Combating Static On Styrene Faced Sign Substrates

Combat Substrate Static with Styrene Faced Sign Making Materials

Signmakers Wage War On Substrate Static

An ongoing war is waged daily between large format printers and substrate static electricity generated by styrene faced sign materials. We have witnessed battle scars ranging from edge overspray to ghosting lines in prints caused by static fields misdirecting ink droplets as they leave the printhead and travel to the substrate surface.

Inkjet Droplets Effected by Substrate Static
Inkjet Droplets Effected by Static Charge
Substrate Static Causing Ink Droplet Overspray
Substrate static causing overspray and fuzzy print edges from ink droplet migration.
To vanquish an enemy, you have to know them. Let’s begin with understand what substrate static is.

Electrostatic Discharge (ESD), is commonly referred to as static. ESD is what you felt when you shuffled you feet across the living room floor and then devilishly shocked your nearest parent or sibling. The “shock”, was the discharge of particles stored in your body passed on to your unsuspecting victim.

Let’s take a quick physics refresher to better understand what is happening. Electricity is made up of atoms consisting of 3 basic parts:

  • Nucleus- the center of an atom made up of Protons and Neutrons
  • Protons – Positively charged particles located within an atom’s nucleus
  • Electrons – Negatively charged particles that travel around the nucleus
  • Neutrons- Neutrally charged particles located in the nucleus

When an atom has the same number of protons and electrons it is stable or has a neutral electrical charge.
When atoms have differing amounts of protons in relation to electrons it is considered unstable; resulting in a static charge.

Even and Uneven Atom Charge Effecting Substrate Static

Now, stay with me.
Negatively charged electrons encircling an atom can travel freely back and forth among other atoms. When this movement is unrestricted, the atoms quickly stabilize as the electrons flow freely and evenly; occurring within mediums known as conductors. Plastics including styrene, are insulators against the flow of electrons between atoms; resulting in unstable atoms and a static charge.

Good conductors eliminate substrate static
Conductors such as metals allow easy flow of Protons & Electrons between atoms providing balance and a neutral electrical charge.


Insulators cause buildup of substrate static
Plastics such as styrene are insulators that inhibit the flow of protons & electrons resulting in uneven distribution between atoms that causes an electrostatic charge and causes substrate static.

How Humidity Relates to Substrate Static

Relative humidity also impacts the presence and dispersion of substrate static. Printshop environments possessing the ability to closely control their environments enjoy the added benefit of lowered static levels within their plastics. Relative humidity levels between 60%- 70% provides air with greater conductivity allowing for easier absorption and distribution of excess particles. In essence, higher humidity allows for easier discharge of static charge.

Whew! Okay, So How Do We Fight Substrate Static?

Now that we know our enemy a little better, we can plan our attack. Since we now understand that static is caused by atoms with uneven ratios of protons vs. electrons, we need some artillery that can resolve this. Let’s look at several popular methods currently available.

Electrostatic Discharge Ionizing Guns
ESD’s are available as a pressurized gun or wand device that distributes neutrally charged ionized air across the surface of your substrate. The ionized air attracts electrons away from the substrate’s surface atoms resulting an evenly charged and neutral atoms; thus dissipating the  static charge from your sign substrate. Examples of these devices include:

Electrostatic Discharge Wands
ESD wands may consist of a rod or string that comes in contact with the sign substrate as it is fed into the machine. These wands are grounded to the printer chassis to assist in the discharge of electrostatic. Examples of these include:

Controlling humidity in your printing environment can greatly reduce electrostatic charge with sign substrates.
Examples of these may include: