Graphic overlays connect users with the equipment they use, and often serve a critical function for the product. Without them, operators would be unable to use the equipment for its intended purpose.
As such, ensuring that a graphic overlay is both well-designed for its application and durable enough to withstand the challenges of product use is essential to the overall success of any appliance or piece of equipment.
Resource Label Group is a UL-recognized, CSA-accepted label converter with a staff of experts who guide OEMs through the graphic overlay manufacturing process from specification to delivery, meeting all applicable labeling standards along the way.
Here, we’ll walk you through the types of graphic overlays and interface systems, and outline what OEMs need to consider when designing graphic overlays for their equipment.
Types of graphic overlays
Graphic overlays often refer to functional labels which serve as an integral equipment component. But equipment nameplates, a non-functional graphic overlay identifying the product name and OEM, also fall under this category.
One piece of equipment can (and often does) have both a nameplate and a graphic overlay. Both have to remain legible and intact — without fading, peeling or tearing — throughout the entirety of the product lifecycle.
And, generally speaking, they’re both made the same way. A nameplate will just be simpler — it won’t have a membrane switch, embossed buttons, LED lights, windows or any other features common on functional graphic overlays.
Membrane switches and graphic overlays
If the graphic overlay is the conduit between the user and the piece of equipment, the membrane switch is the conduit between the button and the circuit board, telling the equipment to perform the desired action when a button is pressed. For example, starting the microwave when a user presses the “START” button.
We have the capabilities to provide OEMs with the entire equipment interface — including the five-layer membrane switch and the outer graphic layer — manufactured precisely to their specifications.
Guiding you through the graphic overlay manufacturing process
We consider ourselves an expert labeling consultant to OEMs, providing them with the equipment labels and interface assemblies necessary to remain compliant, mitigate safety risk to consumers and convey product functionality.
And as an expert consultant, we always review label specs to verify that the specified materials will perform in the equipment’s end-use environment.
Here are three things we’ll discuss during any graphic overlay spec review:
Most graphic overlays are made with polyester or polycarbonate materials. Within those broad categories, there is near-infinite variety: Polished polyesters, fire-retardant polycarbonates, hard-coated polyesters, etc.
None of these varieties are better or worse — they just offer different performance properties suited to different environments. Polyester offers great UV resistance for products that will be used outdoors. Polycarbonates offer fire resistance, perfect for equipment that could catch fire. Both can offer great scratch and chemical resistance, especially when paired with the right protective coating.
The adhesive you select will depend not only on the end-use environment (humid or dry, hot or cold, etc.), but also on the surface material and texture of your equipment.
High-surface energy materials such as copper, aluminum and glass allow adhesives to spread out over the surface and adhere. Low-surface energy materials such as powder-coated aluminum and polypropylene inhibit the adhesive’s ability to do so. Labels that will be permanently affixed to low-surface energy materials will need specially designed adhesives.
And equipment with more textured surfaces will require thicker label adhesives, enabling the adhesive to adhere to all the peaks and valleys of the substrate.
We have a full portfolio of UL-recognized, medical-grade label materials and adhesives which have been tested for use with multiple printing platforms. And we’ll help you choose the adhesive and material — whether polyester or polycarbonate — best-suited to handle your product’s end-use environment.
Graphic overlays, and especially those adhered to a membrane switch, often have a host of value-added features. Windows to allow the user to see the screen, backlighting to enhance visibility of the display and embossed buttons to offer tactile guidance to users. We will provide any of these overlay features necessary to better aid the user in interacting with your product.
We also offer selective texturing. We could, for example, apply a glossy coating to the clear window (to enhance transparency) and a textured coating to the rest of the overlay. And we can selectively apply adhesives everywhere except behind the buttons (so they don’t stick) and windows (so they remain clear).
How the overlay fits into the overall piece of equipment
Overlays must fit precisely into their designated spot within the piece of equipment. And this means critical dimension tolerances are very strict.
Especially when the graphic overlay must be placed within a recessed area on the equipment, it will not fit if it is not die-cut within the specified tolerance.
We know this, and offer multiple custom die-cutting capabilities based on tolerance needs. The OEM’s critical size tolerances dictate how we cut the die.
Need help manufacturing a graphic overlay? We’ll help.
No graphic overlay is the same. That’s why we work with each OEM individually throughout the graphic overlay manufacturing process.
We’re a full-service label converter recognized by UL and accepted by the CSA. And we’re highly qualified to answer your questions, review your specs and deliver high-performance overlays. If you need help manufacturing your equipment graphic overlays, just reach out to our team and tell us a little bit about your application.