  

Last but not least, a graphic overlay can also include customized branding elements. Using the latest printing technology, you can design your overlay to feature logos, custom graphics, high-resolution imagery, accurate color selection, and other decorative details to help your product stand out.   

Choosing a manufacturing partner for graphic overlays

Graphic overlays may appear simple, but there are actually many details and considerations to creating a successful membrane switch. At Tapecon, we have extensive experience designing, testing, and manufacturing graphic overlays for medical, industrial, and other applications. With material selection, printing, and converting all under one roof, we are your one-stop-shop for graphic overlays or complete membrane switches. 

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 overlays capabilities. 

Topics: Graphic Overlays

Written by Casey Cephas

Casey is the Marketing Coordinator at Tapecon Inc.

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