Graphic Overlays Take Flight

Wifi symbols become a money maker for printer Diversified Images.

For most people, the increasingly widespread availability of in-flight wifi makes for a more enjoyable, convenient travel experience. But for Valencia, California-based industrial screen-printing specialist Diversified Images, it means business. Because there is still that tricky moment between the buckling of seatbelts and the opening of laptops when electronic devices are not permitted, and airlines need to communicate that efficiently to their passengers. Enter Diversified Images to print new semi-transparent graphic overlays that include a wifi symbol in addition to the classic seatbelt and no-smoking signs.

Of course, passengers still have to wear their seatbelts, so the old symbols can’t just disappear, and airlines want to maintain stringent consistency with the symbols they have been using for years. The team at Diversified Images spent roughly two months of trial and error before successfully matching up to 11 original colors requested by various airlines.

“The hardest part was coming up with a match for the seatbelt, so that when the light is lit it jumps out at the traveler,” says Bill Waycott, president. “When you see it turned off, the seatbelt is almost totally invisible.”

The challenges started with the black floodcoat that is printed in the areas where no color is desired. The light hits this layer first, throwing off the desired colors at the surface. After determining that multiple coats of certain colors – yellow for the seatbelt, for example – would stop the black effect from migrating through, the team put together a multistep process with carefully planned layers of varying transparency. Dark colors are printed first, such as the black for the no smoking symbol; then, varying opacities of white, yellow, and red follow to nullify the effect of the floodcoat, which follows last.

Creating a product suitable for flight presents many other challenges, as well. Parts must be as lightweight as possible, and consume very little power. The 0.01-inch-thick Lexan polycarbonate substrate and adhesive used to create the overlays has to adhere strictly to Federal Aviation Regulations for flame retardance. These materials don’t come cheap, of course, and the adhesive often expires before the shop receives additional orders.

The overlays measure 0.61 x 13.84 or 0.84 x 6.2 inches, and are printed with conventional solvent-based inks – for the best possible adhesion – on Diversified’s clamshell semi-automatic presses. One aircraft may require up to 200 overlays, and airlines often wish to revamp dozens of aircraft at a time, which means the shop is printing upwards of 3000 units in the span of 10 business days.

It’s certainly no easy feat, but with each blue glow comes a content passenger scrolling through his Facebook feed, oblivious to the mark screen printing has left on his travels.

Explore other industrial printing projects from our August/September issue:

Loggerhead Deco: Sustainable Success

The Magic Is in the Money

Screen Printing's Place in the Sun


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