Pad Printing: a New Print Technology Marvel

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Using pad printing or tampography is one way to help an image to graduate from 2-D to 3-D. We have to keep in mind that the D stands for dimension. That extra dimension gives more definition to the image or object and makes it really pop. Because every new printing technology builds off of other existing technology, it is a more excellent form of printing. The beauty is that pad printing borrows a bit from existing printing technology as well as from the wondrous art of engraving. However, it takes those a step forward. Exacting replications of images is one of the hallmarks of pad printing, Nicely saturated colors is another. Read on to find out more about this next generation type of printing and the evolutionary leap forward that it provides across various platforms.

Thanks to pad printing, a golf ball or hockey puck can have 3-D imaging despite their shapes. Many auto parts, televisions, computer monitors, medical devices (like surgical tools) and computer keyboards and calculator keys can have images printed on them, such as serial numbers, lettering, identifiers, logos and graphics. Personalization and unique identification are both great reasons why this technology is all the rave.


Six Steps to Pad Printing

A six step process is involved in a pad printing cycle. It flows as follows: An inverted cup with ink is sealed and positioned over the proper area of the printing plate. It?s referred to as the sealed ink cup system. The image is covered and filled with ink.
The cup shifts away from the artwork area, carrying the excess ink with it. The etched image is exposed, with ink filled in appropriately. When the top surface of the ink is exposed to air, it becomes adhesive or sticky; which enables it to bond to to the transfer pad (at a later stage it adheres to the substrate). The pad is the 3-D object that is made of silicone rubber and molded to the proper shape.

For the shortest length of time, the transfer pad pushes down on the printing plate. This compression makes the pad push out air. While this is happening, the ink comes off and makes a transfer from the etched area of artwork to the pad itself.
While the pad is lifting away, the sticky ink film enclosed in the etched artwork area comes off onto the pad. Only a little bit of the ink says on the printing plate, or image plate. This is where the desired etched artwork is held in a cavity.

As the transfer pad moves forward, the ink cup goes with it and covers the etched artwork area on the plate. The etched artwork image is filled by the ink cup once more; and it gets prepared for the next cycle.

The transfer pad pushes down onto the substrate (whatever is having an image transferred to it), and thus transfers the ink layer lifted off the printing plate to the substrate surface. Afterward, it lifts off the substrate and returns to the resting position at home. Thus the cycle of printing is complete.


The printing press, laser printing, screen printing, open inkwell systems and digital printing all offered some new benefits and applications to the printing industry. They were all celebrated, and rightly so. However, the most advanced and dynamic method of getting images transferred with etching onto materials that are used for special functions has arrived on the scene in the form of pad printing. New materials, which were at one time unable to accept printing can now receive this technological benefit. Some presented difficulties because of their shapes, others because of their surfaces. With pad printing, those are no longer barriers.