The Importance of IML Color

July 26, 2021

Color is everything.

From consumer psychology to important safety regulations, color can make or break a product. When it comes to the role of in-mold labeling (IML) in parts development, the range of possibilities can be both a benefit and challenge. Contrast, back lighting, neighboring materials, environment -- they’re all factors to consider when taking your printing project to an IML manufacturer.

A History of IML Printed Color

In many ways, the development of IML color technology follows the timeline of auto, home, and appliance trends. For example, prior to the last 10-15 years, most washers and dryers were situated in basements or garages, or otherwise hidden from view. This meant that an overall bright white color was good for doing laundry in the dark. In recent years, the trend of locating laundry rooms next to kitchens or entryways has changed the way people view working appliances. As they become home decor, appliances that use IML now come in a range of colors from bold red (popular in the early 2000’s) to stainless steel, black and grey.

In automotives, brand colors have become more important than ever. Try this: if you’re a two-car family, go look at your cars’ interiors side by side. If they’re from different manufacturers, it’s likely they’ll sport different shades of blacks and greys. In addition, there have been developments in safety standards that require exact color codes and intensities throughout a vehicle. Deviating from these standards can cause confusion or accidents for someone unfamiliar with a certain vehicle, and therefore the printed colors must all be the same.

IML color contrast

Factors That Affect IML Color

Because color is so important when it comes to printed IML parts, it’s helpful to know which factors can affect a color’s brightness, contrast or hue.

1. Contrast

Multi-color printed pieces must use hues that provide significant contrast to be easily read and operated. The goal is to avoid metamerism, which is the phenomenon of some colors appearing the same under certain lighting. Grey text might disappear into a white background, for example. This occurrence is more common than most people think, especially with neutral tones like blacks, greys, whites and similar colors.

2. Backlighting

Many manufacturers are choosing dead front display to add a high-end edge to their products. This technology allows certain features to be completely hidden until backlit. Because of this, we have to make sure certain printed parts meet requirements when both lit and hidden, and base the printed color on the specific illumination source that will sit behind it.

3. Environmental Lighting

It’s common for washing machines to live in bulb-lit environments, while cars operate outdoors in natural light. These variations in surroundings can affect the hue, prominence and visibility of IML printed colors. When defining your product’s color needs, it is important to factor in the lighting in and around the area it will be used. For cars, what will the color need to look like night and day? For dishwashers, what will the color look like in natural light (kitchen’s typically have lots of window lighting), and artificial nighttime light?

These are all questions to ask when considering your IML specifications.

auto interior IML color

What To Know About IML Color Printing

A lot of time is spent on color development. And for good reason.

A study about “Impact of Color on Marketing” found that 90% of immediate judgments about a product are based on color alone. For this reason, we take color printing seriously.

At Sanwa, it’s not uncommon to go through several color adjustments before final approval. Tier 2 manufacturers should plan for these adjustments when mapping out a development timeline with their IML printer.

It’s also important to test in various lighting environments. Some of our customers use a color lab to test a product under several variations of halogen, LED and natural lighting. If the part will be surrounded by other materials, such as metals or fabrics, it’s also important to light-test the parts together.

Contact Sanwa

Our manufacturing teams have decades of experience with IML color printing. If you have general questions about IML capabilities, or want to learn about new technologies available to meet your color needs, contact us through our online form or call (847) 519-2223.