Have you ever looked on the back of an object and seen the recycle symbol? It tells you what material the object is made of. When it comes to plastics, Polypropylene and Polyethylene are considered the two of the most difficult materials to get ink to adhere to due to their relatively low surface energy. Polypropylene is used to make a wide variety of items and low and high density Polyethylene is commonly used in food packaging. When it comes to these difficult substrates it becomes necessary to pre-treat to affect a change in surface energy to make the surface amenable to bonding with – or cross-linking – with the ink. This causes the substrate surface to become more receptive.
The most commonly used methods of pre-treatment are:
- Plasma and Corona: Electricity applied to the surface.
- Flamer: Liquid propane (LP) or natural gas. With Flamer there may be variation due to cleanliness of the burn and how the flame will pre-treat any given substrate.
- Chemical Pre-Treatment: Usually manually applied with a liquid soaked rag.
Unfortunately on any given substrate you cannot assume that you will affect an equivalent change in the surface energy from one pre-treatment to another. Finding the correct ink pre-treatment may consist of 3 different segments: cleaning, activation and surface bonding.
Plasma surface treatment is a process that raises the surface energy of various materials in order to improve the bonding characteristics when ink is applied. Plasma is used widely in the medical industry. This is because you don’t have the bi-product of the other 2 pre-treatments such as carbon from the flaming process or residual VOC’s left behind from the from the flashing process of a chemical pre-treatment. Corona treatment is commonly used on materials such as polymers, papers, films, glass and metals.
Plasma is a good option for components that require a longer treatment hold. Some of the key advantages include: surface chemistry and 3 dimensional treatments. Corona is another form of plasma that can be used with in-line processes. When working with corona the systems are easy to maintain and user friendly.
Flame pre-treatment can also be integrated into inline processes, and require careful and sometimes precise setup in order to be safe and effective. Proper air to gas ratios, flame intensity and dwell time all play into successful pre-treating. Flame plasma systems combine compressed air and a flammable gas which is combusted to create a flame. One advantage is that the material surface only has to be exposed to the flame for a brief period of time to become polarized through oxidation. One setback is the heat level required for this treatment may cause damage to the parts.
Chemical priming is yet another way to pre-treat difficult to adhere to substrates and is generally considered a last resort due to the generally manual nature of application. Essentially primers are used to chemically modify the surface by removing contaminants, adding reactive sites for bonding and increasing surface energy. One disadvantage is that these primers often contain chlorinated solvents that are considered volatile organic contents.
Many substrates will require pre-treatment to satisfy customer’s individual requirements for print longevity. But with the correct treatment and testing, our technical service technicians will test the inks and provide samples for the individual customer’s review.
For information about Engineered Printing Solutions’ custom solutions, standard pad printers, industrial digital ink jet, consumables and other auxiliary equipment, visit Ink Adhesion Part 3: Ink Mixing, Contamination, Blooming and Mold Release Agents, email email@example.com or call