Pad Print Process: Frequently Asked Questions



What is Pad Printing?

Pad printing is a wet ink transfer decorating process. It is believed to have been invented by the Swiss in the eighteen hundreds for decorating watch faces. Today the process is used to decorate items like the cruise control knob on your car, the eyes of a dolls face, advertising specialty products, medical catheters, golf balls, control knobs and dials, bottle caps and even pens.


How does pad printing work?

Basically, you start with a printing plate (called a cliche) that has an image etched into the surface to a depth of appoximately 1/1000 of an inch. The surface of the cliche is covered with ink, then scraped clean leaving ink only in the etched image area. As solvents evaporate from the ink, the ink films over, becoming tacky. A pliable silicone rubber pad is then compressed onto the cliche and lifted away. As the pad is lifted away, the tackiness of the ink allows it to stick to the silicone pad. After the image is on the pad, more solvents evaporate, tacking off the outer surface of the ink layer on the pad. When the pad is compressed on the substrate(material to be printed), the ink is released from the pad.


When should I use Pad Printing?

Pad printing's biggest advantages are the ability to print on irregular surfaces, such as a golf ball, and the ability to print wet on wet multi colors. It's excellent quality of detail printing has also lent itself to printing flat items that used to be hot stamped or screen printed.


Can I match colors?

We stock a 12 Color Pantone Matching System for two of the seven ink series we distribute, as well as several certified automotive colors. If your custom color isn't one of those, we can match any color in any series for a one-time fee of $56.00.


Can I print white on black?

Yes, you can print white on black, however, due to the process the opacity or whiteness may not satisfy your customer. Any light colors such as white or yellow, when printed on a dark color, may have to be double hit to achieve the proper color. Remember this when quoting pad printing of any light color onto a dark colored material.


Can more than one color be printed on an individual part?

Yes. Today's technology provides us with the ability to print several colors simultaneously. Four color process printing is printed on things like golf balls every day. How many colors do you want to print?


How can I tell when my pad is worn out?

The print quality suffers when pads are worn out. Usually, successful transfer becomes intermittent, then impossible. The print area of the pad is dried out and fuzzy looking instead of smooth and slightly slippery. If possible, rotate your pad so as to use a different, less worn area.


How long do cliches last?

There is no magic number, but as a general guideline, thick (.250"/10.0 mm) steel cliches can last in excess of 1 million impressions. Thin steel cliches (also referred to as mid-run or record cliches) are quite durable, lasting up to 150,000 impressions. Photopolymer cliches are good for anywhere from a few hundred to as many as 20,000 impressions depending on the quality of the material used.


How should I clean my pads?

Brand new pads should be wiped off once with a solvent such as acetone or M.E.K. to remove excess oils left over from molding. After that, avoid using solvents to clean.

2" clear packaging tape is recommended for removing ink and debris from the pad's surface. If the pad is really filthy, you can use isopropyl or denatured alcohol, but in most cases just dabbing the surface with tape is sufficient.


Is the environment important in Pad Printing?

Yes. Extremely high or low humidity will inhibit or enhance the drying of the ink, which is inportant to the release properties of the ink. A clean humidity controlled environment is best for pad printing to prevent contamination of the ink and control its drying.


Sometimes the ink is not picked up on the pad. Why?

There are generally two possible answers. Either you have allowed the ink to dry in the cliche or your ink is too thick. Try washing your cliche out or adding thinner a little at a time.


The ink doesn't all release from the pad. Why?

The ink is too thin or the solvents have not had enough time to evaporate. Try thickening the ink with staight ink, allow more time for the ink to dry, or blow air on the pad pryor to deposit.



What are pad printing's limitations?

Pad printing can't do it all. Large solid areas, 1" diameter and larger, are not what pad printing does best. Ink drying and cliche wipe out makes large solid areas difficult and sometimes impossible. Print size and part size also limit the pad printer because of machine limitations. Check with your manufacturer for his specifications.



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