Graphic Overlay & Membrane Switch Finishing

The finishing of a graphic overlay plays a critical role in shaping the final look of your membrane switch assembly because it’s located on its top. It’s the connection between your device and the end user. Graphic overlays are used to explain what a button does when it is pressed and act as the visual top component that shapes the user’s interaction with the equipment.

Die-cutting (Digital and Tooled)

Overlays, labels, and membrane switch layers (e.g., spacers, static layers, backside adhesives) thinner than .020” are generally die-cut using steel rule dies and digital cutting methods. Thicker parts are usually cut using laser, water jet, or class A die-sets technologies.

Cutting Tolerances

  • +-.010” is a general standard tolerance for steel rule die-cutting but can vary based on material thickness and part size.
  • +-.005″ tolerance is achievable for class A tooling and digital cutting methods.

Digital vs. Tooled Cutting Tradeoffs

For orders with limited amounts of cutting, and where the likelihood of reorders is low, digital cutting presents the best solution.

Digital cutting methods

  1. requires no tooling investment,
  2. have a quicker production set-up time than cutting with a steel rule die or class A tool,
  3. does not require a lead time for tooling build,

Note: Cycle times are typically shorter using steel rule dies or class A tools.

Overlay Embossing

Graphic overlays can be embossed using a male/female die set. When embossing, features are typically raised at a ratio of 1.5x material thickness. Embossing is generally done to accentuate the key area of a graphic overlay or membrane switch. Key embossing can either be rim (perimeter) or pillow (pad).

Embossing may also be done to accommodate LEDs, provide a decorative effect to a logo, or accentuate copy. Braille can also be embossed to meet ADA requirements.

Hydroforming is an alternative to embossing that involves more costly tooling, setup, and cycle times. However, feature heights up to three times the material thickness can be achieved if hydro-formed (e.g., pillow or rim emboss heights of .021” for a .007” overlay are possible).

The choice of the embossing technique is very important. Pillow embossed keys or a cosmetic rim emboss on the graphic overlay influence the look and sensory impact of your membrane switch. Embossing provides a raised surface that may be used to differentiate many buttons or a single button – as you can imagine, this can potentially change the entire user experience.

Graphic Overlays with LCD Windows

Graphic overlays are commonly provided with clear windows for viewing LCDs. Overlays with LCD windows are produced using gloss, hard-coated, scratch-resistant polyester or polycarbonate.

Colors and window tints (if any) are 2nd surface printed (viewed through the plastic).

The 1st surface (top surface) is usually selectively textured using special inks in the areas where the LCD is not. The LCD windows can be specified with alternative gloss levels (for glare attenuation), or with a window tint.

The adhesive or spacer is selectively applied to the back of the overlay so as not to obscure the LCD viewing area, and to avoid the accumulation of debris. Dead front windows are possible (windows that reveal printed graphics when illuminated by LED’s)

Graphic Overlays with LED Windows

Graphic overlays can be produced with small clear round windows for viewing LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes). These windows can be flush with the overlay surface or embossed to facilitate the LEDs being raised above the overlay surface (illumination is visible at a more acute angle than if

As with LCD windows, LED windows can be tinted, or dead-fronted. The adhesive can be excluded from the LED window to increase light transmission and avoid the accumulation of debris.

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