Getting in Touch with Conductive Coatings

PPG coatings add protection and functionality to electronic devices

January 2023

Blog tag icon INNOVATION

Ever wonder how a smartphone responds to touch, why newer high-tech wallets help secure credit card data or how your car knows when you are not wearing your seatbelt?

The answer is conductive coatings, and they are used in literally thousands of every-day consumer, aerospace, automotive, industrial and military applications.

Paints and coatings become conductive when they are mixed with electrically conductive pigments made with tightly packed particles of materials like silver, carbon or silver-coated copper. These particles form circuitry that carries both electrical currents and information, shields devices from external electromagnetic interference or discharges static electricity.

Touch screen phone protected by PPG electronic material coatings

As one of the largest coatings makers in the world, PPG is a leading provider of polymer thick films (PTF) printed inks for conductive and resistance circuitry; and spray-applied conductive coatings for electromagnetic interference (EMI) and radiofrequency interference (RFI), and electrostatic discharge protection (ESD).

A Closer Look at Conductive Printed Inks

Conductive solutions like high-tech PTF inks enable the flow of electricity through both flexible and rigid materials like metal, plastic and glass via printed circuitry applied to the substrate. These conductive inks add functionality to devices and products by taking input from the end user and applying that input to control a product or to transmit information.

As consumers, we rely on printed PTF inks every day. Press the bake button on your oven and you are leveraging printed conductive inks housed within a membrane switch control. Launch an app from a smart phone and you are utilizing capacitive circuitry that uses the body's electrical current to signal printed sensors below the surface of the touchscreen. Or drive through a toll booth where your transponder transmits data to a printed antenna that captures trip and toll information.

These very fine ribbons of conductive materials have a broad - and growing - range of uses:

  • Membrane switch controls in appliances and computer keyboards
  • Electronic displays and touch screens (resistive - relies on pressure - and capacitive)
  • Biosensors for wearable medical devices like defibrillators, EKG electrodes and glucose test strips
  • Specialty sensors (resistive, capacitive and occupancy sensors) like those used in cars to detect occupants for seat belt alarms and air bag deployment
  • Printed antennas like those used in wireless charging battery packs, GPS, RFID, Bluetooth® and 5G
  • High-security passports that store and transmit traveler data
Multi-seat car with touch-screen stereo protected by PPG conductive coatings

Charging Ahead with PPG Spray-Applied Conductive Solutions

We are living in The Internet of Things (IoT) age as electronic sensors are installed into millions of objects that collect, process and share information across private and public networks.

As more devices become wirelessly connected, reducing electromagnetic and radio frequency interference from embedded electronic systems in competing devices, power lines, 5G, radio and cell towers that can lead to malfunctions and disruptions grows more imperative.

Coatings companies like PPG manufacture spray-applied conductive coatings that provide electromagnetic interference (EMI) and radiofrequency (RFI) shielding, while offering excellent conductivity and S.O.S. (Safe-On-Substrate) performance for a wide range of applications.

In military settings, RFI/EMI shielding coatings help to ensure that mission-critical electronic systems work together and reduce susceptibility to general electronic interference that can disrupt operations.

In aviation, electronic dissipative technologies are used to protect the integrity of navigation, flight control and communications systems, and in healthcare settings, EMI and RFI shielding coatings protect sensitive devices like pacemakers and implanted neurotransmitters from interference to preserve reliability and protect patient health.

Beyond guarding against interference, PPG also engineers electrostatic discharge (ESD) coatings that minimize the transfer of charged electrons, or static electricity, and protect against lightning strikes.

ESD coatings provide a protective surface layer that discharges electrons continuously to prevent a build-up that can then lead to shorts or sparks.

In industrial settings, for instance, manufacturers use ESD floor coatings to prevent the accumulation and transfer of charged electrons that pose significant risk near highly flammable solvents.

In aviation, these coatings are used to protect instrumental and electrical systems from lightning strikes, an event that occurs roughly once-a-year to commercial airplanes.

PPG conductive coatings have a proven history of value, durability and ease of application in addition to enhancing the technical performance and appearance of conventional and highly sensitive substrates.

To learn more, visit the Consumer Electronics page or contact a PPG representative for information on our conductive paints, including adhesion and attenuation specifications, at 888-774-2001 or