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What is Dead Front Printing?

A car dashboard with multiple backlit icons

Last updated Dec 21, 2023 | Published on Aug 5, 2022

Effective user interfaces only show the most critical information to the viewer at a given time. For certain applications, calling attention to an indicator or warning light while keeping others hidden is important to eliminate distractions, emphasize essential switches and indicators, and for user safety.

What is Dead Front Printing?

Dead front printing is the process of printing alternate colors behind the main color of a bezel or overlay. This effectively hides indicator lights and switches unless actively backlit. Then backlighting can be applied selectively to illuminate specific icons and indicators. Unused icons stay hidden in the background, calling attention solely to the indicator in use.

Dead Front Overlay Printing Methods and Substrates

There are two ways to illuminate a dead front overlay, each of which requires a different printing technique. The first method is to use LEDs directly behind each indicator or icon. This approach simplifies the printing process; since LEDs provide different colors, only a single color needs to be printed behind every icon.

Alternatively, selective printing can add different translucent colors behind various indicators and icons. Since the translucent ink behind the iconography gives the indicator its hue, dead front overlays printed this way can use almost any backlighting method.

Light diffusers are often applied between the lights and overlay to maintain consistency. Particularly with LEDs, diffusers can help eliminate hotspots, where one area of the letter or icon appears much brighter than other parts. Boyd makes custom diffusers for overlays depending on the necessary colors, light values, and external lighting environment to ensure that the backlighting is consistent.

While dead front printing is technically possible with almost any colored bezel or overlay, it’s generally seen on overlays and bezels printed with neutral colors; white, black, or gray hide unused indicators the most effectively. Dead front overlays are typically printed on polycarbonate, polyester, or glass, since they are easily back printed and hide icons effectively.

Developing Dead Front Control Panels with Boyd

When developing a new dead front overlay, experimentation is often necessary to get the perfect look. Given the breadth of possible lighting options, ink densities, color palettes, and substrates, maintaining a consistent look across an overlay often requires several prototypes to be developed. At Boyd, we have a state-of-the-art color lab, a light lab, and a full printing team to match and perfect colors. Within our color lab, spectrophotometers and spectroradiometers help define specific color values recommended for matching. Our printing team uses the light lab to specify the exact mixture and density of ink necessary for the specific substrate and required look.

Dead front printing is an excellent option for a wide variety of applications such as automotive dashboards, aerospace indicators, and Human Machine Interfaces (HMI). Learn how dead front printing can enhance your specific user interface by scheduling a consultation with our experts.

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