Video: Fundamentals of pad printing

Rich Smylie, GMN
By Richard Smylie | Dec 18, 2018
Pad printing at GMN

Pad printing is an offset printing process where ink is transferred from a cliché to the required component via a pad. Bringing together a blend of consistency, repeatability, and durability, pad printing can help you achieve intricate patterns and designs. While most decorative techniques such as screen and lithographic printing require a flat surface, pad printing is one of the very few processes that is well suited for decorating gently curved, irregular, textured, and/or cylindrical surfaces. Predominantly seen in the automotive, electronics, appliance, personal care, and medical industries, pad printing is often chosen for applications that will endure significant handling and need to withstand the test of time.

Our latest video was created to not only equip you with the essentials of pad printing, but also to walk you through the step-by-step process. First, the artwork is etched onto the cliché (flat plate), and ink is deposited into the etched recess. Next, a silicone pad picks up the inked image and descends onto the part to transfer a clean, crisp, and lasting image. Then, the pad is pressed on a polyester film to remove any excess ink. Comprising of a low-tack pressure-sensitive adhesive, the polyester film removes any residual ink from the pad prior to the next printing cycle.

From standard to programmable multi-axis printers, this video offers a glimpse into the different pad printing presses utilized at GMN. Armed with a rotating fixture, the programmable multi-axis printer is capable of numerous hits in multiple color combinations on different axes, all in a single set-up. This capability eliminates the need to transfer the part manually from one station to the other, resulting in significant time and cost savings.

Pad printing is compatible with a broad range of substrates including stainless steel, polycarbonate, polyethylene terephthalate (PET), glass, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), acrylic, and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS). Very few plastic materials such as low (LDPE) and high-density polyethylene (HDPE), and polypropylene aren’t cohesive with pad printing inks and require a pre-treatment to ensure good adhesion.

For every project, custom fixtures are designed and built to register the component to the pad printing head. The alignment of the ink pad with respect to the size and geometry of the part is specifically engineered to ensure exact registration. As seen with the Nissan badge in the video, the pliability of the silicone pad allows for printing with extreme precision, preventing the ink from coming in contact on the inside walls of the recessed letters. Maintaining the viscosity of the ink is extremely crucial to ensure the ink deposition accuracy and consistency. While the ink needs to be fluid enough to deposit on the substrate, it should not bleed out of the impression area. Thinners and adhesion promoters can be added to inks to achieve the desired viscosity level. Most of the inks used for pad printing at GMN are air-dried and are usually cured in conveyor ovens. Several other factors including the shape, material and durometer of the pad, location and color of the etched artwork, and tilt of the ink pad, are critical to the success of any project.

To see the pad printing process in action, watch our video here.