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Dye Sublimation for Powder Coating

October 2, 2005
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These bottles were coated with a mix of white and clear, commonly called one-step white. More than 100,000 bottles were sublimated using a variety of prints.

When a manufacturer of upscale pens and pencils wanted a unique powder coated finish on the bodies and clips of its writing instruments, the company approached Powdercoat Services Inc., a custom powder coating job shop in Anaheim, Calif.

Founded in 1981, ISO-certified Powdercoat Services says it is always anxious to bring innovations into the American marketplace. It has invested substantial time and money in research and development on the process of three-dimensional dye sublimation into a powder coated surface. As a result, images are now transferred onto more complex parts that have been coated with specially formulated powders rather than on the more traditional flat surfaces.

Traditional dye sublimation has been available for products such as coffee cups, t-shirts and personalized mouse pads. Another process leaves the image on the surface where it can easily be marred. The sublimation process developed for powder coated products uses a new media and a patented process to embed the inks into the coating.

Recent advancements in the printing industry - particularly the large-format digital printers coupled with the latest technological advancements in pigment dye sublimation inks - have brought new opportunities to powder coating job shops and their customers. Virtually any high- resolution photographic image or design can be transferred into a variety of powder coated parts, whether stainless steel, cold rolled steel, aluminum, brass, high temperature composites, glass or MDF. Products that have been sublimated at Powdercoat Services include bicycle frames, motorcycle gas tanks, aluminum water bottles and ATV wheels. Decorating complex three-dimensional shapes requires a malleable transfer media combined with a proprietary process that is capable of handling all the curves and nuances of a complicated part.

This small tool is popular among sportsman. The camouflage is sublimated into one-step white, which allows for a natural appearance.

In addition to showing its writing instruments customer some handsome coatings, the custom coater also was able to show them a range of sublimated images. After seeing many samples, this particular customer chose a carbon fiber image and a trendy animal print.

Variations in the coating process result in variations in the finished product. Sublimation requires a clear coat as the ink actually absorbs into the coating. By using a base coat, usually a light color, you can change the palette and therefore the final appearance. The writing instruments, being high-end products, required two coats of powder to maximize the clarity of the image.

After extensive sampling for the writing instruments, the customer chose a tan base for the animal print. The carbon fiber looked great over white, gold and a metallic silver. The customer elected to offer their product with a gold base and clear topcoat.

Variations are an integral part of the sublimation process, and extensive sampling is key. It is vital to understand the customer's goals and budgets because quality and differentiation from the competition are primary objectives. This customer reports that it was very pleased with its finished product as well as the response received from the marketplace.

In other cases, the custom coater was able to sublimate into clear only or a blend of white and clear. Although there is less clarity with these bases, it is more cost effective. Thousands of Masterlock casings were sublimated in this manner with an American flag pattern.

Sublimation customers produce a premium product and are less price-sensitive. The overall sublimation or custom imaging process is significantly more expensive than the single powder coat application. The benefit of this process is the ability to apply as many as 15 colors in a single application. The resolution of these images can vary from a minimum of 300 dpi to 1,440 dpi. The overall durability of the image is significantly better in that it does not scratch or tarnish as easily as some of the film dip processes.

This carrying case uses dye sublimation in its powder coating to achieve an animal print finish.

Other projects at Powdercoat Services include gun safes and other items popular with hunters. Various camouflage prints are highly desirable to these sportsmen. Another project was an orthopedic device, sublimated with an American flag image, for U.S. Olympians.

Sublimation opens doors to customers who produce a premium product and are less likely to have their products made offshore. For powder coaters, this process is another value-added service, increasing sales beyond the more price competitive powder coating process.

For more information regarding dye sublimation or powder coating, contact Steve Greenwood, general manager, or Dan Baker, sales manager at Powdercoat Services Inc. at 714-533-2251. Or, visit www.powdercoatservices.com.

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