It’s a 3-D world out there, and with more companies looking to make their brands stand out from the crowd, doming technology affords them a viable solution. Doming can be best described as the application where polyurethane resins are added to a glossy coating creating a clear, hard dome that can greatly enhance the look and value of a flat, printed surface. Basically, it can turn any two-dimensional label, decal, nameplate or tag into attention grabbing 3-D artwork that can be scratch and weather-resistant; all while enhancing a bold image or logo that “pops” from any angle. The process is mainly used in industrial graphics and product identification labeling for equipment manufacturing and promotional products. Recent technological advancements in polymers and adhesives are helping create opportunities for graphics shops to expand their businesses.
Joe Musgrave of Color-Dec says they offer a comprehensive line of doming systems to meet the challenges of a wide range of clients, from start-up to commercial to industrial production requirements. Images courtesy of Color-Dec.
Doming was originally (and can still be) done manually by having a skilled operator apply drops of resin with a syringe or an applicator tube. There are also a number of companies that manufacture automated doming equipment. While the technology for this application and production capabilities have improved over the years, the principles of how a doming machine works are pretty much the same. Users place the printed graphics on a flat surface, and resin is conducted through a series of hoses up to individual spouts that discharge the resin over the printed areas.
With the unique look it can create, doming is grabbing the attention of graphics makers across the country. These types of services are yet another way they can differentiate themselves from the competition. By converting standard vinyl graphics into eye-catching domed promotional products, they can command higher selling prices and add to their profit margins.
“Sign shops can easily add doming to their service portfolio and offer their customers a slick dimension to their graphics,” says Luciana Velloso, vice president of International Business Development at Summa Inc., Boston, and the U.S. distributor of Liquid Lens, a UK-based manufacturer of doming equipment and supplies. “Doming is the last step of the design, print and cut process. Once the graphic has been domed, it has been fully transformed in a way that usually attracts the customer to it. When a graphic has been domed, it is domed for life.”
She reports that the doming process can be applied to a variety of non-porous materials such as: inkjet media, polyester film, pre-cut vinyl, engraving laminates, aluminum, brass, magnets, stone, marble and granite.
Making Brands Pop
“Doming is yet another tool in a print shop’s arsenal where they can offer a service that’s unique from rest of the marketplace,” says Mark H. West, president of DomeTag Brand Labels in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Image courtesy of Color-Dec.
DomeTag specializes exclusively in urethane doming services for their clients.
West explains that domed labels continue to be a popular way to add brand names to products, yet the largest areas of growth are coming from new markets that require faster production times and increased graphic freedom.
“Industries such as advertising specialties, employee incentives, embellishing corporate catalogs, point-of-purchase displays, direct mail campaigns, local sport clubs, hotels and other small businesses actually offer more room for market growth due to their high-volume potential—compared to the original product-branding niche,” West says. “The domed products we produce are coated with clear, flexible urethane, giving the product unique advantages over other marking methods. First, the urethane coating is extremely chemical resistant and tolerant to environmental extremes. Second, the clear bubble of plastic catches attention with glossy reflections inviting consumers to reach out and touch. Third, imaging flexibility allows for anything from full-color photographs and embossing to special effects like metallic, holographic, fluorescent and reflective substrates and inks. Lastly, one of the greatest benefits of domed labels is that they can be permanently applied at the end of the production cycle – thereby allowing for changes and customization right up to the day of shipping.”
“The blending of print, signage and label manufacturing industries has opened up many new segments to the sign industry,” says Joe Musgrave, general manager at Color-Dec North America, Inc., Erlanger, Ky.
Musgrave points out that in general, companies are spending more and more on product branding.
One of the greatest benefits of domed labels is that they can be permanently applied at the end of the production cycle – thereby allowing for changes and customization right up to the day of shipping. (Image courtesy of DomeTag.)
“They don’t want a flat label anymore,” Musgrave says. “Doming creates dimension by adding the depth of the polyurethane resin to the printed piece and you then gain the advantage of having a durable label that lasts and adds vibrancy to your product.”
Musgrave explains that doming technology is used to create multi-dimensional labels, emblems, badges or signs that are extremely durable and resistant to nicks, UV yellowing and most chemical detergents.
“Our domes are created from a two-part polyurethane resin that adds the dimension and protection to the top of the printed part,” Musgrave says. “Domed labels have historically been used in very demanding industries like automotive, appliance, water craft and power sport, but in recent years we have seen domed parts in increasingly varied industries ranging from point-of-sale signage to high fashion to personal electronics. One of the fastest growing markets is in the area of textiles. Domed pieces are created on thermal adhesive substrate, which are first printed and then applied to the textile and fabric using a thermal heat press.”
The Doming Process
He says that the domed piece is created using traditional screen printing or digital printing technology to create the printed part. It is then kiss cut while still on a carrier sheet; the two-part polyurethane resin is then applied using a domed system such as those made by Color-Dec. “The Doming System’s primary function is to move the dispensing heads over the printed pieces using a CNC movement, and then, using a combination of hydraulics and pneumatics, to dispense the two-part resin onto the printed piece.
Depending on the capabilities of the doming system, the dome can be applied to basic geometric designs like circles, squares, ovals, or to very complex scripted designs that are over one meter in length, or to micro-writing designs that require very small lines and tight tolerances. Color-Dec offers a comprehensive line of Doming Systems to meet the challenges of a wide range of clients, from start-up to commercial to industrial production requirements.”
Chemque’s E-Dome combined with the Clear Overprint and Flow Stop resins work well together to create innovative new ideas such as mosaics, which is a new growing trend in the retail display space. Image courtesy of Chemque Inc.
Musgrave continues, “It is a value-added service that allows print providers to leverage their existing customers and expand into new markets. New doming systems, like those made by Color-Dec have automated dispensing and washing circuitry that allows for quick make ready times and limited cleaning and purging times. These new capabilities allow for production of both short and long run pieces along with wide variance in size.”
Types of Doming Resins
Resins typically fall into a few classes of materials including epoxy, UV-curable resin and polyurethane. Within each classification, several products are available.
“While Color-Dec believes there are markets for new finishes, we currently offer only 100 percent pure polyurethane resin due to its approval by virtually all industry specifications. Other finishes lack the durability and have a tendency to discolor over time. We will continue to watch developments in UV-cure technology very closely and if, and when, we feel one of these new products fits our customers requirements we will make the necessary market shift,” says Musgrave.
“The quality of the resin is extremely important in the whole process,” adds Velloso. “Other factors affect the performance of the resin, such as high humidity levels and the printing process used. A high-end resin formulation (as the one offered by Liquid Lens) has hydrophobic characteristic to repel moisture, a non-yellowing composition and an extreme clear view.”
Doming can be done manually by having a skilled operator apply drops of resin with a syringe or an applicator tube. Image courtesy of Summa Inc./Liquid Lens.
Chemque Cracks the UV Code
Keith Bechamp, sales manager, Specialty Graphics Division at Chemque Inc., Rexdale, Ontario, points out that within the last two years his company has made a breakthrough in polymer chemistry which has allowed for a much simpler doming process. “The new Energy-Cure Polymers gave birth to what is known as ‘E-Dome’ and is unrivaled to this day. Up until then it was considered impossible to develop a UV resin that would not yellow during or after the curing process since the chemical requires UV to initiate the crosslinking reaction. Chemque’s Ph.D.’s cracked the rheological code and overcame the problem with our patented E-Dome line of resins. In addition to being mercury free and UV resistant, they instantly cure when passed through a UV tunnel. This eliminates the need to heat cure on level racks and removes the element of waste due to dust contamination.”
Bechamp says that in addition to the UV doming resins, there is also a new line of clear UV ink available to restrict the flow. “In the past, doming was exclusively used on vinyls, polyesters and plastics in general. These substrates have to be die-cut with a very clean edge where the resin can be contained by surface tension within the decal or emblem. By having the new UV-curable ink, the doming resin can now be contained over any shape or lettering. This process is simply carried out by screenprinting two types of clear ink.”
Chemque’s E-Dome 8FR-100 is a clear overprint that will prevent the doming resin from soaking through porous substrates such as paper, posters or P.O.P. signage. It is used to cover the entire area that requires doming. The E-Dome 8FS-100 which is a flow stop ink that would be screen printed on the parameters of the area required to be domed. “The two ink systems open the door for doming almost any type of printed material.”
The Opal series of doming machines use 400ml resin cartridges and dispense from a single nozzle and are said to be ideal for small to medium size rapid production runs of domed labels. Image courtesy of Summa Inc./Liquid Lens.
Ideal for Sign Shops
Bechamp reports that these E-Dome resins, in conjunction with a flow control system, are advantageous to sign makers. “With increase of online ecommerce business, rising fuel prices and more bargain hunters deciding to shop online, consumer product manufacturers are under increased pressure to market as effectively as possible when cash carrying consumers are present in the store. For example, a P.O.P. display can be more effective and provide much more impact on the buying decision if the can of soft drink being advertised actually looked cold. Doming the beads of water will accomplish this task. With Chemque’s patented E-Dome resin system, sign manufacturers now have the option of providing new and unique signs and displays to their customers that can effectively make selective areas of print stand out or pop, holding the eye for a longer period of time.”
He adds that this type of doming process is not limited to just the P.O.P. displays, companies are incorporating doming into everyday platforms like greeting cards, book covers, and even some consumer packaging. “This chemical technology is evolving from being just a clear, protective 3-D lens into an effective marketing tool. Chemque’s patented E-Dome combined with the Clear Overprint and Flow Stop resins work beautifully together to create innovative new ideas such as mosaics, a new ‘hot item’ in the retail market.”
The company also markets a line of dispensing systems. “With its semi-modular design and ease of operation, our E-Dome 3200 Dispensing System is ideal for sign shops since it can be organized to fit into both small and large areas. With the simplicity of a one component resin, there is no mixing or flushing required. It’s just dome, cure, package and ship. It is easily the most efficient doming machine available today for ease of use and speed of production from start to finish.”
He adds that “the range of applications is limitless: retail displays, hotel signage, room numbers, house numbers, license plates, directional signs, automotive signs, electronic keypads. The possibilities are endless.”
Velloso says that Summa offers low cost solutions to make it accessible for every size sign shop to enter the doming market. “When I was first exposed to domed graphics in Europe, I saw the potential of it as an ‘add on’ to our thermal printer (Summa DC4 Print & Cut system). We have partnered with doming provider, Liquid Lens and have experienced a mutually beneficial relationship by offering the Americas easy and affordable solutions for small and medium doming production.”
Chemque’s E-Dome 8FR-100 is a clear overprint that will prevent the doming resin from soaking through porous substrates such as paper, posters or P.O.P. signs. Image courtesy of Chemque Inc.
She says that the company markets a doming starter kit that sells for about $349 as well as higher end production equipment. “Once the user has acquired some experience in manually applying the resin to the printed images and the production volume has been determined, a semi or fully automated dispensing machine may be the next logical step. A semi-automatic Opal unit from Liquid Lens sells for $ 5,000 (used) and a fully automated unit for over $ 25,000 upwards; depending on the production volume required.”
A Strong Case for Outsourcing
West says the greatest challenge in the doming process is figuring out how much resin to deposit onto a product’s surface. “Doming is a simple process of pouring an exact volume of liquid plastic onto a label. The liquid flows to the edge of the label just as a spilled glass of water will flow to the edge of a table and pause before going to the floor. Too much water and the floor will get wet, not enough water and the edge of the table is never reached. This surface tension caused by the surface edge creates the uniform dome in the finished label after approximately 12 hours of curing,” West explains.
“Basically, the process can be as simple as mixing epoxy resin in a ketchup bottle and pouring it by hand onto a label. Many have rushed out to buy doming equipment right away only to learn that the devil is in the details. It’s very easy to do doming. It’s very difficult to do doming well with consistent results and that’s the ‘bugger’ of it and why it makes more sense to partner with a doming company. There are simply too many technical problems that need to be overcome before doming can be done with consistency and regularity.”
West points out that some of their customers print the graphics and then send the balance of the job to them to complete the doming process. “We also offer kiss-cutting equipment and can take care of the cutting, doming and even the printing. Some of our customers prefer to leave the full responsibility of printing and doming production to us because we have been providing full service specialty doming for many years.”
He also reports that they are seeing more of their signage clients asking for domed highlights to be added to P.O.P. signage displays. “That way a company logo or the key marketing message can be domed to make it stand out in the store. We just finished a job doming part of a yogurt P.O.P. display. The beauty of it the dome can be applied after the product is completed.” He adds they also utilize doming technology for their long list of clients where it is applied to products such as retail gift cards as well as jewelry.
West points out that regardless of whether you buy doming equipment or if you rely on a company that specializes in doming services, one thing is certain: before you make any money on domes you will need to sell something with a dome on it. “So why not invest a small amount into a marketing plan and sales calls to learn about the industry risk free and buy domed labels from someone else until you establish a proven market. When your marketing is proven and your doming sales reach about $1 million, you can always purchase doming equipment. Build the market first, and then maybe invest in equipment. At the very least, show your customers some domed samples and see if they are interested. You will be surprised at how many opportunities doming can bring to your shop,” he concludes.
Doming (also known as lensing or capping) is the process of applying a clear resin onto a 2-0D decal, nameplate label or sign to create a 3‐D artwork that adds protection, value and “pop” to the finished work. This dome can be scratch and weather‐resistant while enhancing a bold image that stands out from any angle.
Three‐dimensional parts always look more natural to the human eye because we live in a three‐dimensional world. Think how a sculpture looks more realistic than a picture.
Twenty‐five years ago epoxy was used for doming. While it was easy and simple to dome with epoxy, the domed material could not last more than a few months in the light before it turned yellow.
The next generation of two‐part urethane changed the doming process where nameplates such as a domed Ford logo and the domed GE and Westinghouse badges became the distinguished look for these household names. The process, however, became more complex where clean rooms, temperature and humidity control were required. In addition, sophisticated equipment was required to meter‐mix and robotically dispense the PU resin on the parts.
Doming is not limited to just the P.O.P. displays, companies are incorporating doming into everyday platforms like greeting cards, book covers, and even some consumer packaging. This chemical technology is evolving from being just a clear, protective 3D lens into an effective marketing tool. By incorporating doming, a sign shop can expand their range of services and capabilities, grow their customer base, increase sales, improve margin by offering specialty graphics services and brand themselves as the leaders in the sign making industry.
The range of applications is limitless: retail displays, hotel signage, room numbers, house numbers, licence plates, directional signs, automotive signs, electronic keypads… the possibilities are endless.
Sales Manager – Specialty Graphics Division