Everything You Need To Know About
In-Mold Decoration

In-Mold Decoration

In a bid to remain relevant, brands never stop releasing new products. All these new products need designs to attract prospective buyers.

Also, many people judge the quality of products from new brands based on the quality and appeal of their design. This is because such people have no prior experience in using such products. They thus make their buying decisions based on the attractiveness of a product. This makes a product’s design or decoration crucial to the success of all brands.

This is why in-mold decoration is crucial for modern plastic products. In-mold decoration offers the best design solutions for brands across different industries. It offers high quality, attractive and precise decorations that position plastic products for success.

In order to let more people know well about this technology, so I had written this complete guide, let’s go.

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    What is In-Mold Decoration?

    In-Mold Decoration IMD

    Photo courtesy of Tapecon, Inc.

    The in-mold decoration is a modern technique for decorating plastic molded parts with unique designs or colors.

    In in-mold decoration, a film with a unique design or decoration is guided into a mold cavity through a polymer carrier. The printed film is held in place by vacuum ports in the mold cavity. Heated plastic is injected into the mold cavity for molding.

    The molded plastic part binds with the printed film to create a permanent design on the plastic part.

    In-mold decoration is cost-effective and gives massive design flexibility. It offers the opportunity to use multiple colors and textures at once. It provides long-lasting decoration solutions and increases productivity.

    Because decoration of the plastic mold is done during the molding cycle, post-mold decoration and other secondary processes are eliminated.

    The Principles of In-Mold Decoration

    The in-mold decoration process is guided by some principles that ensure its success.

    You need to first print your desired image or design on a plastic film. The plastic film is composed of a hard coat layer, a graphics layer, and an adhesive. The hard coat layer of the in-mold film eliminates the need for a clear-cutting process.

    The next step is to guide the film into an opened mold cavity by passing it on a polyester carrier or foil feeding system which is mounted onto an injection molding press.

    In the mold, the film runs closely along the mold cavity surface. In-built sensors in the mold read printed marks around each image on the plastic film. This makes the film to align accurately with the molded part.

    The printed film is clamped into place. The film is then positioned properly into the mold cavity by a vacuum system. The mold is then closed.

    Liquid plastic is injected into the mold cavity through the core side of the mold. The adhesive layer printed on the film is activated by the heat of the melted plastic. This releases the decorative image on the film and transfers it to the molded plastic surface. This decorative image binds with the plastic surface resulting in a fully decorated plastic part.

    Advantages of In-Mold Decoration

    In-mold decoration provides invaluable benefits over other methods of decorations. The following are some of its advantages:

    Disadvantages of In-Mold Decoration

    Common Application Examples

    The massive benefits in-molding decoration presents have made it the most preferred choice for a wide of range industries for diverse applications. 

    Below are some of the industries that make use of in-mold decorations:

    • Automotive components
    • Computer components
    • Medical devices
    • Personal telecommunication devices
    • Large parts and components
    • Lawn and garden equipment
    • Food packaging cups, trays, containers, tubs
    • Consumer products
    • Consumer handheld devices
    • Plastic housings
    • Storage containers
    • Instrument panel

    Mold Construction of In-mold Decoration

    In-Mold Decoration IMD injection mold

    Photo courtesy of Sussex IM.

    Mold construction is critical to the success of in-mold decoration.

    To successfully construct a mold for efficient in-mold decoration, you need to have a detailed and accurate mold design.

    Having a proper mold design helps you to eliminate errors during construction and increases the precision of the mold. It helps to construct the mold quickly, thus increasing productivity.

    Most important, constructing accurate mold will help you to produce quality in-mold decorated parts.

    During mold design, you need to have a holistic view of all the in-mold decoration process. The requirements of the plastic part you want to mold and decorate should be considered and factored into your design.

    Depending on the specifications of your intended plastic part, you need to use the right dimensions for your mold design and construction. Specifications like tolerance, thickness, size, weight, etc. should be carefully outlined in your design. The position of all mold parts should be precisely illustrated in your mold design.

    Most important, the position of the mold gate should be rightly incorporated in the design. This is because the position of the gate affects the flow of the molten plastic into the mold cavity. The gate position also affects the way the liquid plastic flows over the film and bonds to it. The right positioning of the gate also ensures structural stability.

    During design, you also need to consider how the film will be fixed and held in place before and during the plastic resin injection.

    There should be an efficient cooling system to cool the plastic part and plastic film. The cooling system should be designed to cover a large surface area in the mold in order to cool the plastic part effectively.

    During mold construction, you need to make sure that the backside of the film carrier rests against a flat wall. In order to lower the risk of wrinkles, do not bend the plastic film too much. You can bend it slightly. The mold should be constructed to make the molded part stay on the side of the gate. Usually, the ejector tips are slightly bent to enable the parts to stick to them.

    In-Mold Decoration Process

    The in-mold decoration process involves 6 main stages: design, printing, forming, trimming, insertion, and molding. 

    in-Mold-Decoration-Process-IMD

    Required Tools:

    - Printing Jig
    - Forming Mold
    - Trimming Die
    - Injection Mold

    Stage 1: Design
    Design the unique pattern, text, and graphic through the design software. Please note that the color must follow the CMYK Standard, otherwise the printed color may be distorted.
    Stage 2: Film Printing
    The design or graphics to be decorated on the molded plastic is printed on a plastic film.
    Stage 3: Forming
    The third step is the forming process. After printed, the films will be formed by high-pressure or vacuum forming machine. During the forming process, need to run a series of test grids on the molds to determine how graphics will be distorted.
    Stage 4: Trimming
    After forming, the formed films are moved to the fourth step in the process – trimming. The plastic film needs to trim into the desired size, to adapt to mold size and part shape.
    Stage 5: Insertion
    After trimming, the plastic film is inserted into an opened mold. The plastic film is clamped into place in the cavity of the two part mold.

    One important thing is before insertion of the film into the injection mold, please remove the dust and impurities of the film surface by blowing with ionized air.
    Stage 6: Molding
    The liquid plastic is injected into the mold behind the plastic film. The molded plastic part forms a permanent bond with the decorated film after cooling.

    IMD VS Other Post Molding Decoration

    Compared with other post molding decoration such as pad printing, direct printing, etc, what is special about IMD that makes this technology more and more popular? Next, I will show the advantages of IMD in comparison.

    In-Mold Decorating Compared to Pad Printing

    • In-mold decoration can be used for multi-colored decorations. It is economically viable for multiple colors or design decorations.
    • It has better color opacity. This means you cannot easily see through the color or ink used in in-mold decoration.
    • It provides several design options.
    • It results in plastic parts with second surface graphics

    In-Mold Decorating Compared to Pressure Sensitive Labels

    • Adhesive related problems are completely avoided. 
    • There is no need for secondary processes since the complete decoration is done in the mold.
    • It produces an integrated appearance since the plastic film is permanently bond to the molded part. 
    • It has a longer life span because of its durability and resistance to tampering. 
    • It offers one-step application of labels on plastic parts, container sides, and bottoms.

    In-Mold Decorating Compared to Direct Printing

    • It eliminates secondary processes since the complete decoration is done in the mold.
    • It produces more durable, long-lasting and tamper-proof products. 
    • Visually impressive surface finishes and improved 3D effects. 

    The Evolution of In-Mold Decorating (IMD)

    There has been a massive evolution and shift in product decorations processes over the years. Most of the post-mold decoration techniques have a lot of limitations. The secondary processes associated with post-molding decoration increases the cost of production. Most of the post-mold decoration methods slow down production.

    Advancement in technology has made it possible to use IMD to mold plastic parts with high precision and virtually impressive designs without any secondary processes.

    The availability of highly advanced computer programs and software has made it easy to develop accurate, high quality, and repeatable graphics. These graphics can be applied to highly complex structures.

    The in-mold decoration processes have been greatly improved and simplified because of the incorporation of highly automated equipment, robots, and well-advanced systems. This helps to produce decorated parts more efficiently and faster with higher design flexibility.

    The advance of technology has also made it possible to use IMD to produce lightweight and cost-effective products with improved aesthetics and higher customer satisfaction.

    In-mold Decoration Markets

    The market demand for in-mold decoration keeps on soaring. Recent research by plastic decoration magazine forecasts a 5-6% growth in injection in-mold decoration in 2020. Plastic decoration magazine spoke to many IMD manufacturers and in-mold decoration Association (IMDA) representatives during their research.

    A lot of factors are responsible for the increased demand for the usage of IMD products. Below are some of the factors that are pushing the market demands of IMD products to higher heights.

    For of all, brands are continuously releasing new products into the market. They do this to remain relevant and survive in their highly competitive industries. These new products also need new designs. This creates a lot of demand for IMD products.

    When consumers are buying products from new brands, their buying decisions are mostly based on the products’ virtually impressive designs. This is because they don’t have any user experience or knowledge of the new products. They, therefore, judge the quality of a product on the quality and attractiveness of its design. With this in mind, new brands need to go in for more appealing and quality designs made possible through in-mold decoration.

    The highest growth in in-mold decoration is from the non-packaging sectors for product decoration. The major reason for this high growth is that brands are producing products domestically to prevent volatility of tariff policies.

    To further increase the market growth of In-mold decoration, IMD needs to be promoted continuously. The cost-effectiveness, flexibility, durability, and many benefits of in-mold decoration needs to be publicized continuously.

    F.A.Q

    In-mold decoration and in-mold labeling are both injection molding techniques. They are most often confused with each other but there is a difference between them.

    In-mold decoration involves decorating molded plastic part or component with a plastic film while in-mold labeling involves embedding a label onto the surface of the molded part.

    The plastic film used for in-mold decoration mostly contains different designs and this makes it possible to produce many decorated parts at once using a single film.

    On the other hand, the label for in-mold labelling can only be incorporated on a single component. A new label has to be created for another component.

    In-mold decoration's ability to produce multiple designs at once makes it more suitable than in-mold labeling.

    In-mold decoration also eliminates any secondary processes or post-molding work. It also a more cost-effective method of production.

    In-mold decorations with light plastic films and moisture barriers continues to see growth in the food markets. This is because many people now buy products on the internet and this has created the need for an increased shelf life. Products bought on the internet mostly spends longer time at distribution centre's shelf before reaching consumers.

    Some of the plastic materials used for in-mold decoration include:

    Polyethylene, Polycarbonate, Acrylic, Polyamide, High Impact Polystyrene, Polypropylene, Thermoplastic Polyurethane, Thermoplastic Rubber.

    Injection molding is a suitable plastic molding process for the in-mold decoration. In injection molding, plastic material is melted and introduced into a mold cavity. Before the liquid plastic is injected into the mold cavity, a decorated plastic film is inserted into the mold cavity. The liquid plastic is injected behind the inserted plastic film and forms a permanent bond with it when it cools. The decorated plastic part is then ejected from the mold.

    The in-mold decoration is so important for modern plastic products because of the following:
    It provides you with the most cost-effective method for decorating plastic products since it does not involve any secondary processes. The cost of all secondary processes is eliminated in in-molding technology. You save a lot of time, labor, energy, and other vital resources when you use in-mold decoration technology.

    Yes, tooling for in-mold technology is expensive. Efficient in-mold decoration requires a well-constructed in-mold tool or mold. This can be complicated and challenging. Constructing in-mold tools requires a lot of expertise and investment which raises the cost of production.
    But the cost of the in-mold tool can be recovered because of the numerous advantages of the in-mold decoration technology presents. When the in-mold decoration is used efficiently, you will be able to get a lot of returns on your tools investment with time.

    Conclusion

    This post has provided you with a detailed account of everything you need to know about in-mold technology. In-mold decoration does not only give your amazing appearance or decorations, it also makes your product last very long. It gives you several design options and it is cost-effective.

    If you are looking for a decoration technology that will make your products stand out and bring you the results you desire, the in-mold decoration is your best option.

    If you need plastic injection molding services, please do not hesitate to contact me.

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