With such a large variety of plastic products available, it can be difficult to know which adhesive will best stick your graphic to your product. There’s low surface energy plastics and high surface energy plastics, and how well your adhesive wets out depends on that energy level.

Wetting Out

To effectively wet out a substrate, which means “to adhere it to another surface,” its surface energy must be higher than or equal to the surface energy of the adhesive. This assures the adhesive won’t bead up and slide off like water on a waxed car.

Low Surface Energy Plastics

Low surface energy plastics, often called LSE plastics, have surface molecules with low energy levels. This means an adhesive is unlikely to have a low enough surface energy to wet out efficiently. As a result, LSE plastics require more aggressive adhesives than their high surface energy counterparts.

Some common LSE plastics include

  • Polycarbonate, such as baby bottles, CDs, and control panel overlays.
  • Polyethylene, such as most toys, garbage cans, and electronic insulation.
  • Polypropylene such as gas cans, yogurt containers and car bumpers.
  • Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, such as vehicle dashboards, computer monitors, and LEGOs.
Computer keyboards are often created from acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, which is a low surface energy plastic.

High Surface Energy Plastics

High surface energy plastics, often called HSE plastics, have surface molecules with high energy levels. This means they require a less aggressive adhesive than LSE plastics because it’s easier for products to bond to HSE plastics than to LSE plastics.

Some common HSE plastics include

  • PVC/vinyl, such as pipes, tiles, window decals and bumper stickers.
  • High density polyethylene, such as soap bottles, shampoo bottles, milk jugs, and motor oil jugs.
  • Polyethylene terephthalate/polyester, such as soda bottles, switch overlays, and carpet.
  • Nylon, such as clothing, rope, nuts, bolts and vehicle bearings, bushings, and gears.

Which Adhesive Should I Use?

What this all means is that adhesives wet out easily on HSE substrates, but LSE substrates require a stronger adhesives to wet out. To assure your adhesive bonds to any and all plastics, opt for one made specifically for LSE plastics, such as 3M 9472LE or Necal 9502 adhesive transfer tapes. These LSE adhesives will stick to both LSE and HSE surfaces easily.

A few tips before getting started:

  • Aggressive LSE adhesives can be costly, so it is always a good idea to find out if your plastic is HSE or LSE before deciding which adhesive to use.
  • Before applying any adhesive, first test for your specific application.
  • Unsure which adhesive to select? Don’t hesitate to email Graphics Output at sales@gographicsoutput.com or call 260-748-0577. We’re happy to help!