Archive for : June, 2013

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Pad Printing: The Best Printing Method for Manufacturers and OEMs


test-image-2When it comes to manufacturers, the many parts, pieces, and components that go into a product are incredibly important.

But many times, so is something like printing.

 

Think for a moment about the many brands you interact with every day. Given a couple minutes, you could probably picture at least a dozen logos and company emblems. In every case, there’s a good chance you know those brands because of printing.

Needless to say, printing has come a long way since the olden days of “wood block printing,” the revolution of moveable type, and the gutenburg press. However, modern printing technology continues to make ripples in the industrial world. When it comes to printing for OEMs, manufacturers, and big businesses, one of the best emerging printing methods is pad printers for OEM printing.

 

Pad printing is a “direct offset” printing process (otherwise known as gravure printing). It is incredibly effective at quickly and accurately transferring a 2-D image onto a surface. However, its particular area of expertise is transferring an image onto a 3-D object. This makes pad printers extremely adept at printing on products that aren’t flat, which leaves quite a few products to print on! To accomplish this, the printing process transfers the image from an ink filled printing plate, known as the cliche, to a flexible silicone pad. The silicone pad is then pressed against the surface (or substrate). Due to the way the ink used in pad printing is formulated, the top layer that is exposed to air becomes tacky. This allows it to cling to the silicon pad and be easily tansferred to the printing surface, resulting in a smooth and flexible process that works for just about any surface.

Before pad printing came around, industrial screen printing also gained widespread use. However, one of the major barriers that manufacturers were encountering with screenprinting was the fact that is was incredibly difficult to print on irregular surfaces with a large screenprinting machine. On the other end of the industrial spectrum, the same limitations were also discovered when it came to printing on electronics. You see, many of the electronics you use every day take advantage of what are known as membrane switches. A membrane switch is an electrical switch that turns a circuit not mechanically, but with a conductive circuit that’s been printed onto a PET or ITO circuit board.

Because of the highly flexible nature of pad printing, printing a membrane switch on a curved appliance panel is no problem due to the highly flexible nature of the silicone pad. This poses a problem for the other traditional printing methods used by manufacturers around the world. On the other hand, manufacturers with a pad printing machine can quickly and easily print on just about any surface — even if the product is entirely round. This makes pad printing ideal for everything from golf balls to touch-screen washing machines.

Pad Printing Machines: The Versatile Printing Option

Ever wonder how something is printed onto a 3-D object?

More often than not, the best way to do it is to take advantage of pad printing.

Much like gravure printing, pad printing incorporates an etched plate. However, while a plate is used it never comes in contact with the substrate. Instead ,the image is always transferred to the surface by a silicone pad. This makes the process incredibly flexible (both literally and figuratively) and enables manufacturers to print on just about any surface — including spherical ones.

There are many unique features when using a pad printing machine. For example, some of these include:

  • Printing on 3-D objects
  • Printing on firm and hollow objects
  • Multicolor wet-on-wet prints
  • Low up-front costs for a single run
  • Precise adjustment of tones

The transfer pad printing technique consists of four primary elements

1. The Pad

First we take a look at the silicone transfer pad. The current commercial status of pad printing was gained in the 1960’s from the transfer pad. It was constructed with silicone rubber. This ingredient allowed the machines to print on three-dimensional surfaces. They are available in a variety of shapes and hardness’s. Its job is to pick up the ink image out of the cliché plate. It then acts as the carrier and transfers the image to the part.

2. The cliché

The cliché plate plays a critical role in this process. The cliché is specially manufactured using a photo-etching process. The standard style that is used is constructed of steel and has a life expectancy in excess of one million cycles. When deciding to use steel or temporary clichés one must first consider the volume and print quality

3. The ink

When it comes to inks there are a large selection that are specially produced for pad printing. The printing process is very unique with these machines and almost all of the clichés are etched to a depth of about one thousandth of an inch. Due to this very shallow etched depth the ink deposited within this space will have to be highly pigmented to achieve the correct opacity.

Sometimes thinners are also included with the ink to control the thickness and to facilitate the inks tackiness. This is an important factor when transferring an image.

4. The Machine

There are many machine designs when it comes to the types of pad printing machines. The three most common designs include the conventional open inkwell design, the rotary gravure process and the ink cup system. Throughout the marketplace, many variations can be found due to the custom nature of company’s needs. These machines can be altered to an infinite range of shapes, substrates and production runs, that’s what makes pad printing machines so versatile and successful.