-Pressing Matters- 


ICI launches exciting new imaging technology for 3D objects


October 2006

Pictaflex is a new 'full wrap' decoration technology developed by ICI Imagedata, one of Europe’s leading manufacturers of digital imaging products.

The Pictaflex process enables any 3D object to be decorated with a full colour design or photographic quality image by dye diffusion, actually bonding it into the surface.

A specially coated recyclable polyester film is printed using aqueous inkjet technology. The ink is then fused into the surface of the object by application of heat and pressure in the Pictaflex press.

Endless applications

This new technology, which is suitable for large scale production or individual product personalization, will revolutionize the decoration of finished parts and components made from plastics, metals, wood, glass, ceramics, stone, as well as composite materials.

Because of the flexibility of the process and the breadth of materials that can be imaged, the decorative possibilities for Pictaflex are endless - and sure to be of interest to designers, manufacturers and educationalists.

Just a few of the possible applications are:

Interior and exterior trim components in the automotive, marine, aerospace and Rail sectors
Consumer electronics products
Ceramics and glass
Sporting goods
Fashion items, such as clothing, footwear, eyewear or jewellery.
Architectural features such as floor tiles, light fittings, aluminum extrusions or even wood.
Household appliances such as kettles, toasters or microwaves
Telephones - fixed, cordless and mobile

Advantages of the Pictaflex process

In addition to its unique capabilities, Pictaflex has many advantages over existing decoration technologies.

What is more, it is uniquely versatile, providing users with a blank canvas on which to create their own ideas.

Literally any digital image can be reproduced on the chosen part, enabling product designers to create their own visuals or use existing imagery from photographs or scans. The process can decorate highly complex 3D parts and can even wrap around angles tighter than 90° angles.

Parts can be printed 'in-register' so the design can be positioned to match the form of a particular object.

A cost-effective choice

Capital investment in Pictaflex is highly cost-effective, whether for a stand-alone A3 printing unit or for large scale production.

Since images can be printed on demand, there is no need to hold costly printed film stock, minimizing waste and reducing lead times. Pictaflex allows parts to be decorated relatively late in the manufacturing process enabling true 'just-in-time' production. There are minimal set up costs and no minimum order quantities, making the Pictaflex process as well-suited to short production runs as it is for mass market volumes.

The Pictaflex printing system is truly flexible, decorating a variety of different materials with the same hardware. Plastics, metals, ceramics, glass and wood can all be printed by selecting a pre-programmed press setting which accommodates the specific thermal characteristics of that material. Plus, the modular nature of the system enables production line installations to be scaled and configured to meet changing requirements of product throughput and minimal cycle times.

Available now

Pictaflex presses are available now in a standard A3 format. Custom industrial presses are produced to order, designed to meet individual customer requirements for product, size and speed of operation.

ICI is actively seeking industrial partners in North America that are interested in developing Pictaflex technology in their specialist markets or geographic territories.

See it in action

For more information about Pictaflex, including a video demonstration of the process, please contact:

Kevin Howes, North American Sales Manager
ICI Imagedata
10 Finderne Avenue, Building 9, Bridgewater, NJ 08807 USA
Tel: +1 908 203 2981, Fax: +1 908 203 2980
e-mail: kevin_howes@ici.com

For U.S. Exhibition/Demo to see the Pictaflex press in action, please contact:

David L. Vernon
Pictaflex Sales Agent / Dealer
Lip Chip Solutions, Inc.
10900 Rathburn Ave.
Northridge, CA 91326
Tel: +1 818 363 8132, Fax: +1 818 363 2932
e-mail: Pictaflex@LipChip.com

Developed by ICI plc, Pictaflex is a unique imaging technology that enables 3D objects to be decorated with a full colour design or photographic image.


ICI Imagedata is a business of ICI plc, manufacturing products for use worldwide. With an extensive R & D department staffed by experienced engineers and scientists, the company develops speciality films and coatings for a wide variety of applications, including digital imaging, electronics and medicine.

Pictaflex is a proprietary technology owned by ICI plc. with the Pictaflex brand and key components of the Pictaflex system being protected by international patent and trade marking laws.

US and European patents have been granted to protect the chemistry relating to the Pictaflex lacquer and a PCT world patent application has been filed to protect the unique characteristics of the Pictaflex imaging film.

The Pictaflex Process

Takes just two to three minutes per item with the A3 desktop press - faster times being achievable with industrial systems

The first step involves a design being loaded or created on a PC or Mac. This can be a pattern, an irregular non-repeating design, an illustration, decal, text or a photo… in fact anything that can be printed with an inkjet printer!

The image is then sized, reversed and sent to an inkjet printer, adapted to use Pictaflex approved inks. It is then printed on a sheet of Pictaflex film.

Next, the part(s) to be decorated are positioned in the Pictaflex Press. Certain items which can distort when heated, such as thin wall plastics, may need to be supported with a pre-formed mould.

Some metals, ceramics or glass may need spraying with special Pictaflex lacquer to create a receptive surface. However, many plastic parts made from materials such as PET, nylon, PBT and polycarbonate may be decorated without pre-treatment.

The imaged film is then positioned with the printed side of the sheet facing the part.

The press is closed and the Pictaflex process begins.

A pre-heating phase commences, causing the imaged Pictaflex film to soften and become 'flexible'. At this point the integral vacuum is initiated and the air surrounding the part is drawn out of the press. This causes the softened Pictaflex film to form around the part.

A second 'burst' of heat is applied to the assembly which excites the dye molecules within the printed film causing them to become mobile and diffuse into the surface of the part where, on cooling, they become bonded into it's structure.

On completion of the heating phase a cooling cycle is initiated and the film and part are separated. When the part is cool enough to handle, the press is opened and the film and newly decorated part are removed.

The part is now fully imaged. The complete cycle time using the A3 press is typically between 90 and 180 seconds depending on the size and thermal characteristics of the part.

The final process is very much dependant on the application for which the component is being used. The dyes have entered into the part and hence have a good resistance to UV and physical abrasion. However, in demanding applications it may be necessary to overcoat the finished part for further protection or to modify the surface finish.

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