The cherry blossom design on this mouse is a prime example of Pad Printing.

What Is Pad Printing?

Pad printing is a printing process that can transfer a 2-D image onto a 3-D object. This is accomplished using an indirect offset (gravure) printing process that involves an image being transferred from the printing plate (cliché) via a silicone pad onto a substrate (surface to be printed). Pad printing is used for printing on otherwise impossible products in many industries including medical, automotive, promotional, apparel, electronics, appliances, sports equipment and toys. It can also be used to deposit functional materials such as conductive inks, adhesives, dyes and lubricants.


Throughout the centuries Pad Printing has existed in some form or another, the history of Pad Printing as we know it was started just prior to the 1950's with the watch making industry during WW2 in Switzerland. It wasn't until roughly 20+ years later when a German company known as Tampoprint a one man business started in the 1950's created the first Silicon Tampon Printing Machine prototype during the 60s and finally unveiled the product to investors and consumers in 1970 from there on in demand for Pad Printing machines grew like wildfire and the size of the small German company greatly expanded and flourished as did the design and innovations of their machines.
TS100, the first commercial pad printing machine.

Pad Printing Machine

A pad printing machine is made up of several key elements all crucial to the process of the printing. Ink is the main item in Pad Printing Ink in and of it's self is not all that impressive, but the various types of ink and chemicals used to create,cure,and finish the print bring forth a complex array of choices and methods of which to work. Printing Pads, generally Silicon Pads that are used to transfer the ink from the image plate to the substrate. Image plates are the item that the design to be printed is held on some machines feature blades and spatulas to clean up excess ink for a cleaner process, for short term printing Photopolymer is used and Steel plates are used in long production runs and require much more specialized equipment to utilize it. Lastly is the substrate the item that is to be printed on, the reason for the Silicon Pads is that a variety of substrates are not flat edges and require a flexible medium such as silicon or a brush to effectively place a design on it.
A modern Pad Pritning machine,with dual silicon pads.

Printing Cycle

The Printing cycle starts with something called the home position in which sealed ink cups pour ink onto the image plate or in a ink well, The ink cup remove from the plate taking away any excess ink and allowing the ink to be exposes to the air or the ink is dragged by a blade over the plate and excess is cleaned up by a spatula following the blade. Once the ink has entered a sticky tack like state the silicon/transfer pads are pressed against the plate to remove any pockets of air and extra ink. Once the ink is on the silicon/transfer pad it is then placed onto the substrate and the cycle for the next substrate. The printing cycle itself does not change but the types of plates,inks,are very dependent on what the substrate is made of and the demands the customer.
A diagram of the Pad Pritning Cycle.



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