Phenolic, Lamicoid, Bakelite, Norplex

We often receive inquiries regarding lamacoid, Bakelite, Norplex, Phenolic and similar terms for materials to use as engraving stock for tag production. Terms when ordering are important and if not properly understood can lead to errors in production. The generic term lami/lamacoid is an undefined term used casually to refer to all flat laminated engraving stock. Bakelite is a specific trademarked product making various castings and years ago included flat engraving stock. Bakelite has not been produced for decades.  Norplex is a melamine plastics manufacturer producing various products including their own line of engraving flat stock such as ES-1 and ES2.  Both Bakelite and Norplex use phenol resins in combination with aggregates or substrates which are then pressure and heat treated to polymerize the resin. What differs are the various mediums that the phenolic resins bond to. Unfortunately within the engraving community these terms are casually and interchangeably used including the term phenolic to refer to any and all flat engraving stock materials. Generally phenolic based flat stocks overall are a brittle material and quite difficult to cut and engrave. However they are sometimes preferred because they are generally perceived as nonflammable and electrically non-conductive. They are often not UV stable and meant generally for indoor use only.

Phenolic materials also are commonly believed to shed carcinogenic dust during machining, however manufacturers oppose such claims. They do however concur that formaldehyde used in its production is released from the material when machined. Phenolic materials were much more popular in the past when they were commonly the predominant engraving stock available and regulatory oversight was less stringent. Their continued generic reference on blueprints and in common vernacular is often a reflection of that past. It is typical for orders to arrive requesting “phenolic” when in fact what is really desired are the modern day equivalent acrylic lamicoids for outdoor use.  We call these long life modified acrylic.

Modern flat stock advancements and engraving capabilities have progressed since the days of the old “phenolics” and router based one-pass lettering. Rowmark, as well as other manufacturers of laminated impact acrylic engraving stock have created a broad variety of materials that are superior to the old phenolics and can generally accommodate the broad variability of most needs. Rowmark has even produced a new material called SafeTmark specifically aimed at duplicating the non-flammability and non-static building properties of phenolic while still being fabrication friendly. SafeTmark, like phenolic, is also an interior grade material. [Link: SafeTmark-Properties (PDF, 366KB)]

If for your application based upon a review of material specifications you find that you really need phenolic materials [as for specific areas of submarines, satellites, laboratories, airplanes, or electrical equipment spaces and such] then manufacturers like Norplex still produce phenolic in flat stock appropriate for engraving purposes. Outer surface is either glossy or matte finished and color choices are limited to basic industrial colors. We stock 1/16″ ES1 and ES3 phenolic melamine produced by Norplex for interior applications.  We are phasing out this material and stock is limited.

Standard Lamicoid Material

Our standard material is UltraMatte by ROWMARK [Links: UltraMatte-Front_Engrave-Properties (PDF, 129KB) and UltraMatte-Front-Engraveo-MSDS (PDF, 193KB)] which is an exterior/interior use rated laminated impact acrylic. This “lamicoid” is a superior product over other thinner faced materials designed exclusively for interior use. Its thicker surface layer provides longer wear outdoors. Although it is “officially” only tested for three years, in our experience outdoor exposures for as long as ten years show little wear or breakage. Lifespan however may vary significantly dependant upon particular circumstances and environment. This lamicoid has the longest life of exterior grade engraving stock that we can find. High quality and long life is our focus.

We recommend 1/16″ stock for most flush mount applications of small tags, signs and plates. 1/8″ stock is generally used for larger signs, as well as hanging tags in harsher environments. The 1/16″ thickness with our regular grade of double stick tape works well in most applications. Our regular grade double stick tape is paper thin yet strong and not visible from an edge view as are foam tapes. In outdoor applications we use“AUTO” tape which is a double stick tape designed specifically for outdoor application as trim on automobiles. AUTOtape uses include tags and signage on photovoltaic systems, deck side of ships, outdoor machinery, towers, exterior control panels, etc. AUTOtape is our default tape unless you request something else.  We stock some 3M tapes and foam tape.

Some colors of interior grade laminate are available in a 1/32″ thin lamicoid for use where having your legends plates very flush to the face of the panel is required. This stock has a much thinner face and therefore is not as hardy.  In the UltraMatte line there is both front and reverse engravable stock in 1/16" and 18" matrial. material. See the information on this on our Materials page.

Lamicoid Expansion Factor

There is a thermal expansion factor inherent to the acrylic based engraving stock that must be considered, especially for larger surface area tags and signs attached flat to host surfaces. In applications where there are temperature swings, we recommend that these tags and signs be installed with oversized holes and large head screws and washers; snug but not tight. This allows the plastic to move and not buckle or crack. Alternate hardware, high grade double-stick tape or a combination of both works well. The installer must be cognizant of the expected conditions to ensure attachment methods are appropriate. 
As a side note: The SATIN line of engraving stock which has an Acrylic cap and an ABS core, gets brittle after a few years.  This was the most commonly used material in the engraving world for many years.  The UltraMatte does not get brittle and crack easily.  We feel the UltraMatte that we stock is far superior to many of the engraving plastics commonly used when considering longevity and outdoor survival.