The present invention relates generally to the art of applying printed
images to objects and specifically to the use of an ink type printer for transferring
a computer image onto a target object at an ambient temperature using an intermediate
Techniques for printing images and words on objects are numerous and
include the processes of letterpress, lithography, gravure and screen printing.
In order to determine the appropriate process for a particular job, considerations
of quality, quantity, complexity of the reproduction, number of colors, characteristics
of the target object or medium, and cost must be evaluated and balanced. Additionally,
with the development of high quality, economical printers available for connection
to economical multimedia computers, the layperson is capable of creating and printing
high quality images and documents which include high resolution color.
Printers to be attached to computers generally are either a laser
type printer or an ink type printer. The laser type printers use heat to bond a
toner to the surface of the medium, typically paper, passing through the printer.
The ink type printers selectively spray the inks onto the medium, again typically
paper, passing through the printer. Both types of printers are capable of high resolution
in the order of 600-1200 dots per inch or better. Some types of printers, especially
laser types, are capable of a resolution which is much higher.
While these types of printers offer tremendous savings over the traditional
processes of printing discussed above in terms of economy and time, they have the
disadvantages of limiting the type and size of medium which can be passed through
the printer. For example, virtually every printer requires that the medium be a
relatively flat surface. It would not be possible to feed a baseball through the
printer. Additionally, the size of the medium is limited to the size of the printer
and the feeding mechanism. Most economical printers are not capable of feeding though
a medium much wider than a sheet of legal paper. Also, the medium usually must be
flexible due to the fact that many printers do not allow the medium to pass through
the printer in a planer fashion. Thus, a piece of card-board may not be a suitable
medium because it may be too wide, too thick, or too rigid to pass through the printer.
The use of a type of printer known as a plotter may address some of these issues,
primarily the width and secondarily the rigidity, but for the most part a plotter
is encumbered with the same limitations as the other printers.
In order to print upon a medium which will not pass through a computer
printer, one of the other previously mentioned printing processes must be used.
The other printing processes also have their own disadvantages which include additional
time and cost. This is especially true in the initial stages of the printing process
known as the set-up. If the quantity of objects to be printed is sufficiently large,
the increased investment of time and resources for set-up may, and most likely will,
warrant the use of one of the traditional printing processes. However, if the quantity
of objects to be printed is small, the high initial set-up investment may make overall
printing cost per object too high.
An additional drawback to the traditional printing processes and the
high set-up investment is that it makes it impractical to view how the printed object
will look prior to the time when the process is ready for mass production. In other
words, the printing processes make it very difficult to make corrections or adjustments
after viewing the first printed object because the initial set-up investment already
has been made and a significant duplication of that investment would be required
to make any changes.
Thus, there is a need for a printing process generally which overcomes
the drawbacks of the previously discussed printing process and specifically which
is economical even when done in relatively small quantities, which allows for the
use of an ink type printer and which allows for printing on a wide variety of media
which cannot be passed through a printer
WO 95/23705 provides a method for awanging an image on a plate of
a thermoplastic plastic, which method comprises the following steps, to be performed
in suitable sequence, of (1) providing a plate of thermoplastic plastic, on at least
one side of which an ink-absorbing layer is present (2) providing an ink-jet printer;
(3) arranging in the ink reservoirs of this ink jet printer an ink which is suitable
for processing by the ink-jet printer and for absorption by the ink-absorbing layer,
(4) arranging the image with the ink-jet printer in inverted or mirror-image form
on an intermediate layer, for example siliconized paper; and (5) joining together
under pressure the intermediate layer obtained by step (4) and the plate provided
according to step (1) such that the image is taken over by the ink-absortting layer.
Disclosure of the Invention
The present invention relates generally to the art of applying printed
images to objects and specifically to the use of an ink type printer for transferring
a computer image onto a target object using an intermediate medium. Preferably,
the method of transferring requires only ambient temperature and hand pressure.
However, in some instances it may be desirable to provide more than hand pressure.
But no elevated temperature is required for the use of the present invention. The
present invention comprises a process wherein a digitized image is selected on a
computer device for printing on an ink-type printer. Preferably, the image is printed
with water-based inks and the non-absorbent medium has properties that receive the
water-based inks in a precise image pattern. Use of transparency film for laser
type printers or other translucent or opaque films having similar compositions provides
these properties. The side of the first medium which receives the ink image is the
front side. The film is then applied to a second medium and pressure is applied
to the back of the first medium such that the ink image is substantially transferred
to the second medium.
The pressure used to transfer the ink image from the first medium
to the second medium can be accomplished by burnishing, rollers, stamps or any other
means of applying pressure which provides for a substantial vertical pressure applied
to the back side of the first medium. A high density transferred image can be accomplished
by repeating the process one or more times with care being given to precisely overlay
the ink images. Preferably, a high density transferred image can be accomplished
with one act of transferring if one selects the appropriate non-absorbent medium,
the appropriate settings of the computer image, is discussed below.
The second medium can be comprised of virtually any material such
as wood, plastic, glass, metal, ceramic, acrylic, vinyl, self-adhesive vinyl, paint,
paper, cardboard. The second medium surface must be suitable for receiving the ink
image. If the surface of the second medium is not naturally suitable, it may need
to be prepared either by marring or by applying an appropriate substrate. The preparation
of the surface need only be in the portion of the surface which is to receive the
After the ink image has been transferred to the second medium, a sealant
can be applied over the transferred image to protect the ink image. Various types
of ink can be used in the ink type printer including water soluble ink, non-water
soluble ink, high pigment density ink, and ink with sealant.
Sources for images to be selected on the computer include the use
of a scanner, the use of a digital camera, downloading an image from a remote source
(such as a disk or network), and creating a new image on the computer. Prior to
printing the selected computer image, the image can be manipulated. Manipulation
of the image can include adjusting brightness, colors, orientation, size, background,
foreground, shape and various other visual effects. A variety of image manipulation
computer programs are available to those skilled in the art. Among these are Adobe
PageMaker, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, 3M Graphic Maker Ink Jet Software
(Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company (3M)), and many others. The ability
to manipulate the image is important to the ability to control the image received
by the non-absorbent medium for its transfer on the second medium.
An object of the present invention is to provide an image transferring
process which allows for the use of a computer and ink type printer to print and
transfer an image onto virtually any surface.
Another object of the present invention is to provide an image transferring
process which allows for transferring an image onto a target surface with no temperature
elevation during the process.
A further object of the present invention is to provide an image transferring
process which allows for transferring an image onto surface which can not be passed
through a typical ink type printer.
Another object of the present invention is to provide an image transferring
process which allows for preparation of a medium which typically is not a suitable
surface for receiving a printed image.
Still another object of the present invention is provide an image
transferring process which allows for transferring computer selected images onto
virtually any surface in a manner which is fast, effective and economical even when
used for printing small quantities.
Other objects, advantages, and novel features of the present invention
will become apparent from the following detailed description of the invention when
considered in conjunction with the accompanying drawings.
Brief Description of the Drawings
Best Modes for Carrying Out the Invention
- Fig. 1 is a flow chart for a method of image transfer detailing the various
steps of the present invention;
- Fig. 2 is a block diagram detailing the steps and methods used in surface preparation:
- Fig. 3 is a block diagram detailing the various methods of selecting a digitized
- Fig. 4 is a block diagram detailing the various ways in which the digitized
image can be manipulated;
- Fig. 5 is a block diagram detailing the various types of ink which can be used
in the printer: and
- Fig. 6 is a block diagram detailing the various methods of transferring the
image to a second medium.
To assist in a better understanding of the invention, a description
of different forms and embodiments of the invention will now be described in detail.
Reference will be made to the accompanying drawings. Reference numbers and letters
will be used in the drawings to indicate specific parts and locations on the drawings.
The same reference numerals and letters will be used throughout the drawings unless
Referring now to Fig. 1, a flow chart diagram of the image transferring
method (10) of the present invention is shown. In order to facilitate a better understanding
of the image transferring method (10), a general discussion of the process will
be discussed followed by a more detailed discussion of the various steps.
The first step of the image transferring method of the present invention
is to prepare the surface (12) of the object or item which ultimately is to receive
the image. This step (12) may not always be necessary and will be discussed in greater
detail below. After preparing the surface (12) of the object to receive a transferred
image, if necessary, the image to be transferred must be selected on a computer
(14). After the image has been selected on the computer (14), the image is manipulated
or modified on the computer (16). The two most common types of image manipulation
(16) are reversing the image and adjusting the brightness of the image.
After the image has been manipulated (16) and is in its final form,
the image is printed onto a non-absorbent medium (18), such as a film transparency
made for use with a laser type printer, hereinafter referred to as "laser transparency
film." The printing on the laser transparency film is done, however, utilizing an
ink type printer connected to the computer. Using a laser type printer will not
work with the present invention. The printer must be of the type which essentially
sprays the ink or inks onto the medium passing through the printer.
The laser transparency film is a non-absorbent medium having properties
which allow it to relieve the ink image in a precise image pattern. Any translucent
or opaque film having similar properties may be used.
The laser transparency film, also known as the transfer medium, includes
a front side and a back side. For the sake of discussion, it should be assumed that
the ink image is positioned on the front side of the transparency film. Using a
non-absorbent medium allows the ink image to remain on the surface of the transfer
medium. It may sound unusual and surprising that a laser transparency film is being
used in an ink type printer, but despite warnings not to do this on at least the
3M brand of laser transparency films, that is precisely what is being done in this
This process will work even if the laser transparency film is made
to be opaque. Other smooth non-absorbent mediums (18), besides laser transparency
film can also be used. The transparency film made for ink type printers, hereinafter
called "ink transparency film" having a solution on one surface cannot be used in
this process unless the smooth, back side is used, contrary to the instructions
on the transparency package which warns against reversing the transparencies. Reversing
the ink transparency film may, however, cause the ink type printer to malfunction
and that is why the use of laser transparencies are used as a preferred embodiment.
The transparency film, or transfer medium, with the ink image on the
front side is then placed front side down onto the object or item, also called the
target object, which is to receive the image. The image is then substantially transferred
(20) from the transfer medium to the target object by applying pressure on the back
side of the transparency film. The transparency film is then carefully removed from
the target object.
The transfer occurs without application of heat. Mere ambient temperature
with hand or manual tool pressure is sufficient to transfer the image from the transfer
medium to the target object or second medium. Unlike other transfer processes known
to those skilled in the art, such as the transfer of images to cloth (especially
T-shirts) which require the application of elevated temperatures, the method of
present invention avoids the necessity of heated transfer. This provides several
advantages to those using the present invention. No excess energy is required for
the transfer. No heat is present, allowing transfer with danger of burns to human
skin or damage to other items including the second medium or target object which
itself can be heat-sensitive. Most importantly, the avoidance of heat removes a
complicating factor to the transfer step that makes the method of the present invention
more convenient, less costly, safer, and more versatile than methods known in the
art that involve or require heated transfer of image. For this reason, the present
method is a "cold transfer process" in that it does not require heat to work.
The target object is then inspected to see if the image is satisfactory
(22). If the image is not satisfactory, then the image may be removed from the target
object (24). Removal of the image typically only requires that the target object
be washed with water because most of the inks used in ink type printers are water
soluble. If the image is acceptable the image is allowed to dry. If it is determined
that another image should be applied (26), the steps of printing the image (18)
and transferring the image (20) are repeated. Applying another image is essentially
just applying another coat of ink which provides for brighter and more defined colors
in the image.
When all of the images have been transferred and dried, a sealant
can be applied (28). The type of sealant is dependent upon the type of material
used as the target object. The sealant provides a layer of protection as well as
providing the opportunity to select various finished looks such as flat, semi-gloss,
gloss and satin. At this time, the best known sealant for most plastics is Krylon
#1312 spray, also referred to as KAMAR Varnish, available from Krylon Products Group,
Specialty Division, of the Sherman Williams Company of Solon, Ohio. Alternatively,
rather than applying a sealant, the image can be protected by an adhesive laminate
that is clear and protects the image. Commercial sources for such over laminates
include Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company (3M).
Referring now to Fig. 2. in order to insure that the target object
will properly receive the ink image from the transfer medium, the surface of the
target object may need to be prepared. In order to properly receive the ink image,
the surface of the target object must either be absorbent, porous, or sufficiently
abrasive. All target object surfaces must be clean (32) and dry (33). Whether the
surface of the target object needs additional preparation depends upon the type
material of which the medium is made.
If the target object, or second medium, is made of a material such
as wood, paper, cardboard or another similarly absorbent material, the surface need
not be prepared other than to be clean (32) and dry (22). However, if the target
object is made of a material such as plastic, glass, acrylic, metal, vinyl, self-adhesive
vinyl, or another similarly non-absorbent, smooth material, the surface must be
prepared such that it will properly receive the ink image. Obviously, it is only
necessary to further prepare the portion of the surface which will actually receive
the ink image.
One method of preparing the surface is to roughen or mar the surface
(34) of the target object. By roughening or marring the surface of the target object,
the surface will become abrasive and will then properly receive the ink image. One
method of marring the surface is sand blasting (35). In one method of the present
invention, the marring occurs using a 150 grit aluminum oxide in the sand blasting
process. The sand blasting process can benefit from construction of a suitable container
for the sand blasting, according to methods known in the art. Another method of
marring the surface is to use sand paper (36). Still another method of marring the
surface is to use an emery cloth or emery board (37). A still further method is
burnishing the surface with a rough roller.
Another method of preparing the surface of the target object is to
apply a suitable substrate to the surface (38). A suitable substrate is any substrate
that will adhere to the surface of the target object and is sufficiently absorbent,
porous, or abrasive such that it will properly receive the ink image. In a preferred
use of the substrate, the substrate is transparent and provides for a slightly abrasive
surface after applied. Another common but excellent substrate is latex paint. Different
colors of latex paint can be utilized to add another visual dimension to the transferred
Referring now to Fig. 3, the various sources of images to be selected
(14) are shown. Prior to printing an image, it must either be acquired or created.
An image can be acquired from many sources including the use of a scanner (42),
the use of a digital camera (44) or by downloading an image (46) from another source
such as a disk, hard drive, cd-rom, application program or network. An image can
also be created (48) on the computer using any one of the many word processing,
graphics, paint, draw programs available or virtually any other program which allows
the user the option of printing. These programs are well known to one skilled in
the art. When the image is actually selected, it need not necessarily be viewed.
Referring now to Fig. 4, the various methods of manipulating an image
(16) are shown. Many of the programs discussed above are capable of performing the
following manipulations. As discussed above, the two most common manipulations are
brightness adjustment (50) and reversal of the image (51). Adjusting the brightness
of the image (50) can be done for visual effect but is more often used to lighten
the image. By lightening the image, less ink is sprayed onto the transfer medium.
If too much ink is used on the transfer medium, the risk of having the image smear
as it is transferred onto the target object is increased. It is better to apply
two thinner coats of ink than to apply one heavy coat. Reversal of the image (51)
is used simply so that the image will be correctly oriented after the image is transferred
from the transfer medium to the target object. This is typically necessary when
the image to be transferred includes text.
Many other image manipulations can be accomplished and relate solely
to the visual aspects of the image. These manipulations include rotating (52), enlarging
(53), reducing (54), color adjustment (55), background removal (56), foreground
removal (57), background addition (58), foreground addition (59), image addition
(60) and image removal (61). Many other visual effects such as stretching, twisting,
spiraling and the like can be accomplished with various graphics programs.
During the manipulation of the image, alignment guides can be added
outside of the image which can be used to help align images when multiple coats
are applied. Alignment guides can be virtually any shape but in a preferred embodiment
comprise to small dots on opposite sides of the image.
Referring now to Fig. 5, a sampling of the various types of inks which
can be used in the printing step (18) of the present invention are shown. The printer
used in the printing step (18) must be an ink type printer which sprays out the
ink such as printers which use Hewlett Packard InkJet Cartridges or Canon BubbleJet
Cartridges. As mention previously, the inks used in ink type printers are in liquid
form (64) and are water soluble (65). However, two variations on the ink types could
be used to help counter the potential for smearing as discussed above. First, a
high pigment density ink (67) could be used. This type of ink would allow for brighter
colors without the need of applying a heavy coat or multiple coats. Second, ink
with a higher viscosity, such as an ink in gel form, would also allow thicker coats
to be applied while reducing the likelihood of smearing. Preferably, inks in the
ink type printer can be pigmented thermal inkjet inks, pigmented piezo inkjet inks,
or dye-based inkjet inks. A number of commercial sources for these inks are known,
including Hewlett Packard Corporation, Encad Corporation, Canon Corporation, Minnesota
Mining and Manufacturing Company (3M), and others. One advantage of the present
invention is ability to use the transfer method of the present invention with a
variety of inkjet inks and printheads in a number of ink type printers. For example,
one can use the transfer method on desktop inkjet printers or floor mounted printers
that print images up to about 50 inches wide. These "large format" printers produce
images which also benefit from the transfer without application of heat to a second
Two other types of ink may be used to reduce the need for applying
the sealant coat in the final step. First, a non-water soluble ink could be used
which is less likely to deteriorate without a protective sealant. Second, an ink
with an included sealant (68) could be used. These types of inks would self seal
as they dry. It is even possible that these inks could be washed off prior to the
time they dry but before becoming permanent after drying. These two types of ink
greatly enhance the method of the present invention when the material of the target
object is cloth which is difficult to seal.
Referring now to Fig. 6. the types of pressure which can be applied
during the transfer process (20) are shown. The application of pressure to the back
side of the transfer medium greatly assists in the substantial transfer of the image
from the transfer medium to the target object, essentially another medium. The important
aspect of applying pressure is that it must be substantially vertical or perpendicular
to the transfer medium. Applying pressure which tends to slide across the transfer
medium wiil likely cause the ink image to smear. The preferred method of applying
pressure (70) is by using a burnishing tool (72). Rollers (75) and stamps (76) can
also be used to apply pressure.
As stated previously, the types of pressure used in the transfer process
(20) do not require the presence or use of heat. Therefore, the transfer process
(20) operates at ambient temperature, usually room temperature. If the transfer
process (20) is to occur in outdoor conditions, then one must consider the change
in temperature on the ink being transferred and the effect of ambient temperature
upon the target object. However, any application of heat to an outdoor target object
should not exceed normally room temperatures (less than about 75°-80° F) because
of the advantages to be gained from avoiding elevated heating of the transfer medium
or second medium, as discussed above.
With suitable instruction, one can employ a personal computer, an
inkjet printer, and the media discussed with respect to this invention to provide
a beautiful and precise image on a target object that could not have previously
displayed such an image. This invention opens the possibilities of inkjet imaging
to many target objects that could not otherwise be imaged with inkjet inks or through
ink type printers.
Those using the method of this invention can produce imaged three-dimensional
objects, where all three dimensions provide shape to the object. Prior to the present
invention, one was limited to the flat three-dimensional sheets of media that could
reliably fit through an ink type printer. With the present invention, the transfer
process operates on any suitable three-dimensional object that has been prepared
as discussed above. Because the types of pressure to be applied during the transfer
process (20), the three-dimensional object should not have compound curves that
could interfere with the transfer step using pressure. However, a three-dimensional
object with flat surfaces and/or simple curves can be imaged using the present invention.
With the absence of heat being required for transfer, the process
is safe for use by commercial and personal users of personal computers and ink type
printers of various sizes, speeds, production capacities etc.