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Thin, Thinner, Light Guide Film

E-book readers, tablets or smartphones are not only significantly lighter and thinner, but also more energy-efficient than a few years ago. The PLEXIGLAS® light guide films have contributed to this.

Without displays, telephones could have never turned into compact computers. The first screens, however, had nothing in common with the brilliancy of today's models. Today, HD-quality resolutions are no longer a problem; yet at the same time, the energy consumption has decreased significantly. This is mainly due to the fact that the suppliers of the display manufacturers have continuously improved the materials used. An example of this are the PLEXIGLAS® light guide films.

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This topic is a fine example of what “Evolution in acrylics is our passion” – the vision of Röhm’s Acrylic Products business unit – expresses, and what Röhm means by smart concepts in the chemical business. Read more about why evolution is part of the DNA of PLEXIGLAS®, why passion is so important in new projects, and how Röhm’s expertise will advance the development of this material in the years to come.

To produce a visible image on LCD displays, the display must be illuminated from behind. In edge-lit LED displays, light guides made of PMMA (Polymethylmethacrylate), such as Röhm’s brand product PLEXIGLAS®, often serve this purpose. The material conducts the stored light from the LEDs in the entire component surface, and, together with light emitting structures, provides a uniform illumination of the screen. The advantage: Contrary to ­models where the LEDs are directly behind the screen, displays using this technology can be much thinner.

Wafer thin: Light guide films

Due to its optical properties, PLEXIGLAS® is an excellent light guide

Markus Parusel
expert for light guide films at Röhm

During the past years, the light guides themselves have become thinner ­and thus lighter ­. In 2009 for example, a light guide sheet in a laptop display was 3 mm thick. Only three years later, the manufacturers halved these dimensions.  In tablets, light guides just 0.55 mm thick produced by injection molding or compressing molding were used. “But this was right at the limit of the thickness/surface ratio. The next step towards ever-thinner light guides came in the form of light guide films made from PLEXIGLAS®”, says Markus Parusel, expert for light guide films at Röhm. Today, PLEXIGLAS® light guide films are available with a minimum thickness of only 0.2 mm, while at the same time featuring the same optical properties as the original PLEXIGLAS® light guide sheets. “This way the light guide films contribute to making devices more convenient and, of course, lighter,” Parusel explains. Meanwhile, the restraining factor is no longer the thickness of the material, but the availability of very thin light-emitting LEDs that are positioned at the side and their construction height must be perfectly fitted to the film edge.

Explanatory video: Light guide films

How do ultra-flat displays work?

However, the focus of these display components is not on weight, but on brilliance. “Due to its optical properties, PLEXIGLAS® is an excellent light guide,” Parusel emphasizes. Special microscopic structures that are attached to the film conduct the light from the micro-LEDs to the entire surface and illuminate the display of tablets or smartphones from behind. “This backlighting technology creates a uniformly illuminated impression,” Parusel explains.

E-reader businesses prosper

Films: Easy to process

During production, light guide films offer several benefits: They are delivered on rolls and can be processed efficiently in a roll-to-roll process. For example in this process, the light emitting structures can be attached through different processes such as laser treatment, hot stamping and stamping into a UV-curable varnish.­

In other applications, the structures conducting the light must not be visible. For example the e-readers, which become increasingly popular, are usually illuminated through front lighting. This means that the display is illuminated by a light guide that is attached to its front. “It has to be transparent and should conduct the light as far as possible towards the e-reader’s display. Otherwise, the light guide would reduce the contrast,” says Parusel. There are special versions for these applications, in which invisible structures direct the light through the film.

In order to permanently retain the optical brilliance, the light guides must be transparent. “Some polymers turn yellow over time and would spoil the image. As a color-neutral material, PMMA has no negative influence on the colors,” says Parusel.

By the way: Light guide films are not just suitable for mobile end devices. For example they can help present retail furniture in the right light.