"dead front" LEDs, sorta...

Hello all, little help needed here.

I need to provide a sample to a vendor demonstrating the effect we’re trying after on an overlay. I’ve seen hundreds of polycarbonate overlays where the LED window was on a dark/black area and pretty much invisible. What we are going for is an LED window on a portion of the overlay which is a light gray.

I’ve seen these before - one backside layer is printed with full coverage, and then an additional backside layer is printed with the LED window dropped out. It is nearly invisible to see when the LED is off, but the LED shows through the window brightly when lit. My problem is that I can’t find one right now to show the vendor.

Does anyone know of a product using this trick which I can point them towards?

Thanks in advance…

-Douglas C.

Hey Doug,

The iMac power indicator light pops to mind, a bright white/blue led shining through the white material case. It’s totally invisible when not illuminated.

What if you just used a superbright LED and didn’t provide a window at all?
The only issue there is a lack of control over the illuminated area.

I’ll keep my eyes peeled for a polycarb overlay that does this well…

Surely you have to have a vendor in the general area that supplies membrane switch keypads. If you get a hold of them, they will have samples of dead front graphics.

If not, PM me a fedEx number and address and I should be able to dig up a sample tomorrow when I am in the office.

Thanks ip_wirelessly. We have a pile of samples I dug through - I found something close, but I’m looking for something dead-on. I don’t really want to contact our vendors about it because this is coming from a vendor selected by the client to do prototyping AND the final production. We had little to no say on this, and there is no longer a “carrot” to offer a helpful vendor we contact.

No need to send anything. I think we can work through this with what we have, but if you see a good example on a product I’d appreciate a head’s up.

-Douglas C.

Hi Guys,

I’m a student from the Academy of Art University and researching how to create the “invisible LED” effect.

I was researching how apple creates their invisible look through aluminum using microperforation illumination (they actually make microscopic holes using lasers to allow light to shine through the aluminum).

Is there a way to give this effect using plastic?

I’m currently designing a product for my thesis and i’d like for my product face to be free of parting lines.
When the product is off, all you concentrate is on the form, but once approached by the user, the LED’s turn on to give the user the sense that the product is on and ready to be used.

Any thoughts on how I could achieve this without using Tinted Polycarbonate?

thanks for your help!

Is there a reason you wouldn’t want to use a tinted material?

You could use an in mold film (IMF) process which is a printed polycarbonate film which gets molded over clear PC. You can print the film in such a way that the main color is translucent and the second layer is a mask, such that when light is applied it will shine through only the areas you’ve allowed.

There are some limitations to the IMF process, but it’s the same process you see used to decorate laptops, car dashboard panels, etc. (Faux Wood, Carbon fiber, Aluminum, etc but plain color is also easy)

Thanks for the response!

The Original idea was the use a matte/ satin finish for the body. After thinking about it more, I realized that the users would potentially interact with the product often and cleaning matte surfaces is a bit more difficult because of the texture. Maybe tinted PC wouldn’t be a bad option, and body could appear one color/finish and once you interact with it, it turns on.

The icons to the left would light up, but when the unit is off, all you see is the shape. The shape still needs some refinement to make the shape more interesting, but this is a preliminary version of my project.


I always thought this canon printer (Pixma MG6150) was a cool example of the effect.
Only the buttons which are needed are visible.

Yes! this is exactly what I want to do, the only difference is that I will have a curved surface instead of a flat surface. Would IMF still be able to achieve this?

thanks for all your help everyone!

Yes, you would be able to achieve that. I’ve used it on a curved surface (Sorry nothing I can post, yet) for an identical effect.

The film is the first surface, which protects the ink below and provides the smooth glossy surface. You can achieve other surfaces by using textured films.

The ink is below that and you can print your graphics with different opacity. That canon printer is likely the same process, just with a solid black layer on top and then the artwork below it. Smooth black surface to the user until the light shines through.