Common Chemistry of PSA Tapes

According to the Pressure Sensitive Tape Council, the definition for a Pressure Sensitive Adhesive (PSA) requires two things:

  1. Aggressive and permanent tack
  2. Adhesion with finger pressure

When considering industrial bonding applications using pressure sensitive adhesives (bonding tapes), there are three main chemistries used to provide durable assemblies. Tapes in these chemistries have aggressive, permanent tack and the ability to adhere with finger pressure alone. (But please note that when actually creating an assembly, you should use a roller for quality and consistency!) As with liquid adhesives, there are many other chemistries that can be used to create a bonding tape, and as with anything, there are many exceptions to the information provided. Our goal is to provide a high level overview of each chemistry to allow comparison. There are many other factors to consider when choosing the proper tape or adhesive for use in an assembly.

The three common chemistries for tapes are:

  • Acrylic
  • Silicone
  • Rubber

Acrylic Adhesive Tape

  • Acrylic tapes can bond the widest variety of materials and are used in almost every industry.

    Development of acrylics for pressure sensitive adhesives began because of the tendency of natural rubber to yellow and degrade when exposed to UV. Acrylic chemistry also tends to be naturally tacky and doesn’t require tackifiers to the extent that rubber chemistry does.

    Acrylic tapes are the workhorse of industrial bonding. The ever-changing capabilities of acrylic chemistry allow formulations to provide high or low temperature performance, adhesion to LSE materials, varying thickness, or even unique properties such as flame retardancy. These tapes are found in nearly every industry.

  • Primary Advantages

    • Ability to bond to the widest variety of materials
    • Widest variety of mechanical performance capability
    • Available in widest variety of formats

    Primary Disadvantages

    • Not as high temperature resistance as silicone, although very high temperature acrylics are available
    • Require relatively clean surface

Unlike “acrylics” used for liquid adhesives, the acrylic chemistry on a tape is provided fully cured so there is no additional curing that takes place in order to form a bond. The bond is created by using primarily mechanical interlocking in addition to some Van der Waals interactions and hydrogen bonding at the interface.

Silicone Adhesive Tape

  • Silicone tapes bond very low surface energy materials and have high temperature resistance.

    While silicone-containing polymers are used to formulate the very sticky adhesive itself, different silicone chemistry is used to create a non-stick polymer used in tape release liners!

    Silicone tapes are best known for their ability tolerate a very wide range of temperatures – from -40°F (-40°C) to over 500°F (260°C). They bond very well to silicone (as expected) as well as fluorinated materials such as PTFE and oleophobic (oil resistant) coatings. As more electronics become resistant to fingerprints, more silicone-based tapes are used to bond those materials.

  • Primary Advantages

    • Silicones are LSE materials themselves, relatively resistant to mould and fungi
    • High temperature resistance
    • Ability to bond very low surface energy materials such as PTFE

    Primary Disadvantages

    • Relatively low strength
    • While capable of bonding materials with mid-range surface energy, unable to bond to porous materials (wood, cement) which make up most of the “traditional materials”
Because silicone is “inorganic”, meaning that the backbone of the chemistry is non-carbon, it is inherently hypoallergenic and relatively resistant to moulds and fungi.

Rubber Adhesive Tape

  • Rubber tapes offer a low-cost solution as well as very high tack and can be cleanly removed.

    “Crosslinking” is the common term for forming a polymer from a lower-molecular weight monomer. However, when that is done with rubber it is called “vulcanization”, a term derived from the Roman god of fire, Vulcan. In prehistoric times, rubber was crosslinked with intense heat alone.

    While many of the rubbers used for adhesives are naturally derived (such as from the Hevea rubber plant), “rubber” may also refer to synthetic materials such as polychloroprene (Neoprene) or various block co-polymers (e.g. SBR). Their ability to be “tackified” makes them attractive, low-cost solutions for large surface lamination bonds or bonds requiring high tack or clean removability.

  • Primary Advantages

    • Very high tack
    • Often cleanly removable
    • Relatively low-cost solutions

    Primary Disadvantages

    • Lower resistance to environmental conditions (e.g. UV, temperature)
    • Unable to bond LSE materials

Natural rubber (poly cis-isoprene) is mechanically worked to provide lower molecular weight polymers that can be readily dissolved or dispersed in a solvent. Synthetic polymers (such as styrene-isoprene block copolymers) may also be used. Tackifiers such as pinene (from pine sap, among other sources) are added to give the adhesive additional tackiness allowing it to be used as a PSA.

As with other adhesives, the chemistries and construction for tapes grow every day. New adhesives, new carriers and new manufacturing processes mean that new industrial tapes will continue to be developed.

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