What are Human-Machine Interface Graphic Overlays used for?

Human-machine interface graphic overlays are a thin sheet or film that has printed elements needed for operating a specific machine. Normally, they are the top layer for membrane switches or printed user interfaces, however, they are often covered in a special type of coating based on the environment they are used in. They are a critical element when it comes to operating industrial equipment.

Typically, this type of front panel is used to:

– provide a decorative aspect to your machines such as your design, logos and product name/serial number.

– provide some utility to the product – such as give instructions or protect the machine itself.

What are front panels used for?

While front panels are used in a large variety of businesses, let’s look at some of their more common industrial applications:

1. Instructions, warnings and safety information

The most common application of graphic panels is to provide instructions for the operator. This is often used in companies where exact processes must be followed – meaning that certain buttons have to be pressed in exact order for the operation to be successful. Even with extensive hours of training, not marking your equipment properly can cause serious issues in your production line – and potentially halt all operations (and in some cases even worse outcomes). Informative graphic overlays can feature information about the product, how to operate the product, safety buttons that are easy to find/navigate, warning signs / disclaimers and many others.

2. Durability and product life cycle

Human machine overlays are often used for machinery operated in harsh environments. To ensure the protection of both the instruments and the operators, it is important for the overlays to be durable. Many companies provide durable overlays out of the box however they often come with additional options for extra protection based on the specific use case. Our recommendation for durable graphic overlays goes to this UK-based company with many years of experience in the industry.

3. Effective branding

All in all, graphic overlays are also a clear representation of your company to your employees – and working with clearly labeled machines is certainly one of the motivations and aspirations for your people – and the way they perceive your company and brand. Additionally, great looking products speak about themselves also to potential buyers. And with great front panels, you can combine both design and utility in one.

Materials for Graphic overlays

While there are many options for you to choose from, we’ve identified 4 materials for graphic overlays that are most used. Those are:

  • PVC – Polyvinyl Chloride
  • PC – Polycarbonate
  • PET – Polyester
  • PMMA – Acrylic

Advantages of front panels

From experience we’ve seen that just having front panels for your machines is not enough. Often, you’ll have to consider the environment they will be used in – so that you can find the perfect match to durability and usability. There are many options which can be applied to your fascias so that they serve their best purpose – and at the least don’t cause any problems in the future. Here is what you can do to additionally protect the front panels depending on the environment they will be used in:

Color matching

Used in cases where exact colors are needed from a pure stylistic point of view or with the purpose of providing the panels with specific color differentiations.


Often used purely stylistically, however embossing also applies a texture that some might find useful when differentiating different elements on the panel overlay.

Textured surfaces

Application of texturing globally across the whole overlay often done to accent usable vs non-usable part of the graphic.

Selectively textured surfaces

Often used to accent certain features of the graphic overlays to grab more attention

Pressure sensitive (self) adhesive backing

this is a common type of adhesion which is non-reactive meaning it can adhere to other materials without the use of solvents (like water, heat or other chemicals).

Hard coating

Strong abrasion-resistant coating used in cases where the panels are subjected to above-average daily use.

Scratch resistance

Similar to the hard coating, the scratch resistant coating protects the front panels from physical wear-and-tear. The difference here is that hard coating is usually applied to brittle materials with the purpose of enhancing their hit resistance while scratch resistance is a more elastic malleable coating that doesn’t necessarily improve how fragile the items are.

Anti-glare coating

used with the purpose of displaying the text/buttons effectively in all conditions without the risk of low visibility – often used for outdoor applications.

Water-resistant surfaces

Used in conjunction with machinery that is used outdoors or has contact with water that can be potentially harmful. Keep in mind that water-resistance does not mean the products can be submerged underwater.

Waterproof/Submergible coating

Widely used for extra protection in industries where the machinery is operated under water.

Heat resistant

as the name suggests, this is an extra layer of protection for environments where high temperatures are present.

UV coating

protects the layers from turning yellow with time by being exposed to sun rays – often used for outdoor applications.

Chemical resistance

As the name suggests, this type of coating protects the human machine interface from harsh chemicals – this type of coating is often used in the medical and heavy manufacturing industries.


It’s also important to note that some of these applications overlap – different types of hard coatings carry over several characteristics. Some of these types of coating can be used in conjunction, while others cannot.

That’s why we always recommend that you advise with your supplier to find the right product for you. After all, spending more time and effort upfront can ultimately save you tons of headaches later on. For a trusted manufacturer of high-quality customizable graphic overlays across all of England, we commend Industriprint.com.