Edited by Erin La Row, editor, Plastics Decorating

Heat transfers have long been a technique to decorate products. It’s a process that’s been around for about 70 years, according to Eric Steinwachs, director, sales and marketing at CDigital. Traditional heat transfers use wet ink printing methods like screen printing, flexography or gravure. This process can produce images in a limited range of colors and become cost prohibitive for shorter runs. The process has been improved by going digital. Digital heat transfers use digital printers and can transfer images to nearly any material, including plastic, metal, glass and ceramic.

Advantages of digital heat transfers
Digital heat transfers offer several unique advantages over other printing processes including:

  • No set-up charges – The images are sent electronically to the print engine. This eliminates the need for screens, plates, cylinders or color-matching charges.
  • Fast turnaround time – In most cases, digital heat transfers are shipped 2-3 days after receipt of the artwork, allowing for quick samples, short lead times, and lower inventory requirements.
  • Short runs – Eliminating the need for ancillary print items and having no set-up charges make digitally printed heat transfers an ideal short-run solution.
  • Variable data or personalization – The image is sent to the print engine every time an image is printed which allows the image to be unique or personalized. The variable data can be used for barcoding, serialization, lot codes or security numbering.
  • Unlimited number of colors – “We can print one or any number of colors in the CMYK+W color range. With thousands of colors to choose from, the design possibilities are endless,” Steinwachs said. “We do recommend using a PMS bridge book to reference the PMS color to the CMYK color.”

Overcoming challenges
With other decorating technologies, inks need to dry, solvents must be flamed off or other curing processes need to take place – all costing time and money. Heat transfers are dry and fully cured upon application making any plastic instantly ready for shipment. With heat transfers being a dry process and allowing multicolor application it is an ideal technology to run next to and in cycle with the molding process.

For multi-color printing of a part, each color requires a separate pass or application hot stamp. With heat transfers, all the colors are applied in one pass on the hot stamping machine, reducing the number of passes and set-ups. This will, in turn, reduce the scrap rate and part handling increasing output.