Printing on Polycarbonate

Polycarbonate (PC) is frequently thought of as an unbreakable and shatter-resistant transparent material.  This superior durability makes it a great option across numerous industries beyond graphics. At NGS Printing, we print on clear polycarbonate sheets and films destined for placements requiring durability, wear, and impact resistance.  Large format printing on polycarbonate is also popular in retail and store verticals. You can see polycarbonate sheets with custom prints in front- and back-lit graphic panels and signage.

There are no clear substrates that can withstand the abuse that polycarbonate can.  While it can scratch without special protections, it remains unbreakable.  For this reason, membrane switch overlays and industrial labels are frequently made from polycarbonate.      

What is polycarbonate

Polycarbonate (PC), or often called Lexan® is a type of thermoplastic polymer material first patented in 1958.  Thermoplastics including polycarbonate are easily thermoformed and molded.  What makes polycarbonate different from other plastic materials is that it will never shatter, is lightweight and transparent. Its transparency is available at different levels of clarity making it similar to glass, but has 200x the impact resistance. Due to its unique characteristics, polycarbonate is a preferred material choice for scenarios where strength is a priority. Besides printed graphic signage and panels, polycarbonate is used in the making of:

  • Bulletproof glass;
  • Eyeglass lenses;
  • Electronic components;
  • Construction materials and safety lenses;
  • Machine guards;
  • Smartphone cases and shells;
  • POP displays and graphic holders;
  • Indoor and outdoor signage;

Due to its durability and outstanding longevity, polycarbonate is considered the most durable solution for printed signage and retail displays.

Why print on polycarbonate?

Since the creation of Lexan polycarbonate in 1960, the plastic has been printed on for a variety of applications but has had difficulty with ink adhesion.  Screen printing was the only proven method to print directly onto the polycarbonate material and generally required a topcoat.  However, with the growth of inkjet technology for the past 20 years, polycarbonate can now be procured with special coatings on the surface that promote ink adhesion, vibrancy, and improving the dyne level of the material making inkjet digital printing a possibility as well as conventional screen printing. 

No matter the end use, polycarbonate is the recommended substrate material for applications in need of a durable graphic. 

Outstanding strength

Many businesses decide to print on polycarbonate due to the outstanding impact resistance and strength of the plastic. Polycarbonate is lightweight yet strong with a tensile strength near 9,000psi but don’t let its weight deceive you into thinking that it’s fragile or brittle like acrylic or glass. Polycarbonate is pliable meaning it can bend without showing stress fractures or breaking.  It’s the best option for when impact resistance matters.    

Printers of polycarbonate commonly mirror the image on the backside (2nd surface) of the material.  By printing in reverse on clear material, the viewer must look through the material substrate to see the printed graphic.  The substrate becomes the protection of the ink which comes in handy for POP Displays, graphic overlays, or industrial labels where the general public and vandals may be touching or prodding.   Due to this, reverse prints on polycarbonate last considerably longer than 1st surface prints. 

Many Available Options

Polycarbonate films are available in transparent clear and varying levels of clarity; it can also be found in colored formats in bulk runs.  Further, films can be bought in smooth polished gloss, or with matte finishes on 1 or both sides of the film.  Also, PC can be procured with specially formulated coatings that help resist yellowing and hazing from the sun’s UV rays.  This outdoor polycarbonate is a great fit for outdoor graphics such as outdoor menus, gas station signage, or safety labels on equipment.   

Additionally, polycarbonate films can be procured with different textures such as polished smooth, suede, or velvet.  These different textures create different light diffusion, look and feel of printed graphics.  Even though polycarbonate is durable, glossy polished finishes show scratches more easily while embossed textures help hide scratches and signs of wear.    This is why embossed polycarbonate films are frequently seen used as membrane switch overlays since they are touched and scratched frequently.  

Cost-efficiency

Polycarbonate does come at a premium cost compared to other clear plastics like PETG or acrylic.  However, depending on the application (such as overlay graphics) there may not be a suitable alternative that will meet the lifespan that PC can provide.   When you are looking for printed signage and retail displays solutions, these materials must be die-cut at thin gauges, router cut at thick gauges, and sometimes heat bent depending on the application.  Polycarbonate is easy to work with and finishes with ease. 

Contact NGS Today

The natural characteristics of polycarbonate make it perfect for printed interior or exterior retail signage. It is a nearly indestructible material well suited for long-term permanent or semi-permanent point of purchase displays. NGS Printing has been digital inkjet printing and UV screen printing on polycarbonate materials for decades. Reach out and give NGS Printing a chance for your next project.  We stand at your disposal to deliver the highest quality polycarbonate prints.

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