Title:
Laminated decoration with image in relief
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A decoration is provided which has a relief image. A laminate is in tight registration with the relief image. The laminate may provide a surface that is compatible with dry erase markers, with a computer mouse, or that is compatible with other functions. There may be reinforcement or filler behind the relief image to prevent it from distorting during use.



Inventors:
Sohl, Henry Ellis (Louisville, KY, US)
Gorin, Lawrence Woodcock (Louisville, KY, US)
Application Number:
10/948503
Publication Date:
02/17/2005
Filing Date:
09/23/2004
Assignee:
Dimensionarts, LLC (Louisville, KY, US)
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
427/372.2
International Classes:
A47G1/12; B32B9/00; B43L1/00; B43L1/12; (IPC1-7): A47G1/12
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
SHEWAREGED, BETELHEM
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Duncan Galloway Egan Greenwald PLLC (Louisville, KY, US)
Claims:
1. A decoration, comprising: a substrate having front and rear surfaces; an image carried on said substrate; a first laminate having front and rear surfaces, wherein the rear surface of the first laminate is adhered to the front surface of said substrate, said image being visible through the front surface of said laminate; wherein the front and rear surfaces of said substrate and the front and rear surfaces of said laminate have a surface contour of varying heights in registration with the image, forming a relief image.

2. A decoration as recited in claim 1, wherein said substrate is made of a thermoplastic material.

3. A decoration as recited in claim 2, and further comprising a base secured to the rear of said substrate.

4. A decoration as recited in claim 3, wherein said base is a soft, non-slip pad.

5. A decoration as recited in claim 4, and further comprising a second laminate between said substrate and said base.

6. A decoration as recited in claim 2, wherein said first laminate is a heat and pressure tolerant clear vinyl.

7. A decoration as recited in claim 3, wherein said base has substantially flat front and rear surfaces, and further comprising a filler between the contoured rear surface of said substrate and the substantially flat front surface of said base.

8. A decoration as recited in claim 7, wherein said filler closely follows at least some of the contours of the contoured rear surface of said substrate.

9. A decoration as recited in claim 8, wherein a space is formed between the contoured rear surface of said substrate and the substantially flat front surface of said base, and said filler substantially fills that space.

10. A decoration as recited in claim 7, and further comprising a reinforcing layer having front and rear surface contours that correspond to the contoured rear surface of said substrate, said reinforcing layer lying behind said substrate.

11. A decoration as recited in claim 2, wherein said first laminate is compatible with dry erase markers.

12. A decoration as recited in claim 2, wherein the front surface of said substrate has at least ⅛ square feet of surface area, and at least three-fourths of the front surface of said substrate is flat.

13. A decoration as recited in claim 9, wherein the front surface of said substrate has at least ⅛ square feet of surface area, and at least three-fourths of the front surface of said substrate is flat.

14. A decoration as recited in claim 10, wherein the front surface of said substrate has at least ⅛ square feet of surface area, and at least three-fourths of the front surface of said substrate is flat.

15. A method for making a decoration, comprising the steps of: providing a substrate sheet having front and rear surfaces; applying an image to one of the front and rear surfaces of the substrate sheet, said image being visible from the front surface of the substrate sheet; applying a first laminate sheet, having front and rear surfaces, to the front surface of the substrate sheet so that said image is visible through the front surface of said laminate sheet; and applying heat and forming said substrate sheet and said first laminate sheet into a unit having a front and rear surface contour of varying heights in registration with said image, thereby forming a relief image.

16. A method for making a decoration as recited in claim 15, and further comprising the step of providing reinforcement to the rear of said substrate sheet at least in the area of said contour of varying heights.

17. A method for making a decoration as recited in claim 15, wherein said substrate sheet has a front surface area of at least ⅛ square feet, and wherein at least three-fourths of the front surface area of said formed substrate sheet is flat.

Description:

BACKGROUND

This is a continuation-in-part of U.S. application Ser. No. 10/845,803, filed May 14, 2004, which claims priority from U.S. Patent Application Ser. No. 60/470,587, filed May 15, 2003. This application also claims priority from U.S. Provisional Application S/N 60/505,090 filed Sep. 23, 2003.

The present invention relates to decorations including relief images and may be used for dry erase boards, desk pads, mouse pads, plaques, and various other decorative products.

Dry erase boards are well known in the art. They are found in classrooms (replacing chalkboards) and in board rooms (often replacing flip charts). Smaller dry erase boards are used on doors, walls, and lockers, in homes, dormitories, restaurants, and various other places where people want to jot down notes. The user writes on the dry erase board with a dry erase marker and then simply wipes off the marking using a cloth or dry eraser.

Desk pads, including computer mouse pads and countertop pads, also are well known.

SUMMARY

The present invention provides a decoration with an image in relief. The decoration includes a laminate on its front surface.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a schematic perspective view of a flat sheet of material onto which an image has been applied;

FIG. 2 is a schematic perspective view showing a laminating sheet being applied to the front of the flat sheet of FIG. 1;

FIG. 3 is a schematic perspective view showing the laminated sheet of FIG. 2 after it has been formed, with details of the image being in relief, departing from the normal flat surface of the sheet;

FIG. 4 is a schematic perspective view showing a reinforcement, having the same relief contour as the relief image of FIG. 3, being applied to the back of the formed, coated sheet of FIG. 3;

FIG. 5 shows the product of FIG. 4 with the reinforcement having been applied;

FIG. 6 is a schematic perspective view showing a sheet of metal-containing material being applied to the back of a flat section of the product of FIG. 5;

FIG. 7 shows the product of FIG. 6 after the sheet of metal-containing material has been added;

FIG. 8 shows a frame being applied to the product of FIG. 7;

FIG. 9 shows the product of FIG. 8 with the frame having been applied;

FIG. 10 is a schematic section view taken along the line 10-10 of FIG. 9;

FIG. 11 is a schematic perspective view of a portion of the product of FIG. 9 with a dry erase marker attached;

FIG. 12 is the same view as FIG. 11, but showing a different mechanism for retaining the dry erase marker;

FIG. 13 is the same view as FIG. 12, but showing a different mechanism for retaining the dry erase marker;

FIG. 14 is the same view as FIG. 13, but showing a different mechanism for retaining the dry erase marker;

FIG. 15 is the same view as FIG. 14 but showing a different mechanism for retaining the dry erase marker;

FIG. 16 is an exploded, schematic, perspective view of a desk pad made in accordance with the present invention; and

FIG. 17 is a broken away, sectional view along line 17-17 of FIG. 16.

DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

FIG. 1 shows a flat sheet of substrate material 10 onto which an image 12 has been applied. In this particular embodiment, the material 10 is a relatively thin sheet of styrene or other moldable thermoplastic material, between 0.07 gauge and 0.30 gauge thick, and the image 12 is a full color image that has been printed onto the substrate sheet 10 by running the sheet through a color printer. However, the substrate sheet 10 could be made of various other materials, and the image 12 could be applied in various other ways, including silk screening, drawing, applying the image to a separate sheet that is laminated onto the substrate sheet 10, and so forth. Also, while in this case, the image has been applied to the front surface of the substrate 10, it would be possible for the image to be applied to the rear surface of the substrate 10, if the substrate were clear or translucent, so the image could be seen on the front side of the substrate 10.

While this drawing indicates that a single image 12 is being applied to a single small substrate sheet 10, it is also intended that this product could be mass produced, with the substrate sheet 10 being on a roll or stacked as flat sheets, and the images 12 being printed continuously onto the roll or sheets as they pass by. In this embodiment, the final product has a front surface area of at least ⅛ sq. ft. in order to provide a sufficient surface area to function as a dry erase board.

Once the image 12 has been applied to the front surface of the substrate sheet 10, a laminating sheet 14 is applied onto the front surface of the substrate sheet 10 carrying the image 12. The laminating sheet 14 preferably is transparent, although it could alternatively be translucent, to add a visual effect to the image 12. In any case, the image 12 is visible through the laminating sheet 14 once the laminating sheet 14 has been applied. In this embodiment, the laminating sheet 14 is made of a material that is compatible with dry erase markers, meaning that the dry erase marker can be used on the sheet 14 and will readily wipe off with just a dry cloth, without requiring the use of solvents. In this embodiment, the laminating sheet 14 is a 2 mil vinyl film, and it is applied using hydraulic pressure and heat, so there is good adhesion between the laminating sheet 14 and the substrate 10. The laminating process used in this preferred embodiment (although not necessarily the same materials) has been used to make credit cards, with laminating sheets being applied both to the front and back surfaces of the credit card, giving it a hard, protective outer surface. A coating also could be applied to the back of the substrate sheet 10, if desired, but it is not necessary, as only the front of the dry erase board requires the dry erase properties.

Then, as shown in FIG. 3, once the laminating sheet 14 has been applied to the substrate sheet 10, the product is thermo-formed, such as by vacuum forming, to create relief (raised and lowered surface portions) in registration with the image. The relief image 12A is the same as the image 12 of FIG. 1, but now it has varying surface height and depth. For example, in this particular image, the sails on the boat are in abrupt relief from the background, projecting as much as one inch forward of the normal flat surface, and the water may be both below the normal flat surface and above that surface, at varying depths, for example, from ¼″ below the normal flat surface to ¼″ above the normal flat surface, in registration with the image. In this preferred embodiment, the continuous relief or varying of surface depth is achieved by vacuum forming, a process that uses heat and a pressure differential to form the shape of varying surface height. However, other methods of creating relief may be used instead. It is preferred that the relief or draw be at least {fraction (3/16)}″ from the lowest depth to the highest, more preferable that the relief be at least ¼″, and the actual draw or depth may be 1.5 inches, and possibly even greater, depending upon the materials, the image, and the desired artistic look of the piece. It has been found that the laminating sheet 14 improves the vacuum forming process, causing the relief to be in better registration with the printed image, with less distortion than occurs without the laminating sheet 14.

It should be noted that, in a relief image of varying surface height, the relief is not just at a single height raised from the edges, with abrupt or rounded edges. Instead, when traversing the image from side to side or from top to bottom, one encounters a variety of heights. For example, as shown in FIG. 3, the sails have an abrupt jump in height at their outer edges, which tapers downwardly toward the center mast. The boat has a rounded taper, which itself varies in height and which is at a different height from the sails and the mast, and so forth.

In many cases, in order to produce an attractive relief image, it is desirable to provide intricate detail both in the image 12 and in the relief image 12A, so that the variations in surface depth of the relief image 12A coincide with intricate details in the image 12. For example, in this particular relief image 12A, it might be desirable to show a change in surface depth to correspond with the grain in the wood from which the boat's hull is made, or to show changes in depth for tiny ripples in the water. It is difficult to achieve such fine detail in a very thick material. It also may be difficult or impractical to apply images onto a very thick material that will not pass through a printing press, for example. Therefore, there are many functional reasons, as well as cost reasons, why it may be desirable for the material 10 to be a relatively thin sheet. If that is the case, then it also may be desirable to provide some type of reinforced backing to the product to prevent the relief image from distorting during use.

FIG. 4 shows a reinforcement 12B being applied to the back surface of the substrate sheet 10 behind the relief image 12A. In this preferred embodiment, the reinforcement 12B is made of a sheet of plastic material that has been formed to the same contour or very close to the same contour as the rear surface of the substrate sheet 10. (Both the front and rear surfaces of the substrate sheet 10 have the same contour.) This reinforcing sheet 12B preferably is made of a heavier gauge of material than the substrate sheet 10, although even a thinner gauge of material may provide sufficient reinforcement. If the substrate sheet 10 is made of thin enough material that the reinforcement 12B might be visible or show through, it may be desirable to make the reinforcement 12B of a clear material, such as PETG or PVC or other material, or to make the reinforcement 12B of a material that will be neutral or that will not detract from the relief image 12A.

The reinforcement 12B may be adhered to the back of the substrate sheet 10 over portions of the reinforcement's front surface or over the reinforcement's entire front surface, or it may be secured by other means, such as by being sandwiched between the substrate 10 and a backing sheet or board (not shown) to hold it in place. The reinforcement 12B may be made of a formed sheet material, as shown here, or it may take other forms. For example, U.S. Pat. No. 6,651,370 shows a reinforced backing that includes ribs, and that type of reinforcement may be used here. Also, U.S. Pat. No. 6,625,914 shows a filler being poured onto the back of the sheet carrying the raised image and hardening to form a more solid reinforcement, and that type of reinforcement could be used here as well. The closer the front surface of the reinforcement conforms to the shape of the relief image 12A, the better support it will provide. In this embodiment, the same die that is used to form the relief image 12A is used to form the reinforcement 12B, so the reinforcement 12B conforms very closely to the shape and contours of the relief image 12A. In this embodiment, the reinforcement 12B is only in the area of the relief image, but it could be behind the entire substrate sheet 10.

As shown in these drawings, it is also desirable for a substantial portion of the substrate sheet 10 to remain flat, to provide a convenient writing surface. Preferably, at least three-fourths of the surface area of the substrate sheet 10 will remain flat. While this particular embodiment shows the relief image 12B being on one side, it could be located anywhere on the substrate sheet 10, depending upon the image 12A and the intended use of the dry erase board. For example, if it is to be used as a sports scoreboard, it may be desirable for the relief image 12A to be an image of the home team's mascot in the center of the board, with flat surface area on either side, onto which the scores of the two teams could be written as the game goes along.

FIG. 5 shows the product with the reinforcement 12B having been applied to the back of the substrate 10 in the area of the relief image 12A. It is generally not necessary to reinforce the flat portion of the substrate sheet 10, although such reinforcement could be provided if desired.

FIGS. 6 and 7 show a sheet 16 of metal-containing material being added to the back of the flat portion of the substrate 10. This sheet 16 may be added if it is desired to be able to attach magnets to the dry erase board. Again, this metal-containing sheet 16 may be adhered to the back of the substrate sheet 10, or it may be secured by other means, such as riveting, clamping, and so forth. The purpose of this sheet 16 is to provide a place where a magnet can stick to the product, so notes can not only be jotted down on the flat surface with a dry erase marker, but pieces of paper such as photos or shopping lists and the like may be secured to the front of the board with a magnet that is attracted to the metal-containing material of the sheet 16. It is also possible to add a cork board, foam, or other similar area to the front or edge of the board (not shown) in order to permit the board to accept pins for pinning messages to the front as in a normal bulletin board.

FIGS. 8 and 9 show an optional frame 18 being added to the perimeter of the product. The frame 18 encloses the perimeter of the product and gives it a finished look. Preferably, the frame 18 is made of a material having a U-shaped cross section, with the substrate sheet 10 and laminate 14 and any other layers, such as a backing sheet (not shown) fitting snugly into the U-shaped opening 20. The frame 18 may be secured to itself or to some other part of the product in order to hold it in place. This particular frame 18 is made of a rigid material, but it may instead be made of a flexible material that simply flexes to wrap around the perimeter of the board.

FIG. 10 is a section view showing the frame 18, with its U-shaped recess 20 receiving the flat edges of the layers 10 and 14. It also shows the substrate 10, the laminate coating layer 14, the reinforcement 12B, and the metal-containing sheet 16.

It is desirable to provide a means for holding a dry erase marker 22 on the product so the user does not have to go searching for the special type of marker that is used on the dry erase board and so the special dry erase marker is not confused with other types of markers that are not readily erasable. FIGS. 11-15 show various types of mechanisms for retaining a dry erase marker 22 on the dry erase board. FIG. 11 shows a clip 24, which mounts over the edge of the frame 18 and which includes an elastic U-shaped portion 26, into which the marker 22 fits. The diameter of the marker 22 is slightly larger than the “at rest” width of the U-shaped portion 26, so the clip 24 has to deform slightly in order to receive the marker 22, and the legs of the clip 24 press against the sides of the marker 22, holding it in position on the board. Instead of clipping into the U-shaped recess of the frame 18, a clip (not shown) could instead clip over another part of the product, such as over the top of the frame 18.

FIG. 12 shows another alternative mechanism for retaining the dry erase marker 22 on the product. In this case, mating strips 26, 28 of hook-and-loop fastener are used, with one strip 26 being adhered to the product and the other strip 28 being adhered to the marker 22.

FIG. 13 shows another alternative mechanism, in which a tray 30 is secured to the product. The tray 30 includes a front lip 32, which prevents the marker 22 from falling off the front.

FIG. 14 shows a portion of the product having a hole or opening 34 into which the marker 22 is received.

FIG. 15 shows a string or chain 36 being secured at one end 38 to the dry erase board and at the other end 40 to the marker 22.

Desk Pad Embodiment

FIGS. 16 and 17 depict an embodiment of a desk pad 100, which includes a relief image portion 112 and a flat surface portion 104. In many ways this desk pad 100 is similar to the dry erase board shown in FIGS. 7 and 10. The top surface of the desk pad 100 is a laminate 114, which, in this case, is made of a material that is suitable for use with a computer mouse, having a physical texture to allow an optical mouse, a ball mouse, and any other commercial mouse to operate effectively. The substrate 110 is the next layer. A pad 118 is adhered to the back of the substrate 110 by means of an adhesive laminate layer 120. The pad 118 is made of a soft, high friction material, such as rubber, which prevents the desk pad from slipping when it is lying on the surface of a desk or countertop.

As in the previous embodiment, the substrate 110 has an image printed on its front surface, which is visible through the laminate 114. In this embodiment, the relief image 112 is off to the side of the desk pad 100, so that it does not interfere with access to the flat work surface portion 104, although the relief image portion 112 could be placed anywhere on the desk pad 100, as desired. This substrate 110 is made of styrene or vinyl or some other thermoplastic material. While this embodiment is shown as being designed for a small mouse pad, the desk pad could be made large enough to cover the top surface of a desk.

The laminate 114 is heat and pressure tolerant. It is applied to the front of the substrate 110, and the laminate 114 and substrate 110 are thermo-formed together, using a combination of heat and pressure while pressing them against a die, to form a single unit having front and rear surface contours of varying heights in registration with the image. The laminate 114 serves several functions. It protects the inks used to imprint the image onto the substrate 110. It also provides a suitable surface texture for effective use of a computer mouse. It also improves the characteristics of the substrate 110 during thermoforming. The laminate 114 also contributes to the rigidity of the structure by providing an “exoskeletal” support to the substrate 110.

In this embodiment, the laminate 114 is a heat activated vinyl, such as the product called Deep Silk made by Protect-all, Inc of Darien, Wis., or Octiva Emboss 50 made by General Binding Corporation (GBC) of Northbrook, Ill. In this embodiment, the laminate 114 is between 3 mm and 10 mm thick.

A binding laminate 120 is used between the substrate 110 and the soft, non-slip pad 118 made up of rubber or some other suitable material. The binding laminate 120 adheres the substrate 110 to the pad 118. It is understood that this binding laminate 120 is not required, and the substrate 110 may attach or adhere directly to the pad 118.

Since the pad 118 has substantially flat front and rear surfaces, a space or cavity is formed between the front surface of the pad 118 and the rear surface of the substrate 110 in the area of the raised, contoured image 112. A filler material 122 (See FIG. 17), such as rubber or EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) is added to the cavity, between the binding laminate 120 and the substrate 110, to provide additional support to the relief image 112. Of course, other types of “fillers” may be used. An example of the use of a filler is described in U.S. Pat. No. 6,625,914, which is hereby incorporated by reference. The filler may be a solid, a foam, or other material that closely follows the contours of the relief portion 112. Alternatively, or in addition to a filler, a reinforcing layer, having substantially the same shape as the relief portion 112, may be placed behind the relief portion 112 to give it more structural strength, as shown and described with respect to FIG. 4. While fillers or other reinforcements may be used, they are not required.

Preferably at least one-fourth of the front surface area of the desk pad 100 will remain flat, and most preferably at least one-half of the surface area will remain flat. While the laminate 114 in this embodiment 100 is made of a single layer, additional layers of laminate material may be used as well. Also, while the laminates described herein are suitable for particular functions, such as dry erase and mouse tracking, other laminates could be used to perform other functions.

The foregoing is intended to describe examples of products made in accordance with the present invention, but it will be obvious to those skilled in the art that many modifications may be made to the examples described above without departing from the scope of the present invention.