Hard Plastic to Soft-Touch Plastic
Before soft touch finishes we had to live with hard surfaced materials that were converted into products designed for our use. Think about it! Metals, stone, glass and wood are hard surfaced materials. Most plastic materials are hard surfaced materials, especially those that are used for non-disposable products manufacture. There has been exponential growth in the use of plastics recently due to the attractiveness of light weight, low cost and durability. Plastic materials have found a tremendously wide range of applications because of these positive attributes. Plastic materials also have a negative side in that they tend to yellow after long term weathering, and are subject to scratching and chemical attack.
Additionally, the cold often smooth surface of plastics has not promoted a sense of high quality. Negatives lead to opportunities and coating suppliers have responded by developing surface coatings capable of attractively modifying the hard surface of plastics and other materials. Offering protection and aesthetic improvement through a soft, velvety feel, these coatings have become known as soft-touch coatings.
Humans Are Attracted to Soft Things
We acknowledge soft, as in soft as a babies underside, soft as snow, soft as a feather, soft as the voice of an angel, soft fabrics, and soft as a kitten or puppy. We humans, as it is well known, are emotionally attracted to soft things and their tactile feel, hence the appeal of soft-touch surfaces.
Haptics, is the scientific term relating to the sense of touch, or how we perceive how an object feels to our touch. Often, we seem to gloss over how an item feels to our touch. However, touch and feel is important since we readily use emotional terms, such as warm, soft, velvety or luxurious to describe what it is that we feel through touch.
Information, data collected by our fingertips and skin are communicated to our brain instantly and processed to register tactile sensation. This may be perceived, or felt in numerous ways, such as cold, warm or hot, soft, velvety or gentle, hard or sticky, repulsive or pleasant, of high or low quality. Importantly, feel plays a critical role in buy or don’t buy consumer decision making.
The attributes, soft, warm, velvety, pleasant are not often used to describe hard surfaced materials, such as metals and plastics, materials often used to fabricate consumer products.
Consumer Research in the Automotive Industry
The automotive industry was one of the first to determine that technology and appearance advances alone do not guarantee sales success. Through consumer research, they recognized the positives of providing their consumers with soft feel surfaces that would be interpreted as high quality and convey feel good comfort.
These findings lead to the development of engineered soft-touch coatings requiring a particular look and performance combined with a certain feel. These coatings are said to have become a blending of science and art.
The early adopting automotive industry has benefited from soft-touch coatings that have offered the multiple desirable benefits. First they have provided aesthetic and haptic qualities to a variety of interior trim components including, steering wheels, door trim, arm rests, and consoles. In terms of properties, they importantly exhibit low gloss-low reflectivity levels, while providing high resistance to abrasion and scratching. Furthermore, they have become available in a range of required colors and desired effects.
Where Soft-Touch Coatings Can be Found
The introduction and development of soft-touch coatings have tremendously enhanced the image of hard surfaced materials, especially connoting high quality, and feel good comfort.
Soft-touch coatings applications continue to explode following adoption by consumer electronics producers and others. Soft-touch coatings may be found on, lap-top computers, smart phones, MP3 players, notebooks, tablets, etc., medical devices, cosmetic, and other packaging, household appliances, shavers, vacuum cleaners, furniture, etc.
Graphic arts industry soft-touch applications also abound with coatings suitable for paperboard and plastic software boxes, plastic labels, heatset web-bulk mailing cards and promos, plastic tubes & tough plastic labels, HP Indigo soft-touch top coats, as well as business cards, brochures, catalogs, postcards, etc.
Eco Friendly Soft-Touch
First generation soft-touch coatings were high VOC solvent based. World-wide government regulations have prodded a movement toward environmentally friendly, GREEN technologies. This resulted in the development of second generation two-component polyurethane waterborne soft- touch chemistry (PUDs). Also available are one and two part UV cured soft-touch, tactile finishes. Additionally, low VOC one-part aqueous soft-touch coating systems are available.
Soft-touch aqueous or UV coatings as describes earlier, when applied, create a soft tactile feel. When applied to paper or paperboard the surface becomes softer to the touch than either standard aqueous or UV coatings and becomes abrasion, mar and fingerprint resistant.
Eco friendly, green soft-touch graphic arts coatings are often described as coatings that take finishing to another level, a level that is perceived as luxurious and high quality.
Just about any printed product can benefit from the application of a velvety, smooth; soft-touch coating that causes a consumer to react positively.
Cork continues to advance its environmentally responsible GREEN technology utilizing sustainable renewable (bio) resource materials content.