die sub or in mold graphics

looking for experience with ‘in mold printing’ or ‘in mold graphics’. I remember years ago at Motorola one of my models was camouflaged for the US Army and the engineers involved utilized a process where a graphic were laid into the mold then heated then melt was forced into that closed cavity. I believe it was refereed to as in mold graphics or maybe it called die-sublimation printing?

I have a new product that I believe can use one of those processes and need to talk to some vendors in order to understand my limitations.

Any insight on the process or vendors I might speak with?

There are variations of In Mold Labeling/In Mold Decoration.

In Mold Labeling (in Asia these days it is more often called In Mold Film) a clear polycarbonate film with graphics screen printed on it is vacuum formed and inserted into the tool which is then bonded directly to the plastic part. This is most common for phones and the like as the graphics are second surface and better protected.

In Mold Decoration uses a carrier foil which has ink on it that during injection will stick to the part, but the carrier foil gets thrown away which means the ink is first surface. This is more common for cheap decoration on things like structural packaging.

Dye Sublimation is now being used much more on things like custom cell phone cases because it allows for high resolution printed graphics vs screen printed IML graphics. The graphics are printed onto a film which is then thermoformed onto the part AFTER it is molded. This requires a use of specific materials which can sustain the high temperature bonding process.

Another process that might be relevant is digital printing - where parts are installed into jigs and then a giant CNC controlled print head will actually print special inks directly onto the parts. It only works well for typically very flat surfaces, but it can deliver some interesting results.

I work with a company called Serigraph up in Wisconsin. Shouldn’t be too bad for you, unless of course you got beat up once in Wisconsin like Harold Ramis.


Flat and simple curves are the easiest. Compound curve are also easy if you can die cut it on a flat surface. If your compound curve inlay requires a non-flat die cut, you will then need what is called a match-metal cutting tool. Those hit $250K and above without a problem so you will need high throughput to recover the capital.

If you are not familiar with the process, think of the “decal” and a vacuum-formed part that is placed into the mold and is held in place with a vacuum. A “flat” decal is easier to produce than a dimensional decal.

We’ve used GM Nameplate’s subsidiary Elite Plastics for some in mold label work. I think its best to approach it through an injection molding resource because final processing is the more complicated part of the process. The in-mold label manufacturer is more or less just printing onto plastic and managing the distortion, but alignment, heat, bonding to the parent material etc are all issues to solve by the injection molder.