Decorating MDF in 3D with Dye Sublimation and IR

Posted on Friday, November 1, 2013

Proprietary low cure powders and IR technology has enabled Decoral licensees to powder coat and decorate MDF, which has created breakthroughs in the cabinet and display industries.

By Sharon Spielman

When a heat-sensitive substrate such as medium density fiberboard (MDF) is finished with a powder coating, temperature is an important factor, of course, but even more important than that, according to Eric Koslow, national sales manager at Decoral System USA Corp, Coral Springs, Fla., is the MDF itself. In the finishing industry, preparing the substrate to accept its finish is crucial. When it comes to MDF, not only is the preparation of the substrate key, but the substrate itself must be high quality. “There is high quality MDF and there is cheap MDF. Good, quality MDF can withstand curing temperatures; coupled with our low-cure powders, we can achieve great results,” he says. “Invest in what you want your end product to be.”

From Anodizing to Dye Sublimation on Powder Coated MDF

Decoral System, headquartered in Verona, Italy, has gone from an anodizing plant in the early 1970s, to a liquid and powder finishing plant in the 1980s, to a powder-only finishing operation in the late 1980s. Then, in the 1990s, the company looked for a process that would offer something new to its customers, distancing them from competitors. That was when dye sublimation, a process typically only usable on flat sheets, was explored by Decoral. Since that time, the company has developed, patented and advanced the technology into tough decorative powder finishes that can be applied to a range of substrates, resulting in many different textures, glosses and overall finishes.

Most recently, Decoral has explored finishing MDF, a heat-sensitive substrate. And the ability to decorate three-dimen- sional objects is what separates Decoral from its competition, according to Koslow.

Over the past several years, Decoral has introduced infrared (IR) 3D decorating. According to Koslow, “The IR 3D machine is designed specifically for the industrial automated decoration of 3D powder coated parts in high volume.” This includes the application of any decoration to MDF. Products such as cabinets, furniture, store fixtures, shelving, louvers and more can be made from MDF. The process applies a realistic wood grain, marble finish, or even custom logos and artwork, according to Koslow.

The Process

In addition to MDF, really any substrate that can be powder coated can utilize the Decoral process, Koslow says. “This includes, of course, aluminum, steel, die casting, glass, ceramic, Nylon 66 and other high-temperature plastic.” Just like in the traditional powder coating process, the first step is to prepare the substrate. The work piece receives a traditional pretreatment that is appropriate for proper adhesion and the final environment. Proprietary powder, formulated and made by Decoral, is applied and cured. Electrostatic guns are utilized to apply 2.5 mils of powder, which, when applied to MDF, is then cured at 320°F for up to 20 minutes. Polymerization is then performed. The applied base coat is conducive to creating sufficient hardness on the final product. Moreover, it protects the substrate from factors such as weather, corrosion, abrasion, light and humidity, Koslow explains.

Then the decoration process begins. A preprinted transfer film with organic photosensitive pigments and cellulose resin is completely wrapped around work piece with an airtight seal. The piece is then positioned on the surface of a movable trolley. Air is removed through a vacuum suction system, which brings the printed film into contact with the powder coated surface. The trolley is conveyed into the integrat- ed curing oven where the printed image is effected, turning the ink pigments from solid into gas and back into solid again inside the paint layer. After cooling, the film is removed. The final result is a piece that mimics a one-dimensional printed image on a three-dimensional surface.

Designating Decorations

Licensees are job shops, OEMs and extruders throughout North and South America and the entire world. “We look for quality applicators that strive for proper pretreatment to assure adhesion,” Koslow says.

Companies that align themselves with Decoral can tap into a global company that is constantly innovating and offers countless resources. “For instance,” Koslow says, “We are your technical, marketing and sales support team every step of the way.” Decoral exhibits and markets at various national trade shows, including the Powder Coating Show, throughout the year, he says, and they give all of the leads in a licensee’s region to them at no cost.

Koslow also says that the company budgets for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) campaigns, driving thousands of potential clients to its website. “We give all of these leads to our Decoral licensee at no cost,” Koslow explains. “And we perform marketing campaigns to attract OEMs, builders and architects to Decoral.”

Becoming a licensee requires no fee, just a commitment to use Decoral’s films and powders to ensure high quality standards for color and finish, Koslow explains.

Other perks that licensees receive are regular updates of products and applications as they become available through the company’s website and newsletter; a dedicated secure portal for materials, inventory, FAQs, updates and more on the company’s website; assistance with any color matching issues that licensees may face; and all the necessary quality testing has been done. “Decoral has a huge international certified laboratory for any type of test,” Koslow says. “This service is at your disposal free of charge. Additionally, there is an entire quality report section on our website for licensees to access.”

Decoral installs the machines, provides full onsite training of staff for two weeks, and offers a full maintenance warranty.

When it comes to the powder used in the process, Decoral produces all of its own powder, which Koslow says enables them to formulate powders specific to its clients’ needs. He says there are applications for glow-in-the-dark powder, which include street signs, emergency exits, bikes and motorcycles, boats, planes, aisles and walkways, theater exits, and any dark area that needs back lit signage. Other powders that Decoral now offer includes color-changing powders, wrinkle-effect powders, and anti- skid and anti-microbial powders.

“Our low cure powders and IR technology enable our licensees to powder coat and decorate MDF, which has created breakthroughs in the cabinet and display industries,” Koslow says.

“The most recent technology being offered is called ‘Horizon.’ It uses UV cure inks to apply a wood grain pattern onto coated extruded profiles in a very efficient high speed, low cost manner,” he adds.

For more on Decoral System USA Corp., visit: www.decoralamerica.com.

Sharon Spielman is editor of Powder Coated Tough magazine. She can be reached via email at: sspielman@powdercoating.org.