Pad Printing 101

What Is Pad Printing?

pad printing machine Orion 130

Several different techniques are available for companies looking to apply branding, indication, safety, or instruction information to their products. Pad printing is an attractive option for product decoration due to its repeatable, durable, and precise results.

Also known as tampon printing, tampo printing, or tamponography, pad printing is a product decorating process that transfers 2-dimensional images onto nearly any 3-dimensional object.

Pad Printing ensures decoration that is durable and highly repeatable for mass production. It is an ideal process for products across numerous industries.

History of Pad Printing

History of pad printing

Pad printing was invented in the mid-20th century. Here is a brief overview of the history of pad printing:

  1. Early Developments:
    • Pad printing originated in the 1950s and 1960s in Switzerland, where engineers and inventors sought a new printing method that could precisely transfer ink onto irregularly shaped objects.
    • The technique was initially developed for the watchmaking industry, which required a method to print on small, curved, and intricate watch dials and cases.
  2. First Pad Print Machine:
    • The credit for the invention of pad printing is often attributed to Engelbert Pechlaner and/or Wilfried Philipp. Historical accounts vary, but it is widely agreed that the first application was watch decoration.
    • The first pad print system consisted of a silicone rubber pad (also called a tampon) that could pick up ink from an etched plate and then transfer it onto various surfaces. This pad was instrumental in making pad printing a practical and efficient method for industrial applications.
  3. Industrial Adoption:
    • Pad printing quickly gained popularity in the automotive, electronics, and toy industries due to its ability to print on uneven and curved surfaces.
    • The technique was particularly valuable for applying logos, serial numbers, and other markings on products with complex shapes, such as automotive parts, electronic devices, and plastic toys.
  4. Advancements and Automation:
    • Over the years, pad printing technology has seen various advancements, including the development of more sophisticated printing machines and the refinement of inks and printing plates.
    • Automation and computerization have also significantly improved the precision and speed.
  5. Shift from “Open-Well” to “Sealed Ink Cup” Pad Print Machines:
    • One major advancement in pad print technology was a general shift from “Open-Well”  or “Closed Ink Cup” to “Sealed Inkcup” pad print machines.
    • While some applications continue to use “Open-Well” systems, the bulk of the market shifted to “Sealed Ink Cup” machines due to the numerous advantages these systems provide.
    • Advantages of “Sealed Ink Cup” or “Closed Ink Cup” pad print machines include better print quality, superior ink management, and reduced solvent emissions.
  6. Expansion into Various Industries:
    • Pad printing expanded beyond its initial applications and became a versatile printing method used in various industries, including medical devices, aerospace, promotional products, and more.
    • Its ability to print on various materials, including plastics, metals, glass, and ceramics, has contributed to its widespread use.


What Pad Printing Can Do: Advantages & Common Uses

advantages of pad printing

Pad printing is a versatile process with several advantages.

  1. Large Range of Substrates:
    • Pad printing can be used on various substrates, including plastics, metals, glass, ceramics, wood, etc. It is suitable for both flat and irregularly shaped surfaces, making it highly versatile for decorating products.
  2. Precision Decoration:
    • This printing method allows for the precise placement of ink on the target surface. It can achieve fine details and high-resolution graphics, making it suitable for applications where image clarity and accuracy are essential. Pad printed products can feature photograph-quality graphics and very high tolerance marking precision.
  3. Durability:

    • Pad printing inks are often durable and resistant to wear, fading, and environmental factors. This makes pad printing ideal for producing long-lasting markings, labels, and graphics on products.
  4. Range of Decoration Options (graphics, text, barcodes, and more):
    • Pad printing excels at printing fine text, barcodes, and serial numbers, making it suitable for applications where product identification and traceability are critical.
    • Pad printing machines are capable of handling multiple colors in a single pass. This enables the creation of intricate and colorful designs on products, making pad print well-suited for branding decoration.
  5. Adaptability to 3D Shapes:
    • The flexible silicone rubber pad used in pad printing can conform to the contours of three-dimensional objects. This feature allows for printing on curved, uneven, or irregular surfaces that are challenging for other printing methods.
  6. Cost-Effectiveness:
    • Pad printing is often a cost-effective solution for small to medium print runs, as it requires minimal setup time and can be used with relatively low-cost equipment. It is also efficient for producing complex graphics without expensive tooling.
  7. Quick Setup and Changeovers:
    • Pad printing machines can be set up relatively quickly, and color changeovers are efficient, especially in sealed ink cup systems. This reduces downtime and increases productivity, making it suitable for small-scale and customized production.
  8. Wide Range of Inks:
    • Pad printing supports various ink types, including solvent-based, water-based, UV-curable, and specialty inks. This flexibility allows for customization to match specific substrate requirements and industry standards.
  9. Environmental Friendliness & Compliance with Industry Standards:
    • Advances in pad printing technology have led to developing environmentally friendly ink formulations, reducing solvent emissions and promoting sustainability.
    • Pad printing is often chosen in industries like automotive, medical devices, and electronics because it can meet strict quality and labeling requirements.

Additional Resources

Videos & Blogs:





Where Pad Print Decoration Is Used:
Common Applications

Pad printing’s versatility, precision, and cost-effectiveness have made it a popular choice for a wide range of applications. Pad print adds branding, measurement, indicator, safety instruction, and certification information to products from many industries.  Common applications for pad print decoration include:

  1. Power Tools:
    • Power Tools, Outdoor Power Equipment, Hand Tools, Tool Accessories & Components
  2. Automotive:
    • Interior, Exterior, Underhood
  3. Electrical Components:

    • Circuit breaker switches & housing, plugs & switches, electrical coils & thermostats
  4. Medical Devices:
    • Medical Devices & Components, Syringes (Traditional, Safety and Auto-Injectors), Measurement Disks & Wheels, Catheters & Medical Tubing
  5. Appliances:
    • Refrigerators / Freezers, Dishwashers, Coffee Makers, Vacuums, Small Appliances, Garage Door Openers, Faucet Knobs / Shower Taps
  6. Sporting Goods:
    • Golf Clubs & Balls, Baseballs & Bats, Ski Bindings, Helmets, Bicycle Shafts, Recreational Sporting Equipment
Additional Resources Videos & Blogs:
  • Pad Printing for Medical Devices & Components (Video) & (Blog)
  • Pad Print Decoration for Automotive Products (Video) & (Blog)

How Does Pad Printing Work?

Components & Process

Pad printing is an offset printing process that uses an etched plate and pad to transfer an image onto a product or component. Understanding how pad printing works requires understanding the main pad printing supplies and processes.

–Pad Printing Components

Pad Print Ink

Pad Printing Color Matching

What is pad print ink? Pad print ink is specially formulated for use in pad print decoration and has several characteristics that make it suitable for the task:
  1. Viscosity: Pad printing ink has a specific viscosity that allows it to adhere to the pad (a soft, flexible silicone or rubber transfer pad) and transfer onto the irregular or curved surface of the printed object.
  2. Quick Drying: The ink dries relatively quickly after transfer to the substrate, which is important for maintaining print quality and preventing smudging.
  3. Durability: It is designed to adhere well to various substrates and withstand environmental conditions, ensuring that the printed image remains sharp and vibrant.
  4. Color Options: Pad printing ink comes in a wide range of colors, including standard and custom colors, to meet the specific design and branding needs of the printing project.
  5. Chemical Compatibility: Depending on the substrate, pad printing inks can be formulated to be chemically resistant, UV-resistant, or heat-resistant.
How to select a pad print ink? The experts in the Trans Tech Ink Lab are deeply familiar with ink performance and the entire pad printing process. This allows us to stand out in our ability to provide custom inks painstakingly designed to meet your specific application requirements. We understand how product geometry, production environment, and substrate characteristics combine to determine which pad printing ink will provide optimal results for your project.

Experts in the Trans Tech Ink Lab can identify the best formulation for your decorating needs after considering a wide number of factors, including:

  • Substrate
  • Industry
  • Color
  • Ink type (1 or 2 component or UV)
  • Needed capabilities
  • Adhesion requirements
  • Abrasion requirements
  • Opacity
  • Printing speed
  • Need for pretreatments
  • The desired number of prints
Types of pad print ink? Solvent-Based Inks
  • Single Component Inks, Two Component Inks

High-Speed Inks

  • Fast Curing UV Ink, High-Speed Transfer Inks

High-Performance Inks

  • High-Density Inks, Abrasion Resistant Inks, Chemical Resistant Inks

Solvent-Based Inks

  • Medical Class VI Inks, Automotive Inks, Infant/Child Non-Toxic Inks
Trans Tech
Ink Expertise
Trans Tech is proud to be the market leader in three key areas related to pad print ink.

First – Our inks are widely considered the most durable available in the market today. Our deep expertise in the entire pad printing process- including machines, supplies, and services- allows us to engineer ink with standout durability.

Second- Trans Tech has the largest ink warehouse in North America. Our wide selection of pad printing inks allows Trans Tech to stand out as a leader.

Finally- The experts in Trans Tech´s Ink Lab combine industry-leading expertise with cutting-edge technology to provide superior ink-related support services.

Trans Tech Ink Range Trans Tech offers a market-leading range of standard pad print inks. We offer 30 different standard ink lines, 7 of which are widely used in North America.

Beyond that- Trans Tech offers a wide range of standard colors. In addition to 28 standard colors, we offer 12 C-Mix colors for simplified color matching in many ink lines. We offer both metallic and process colors.

Ink-Related Services Quality pad print suppliers can move beyond standard pad print ink lines to offer custom inks to match your performance or aesthetic requirements precisely. Please see the pad print ink additives section below to learn how inks can be modified to meet specific performance requirements.

Aesthetic Ink Services:
The highly trained experts in the Trans Tech Ink Lab are the best in the industry at precision ink color matching.

For over 25 years, Trans Tech has invested in the latest cutting-edge spectrophotometer technology. We currently use two spectrophotometers to ensure our customers receive a precise color performance batch after batch with the highest accuracy.

All color batches are kept within a delta E color variance of 2 or less!! To ensure absolute consistency from batch to batch- custom color formulas are kept on file, ready for next time.

Additional Resources Videos & Blogs:
  • Pad Print Ink: How to Choose the Best Ink for Your Unique Project (Video) (Blog)
  • Types of Pad Print Ink (Video) (Blog)
  • Trans Tech: A Global Leader in Pad Print Ink (Video) (Blog)
  • Pad Print Ink Testing: Chemical Resistance, Adhesion, Cross-Hatch and Abrasion (Video) (Blog)
  • Pad Print Ink: Precision Color Matching (Video) (Blog)
  • How to Remix Stored Pad Print Ink (Video) (Blog)


Pad Print Ink Additives


What are pad print ink additives? Pad printing ink additives are substances or compounds added to pad printing ink formulations to modify their properties and improve performance in various ways. These additives can enhance the ink’s adhesion, drying time, durability, or other characteristics to meet specific printing requirements.
Do I need a pad print ink additive? The choice of additives and their specific formulations will depend on the type of pad printing ink, the substrate being printed on, and the desired print quality and durability. Quality pad print partners can tailor ink formulations by adjusting the types and quantities of additives to meet the unique requirements of each printing application.
Types of pad print ink additives? Here are some common pad printing ink additives and their purposes:
  1. Thinner: Thinner additives are used to adjust the viscosity of the ink. Proper viscosity ensures that the ink adheres to the pad and substrate effectively.
  2. Retarder: Retarders slow down the drying time of the ink, which can be useful in situations where the ink needs more time to transfer and adhere to the substrate properly. This is especially helpful when working in hot or dry environments.
  3. Accelerator: Accelerators, on the other hand, speed up the drying process of the ink. This can be beneficial when fast production is required or when printing on substrates requiring quick ink curing.
  4. Hardener: Hardening agents are added to increase the durability and scratch resistance of the printed image. They help the ink form a tough, protective layer once cured.
  5. Adhesion Promoters: These additives enhance the ink’s ability to adhere to specific substrates, especially those that are challenging to print on due to their surface characteristics. Adhesion promoters create a stronger bond between the ink and the substrate.
  6. UV Stabilizers: UV stabilizers are incorporated to make the ink more resistant to fading or degradation when exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light. They are essential for outdoor applications or when UV exposure is a concern.
  7. Anti-Static Agents: In some cases, anti-static agents are added to prevent static electricity buildup, which can attract dust and impurities to the printed surface.
  8. Anti-Foaming Agents: Anti-foaming agents minimize the formation of bubbles or foam during the ink mixing process or printing, ensuring smooth ink application.
  9. Color Pigments and Extenders: These additives are used to adjust the color and opacity of the ink. They can be used to create custom colors or reduce the cost of ink production by extending the use of color pigments.
  10. Anti-Skinning Agents: Anti-skinning agents are added to prevent the formation of a skin or film on the surface of the ink in the container, which can affect ink quality and performance.
Additional Resources Videos & Blogs:
  • Adding Thinner to Pad Print Ink: How it Works, Best Practices, & Troubleshooting Tips (Video)
  • Pad Print Ink Testing: Chemical Resistance, Adhesion, Cross-Hatch and Abrasion (Video) (Blog)
  • Preparing Pad Print Ink: The Best Way to Add Additives (Video) (Blog)
  • Pad Print Additives:  Retarder, Flow Agent, Adhesion Promoter (Video) (Blog)
  • Ink Hardener (Video) (Blog)
  • Ink Thinner (Video) (Blog)


Pad Print Plates (Clichés)


What is pad print plate? A pad printing plate, or cliché, is a flat metal or plastic plate used in the pad print decoration process.

Pad print decoration involves transferring an image from an etched plate to a product using a silicone pad. The pad printing plate is etched with the desired image or text, and ink is applied to this etched surface. When the silicone ink pad presses down on the flat printing plate, the ink is transferred to the pad, which stamps the image onto the product or component being decorated.

The pad printing plate is an important element in the pad printing process, as it determines the quality and accuracy of the printed image.

The quality of the plate depends on many factors, including the image resolution, etching depth, and the type of material used for the plate.

How to select a pad print plate? Our designated plate-making team has over 100 years of combined experience in pad printing. We know how to carefully study all relevant factors to recommend the printing plate that best fits your specific needs.

Specifically- we look at:

  • Plate performance requirements
  • Application requirements (substrate and geometry)
  • Artwork requirements
  • System requirements
  • Etch depth
  • Artwork positioning on plate
  • Print speeds
  • Print volume
  • Selected ink type
Types of pad print plates? What printing plate materials are widely used in pad print decoration? Pad printing plates are made out of either plastic polymers or steel. The two different types of plates differ in etching techniques, life span, and precision.

Generally speaking, plastic pad print plates are more cost-effective than steel cliches. Depending on the type of plastic polymer used, these plates’ lifespan typically ranges between 15,000 and 100,000 impressions.

Both thin and thick steel pad printing plates are highly durable, providing unmatched performance. A thin steel plate will have a 1mm profile and can provide up to 150,000 impressions. Thick steel plates have a 10mm profile and can provide up to 1 million impressions. Both thin and thick steel plates provide crisp, clean lines and critical image alignment for high-tolerance applications. Thick steel plates provide the highest level of precision and repeatability available.

Trans Tech
Plate Expertise
Trans Tech is proud to be the global leader in the manufacture of pad print plates. We stand out not only for our wide range of both plates and plate-related services but also for our market-leading plate etch accuracy.
Trans Tech Range Trans Tech provides both blank and fully etched pad printing plates.

Frequently, plastic plates are sold blank to be etched by our customers in-house, whereas steel plates are etched at Trans Tech before shipping.

Plastic pad print plates are typically etched with an alcohol or water wash. Some plastic plates are compatible with CO2 laser engraving. Both thick and thin steel plates are precision acid etched.

Our printing plates are available in both standard and custom sizes. Our standard plate sizes are
70 by 140 mm
90 by 165 mm
100 by 215 mm and
150 by 300 mm

We also offer custom-sized plates ranging from smaller 60 x 60 mm plates up to plates as large as 1000mm in length (for these larger plates, the maximum exposure area is 900 mm by 610 mm.

Pad printing plates can be sent unpunched or with punched holes/slots for use on Trans Tech or competitor pad print equipment.

Artwork Expertise
Experts in our Art Studio have an average of over 20 years of experience in turning your vision into quality pad-printed reality. We know how to get it right the first time – ensuring fewer problems on the production floor. Finding a partner with experience in areas such as finely detailed artwork and registration is key. Expertise in artwork requirements for specialty-depth, critical-line, and multi-depth etching is also key.Precision Etching
Etching accuracy is key to ensuring highly repeatable, quality pad print decoration. Access to precision-etched plates reduces both scrap and troubleshooting downtime. Trans Tech provides etching on thick and thin steel pad print plates with market-leading accuracy. For stand-out precision, Trans Tech ensures meticulous control over the entire print plate etching process. With superior artwork expertise and careful plate material selection, we ensure each etched plate is cued for success from the beginning. Next, we use cutting-edge technology to ensure unmatched artwork placement and plate etch depth precision. Taken together, these last two steps allow us to provide stand-out repeatability. We issue a multi-point quality report with every etched plate we ship to provide our customers with complete peace of mind.
Additional Resources Videos & Blogs:
  • Trans Tech: Global Leader in Pad Print Plates (Video)
  • Pad Print Plates: Superior Etching Precision (Video) (Blog)


Pad Printing Pad

Pad Printing Pads

What is a pad print pad? A pad print pad, or a printing pad or transfer pad, is a crucial component in pad printing as it transfers ink from the cliché to the object being printed.

Pad printing pads are crucial for achieving high-quality and precise prints. The choice of pad material and size depends on the specific requirements of the printing job, such as the shape of the object and the desired print quality.

How to select a pad print pad? To select the optimal printing pad for your unique application, it is essential to consider the following elements:

Pad Shape
This is the most important factor in determining how well a pad delivers its imprint. Selection will depend largely on the geometries of the product being decorated. For flatter surfaces – sharper pad angles generally equate to better the print. Both standard and custom pad shapes are available.

Pad Size
Pads should be at least 20-30% larger than the desired image size. For large items, the maximum pad size will be determined by printing system parameters. The Pad should cover the entire image. Image distortion is often caused by pads that are too small. Trans Tech offers pads ranging from the very small to some of the largest in the industry.

Pad Durometer (hardness)
Choosing the best durometer pad will offer the highest quality printed image. However, it is essential also to consider the compression capability of your printing system and the unique characteristics of your substrate. Trans Tech offers a wide variety of pad durometers. We provide expert assistance in selecting the best fit for your unique application.

Substrate Features/Finish
It is important to take a close look at both the size and shape (smooth vs. textured) of the printing surface. Different formats of pads will work better on each. 

Printing Equipment Features
It is essential to remember your pad printer’s physical limitations. Our experts consider features like print clearance and compression strength before selecting the best pad for an application.

Image characteristics
Image size dictates the selected pad size (pads should be 20-30% larger than desired decoration). The complexity of the design image may play a role in pad selection. Print volume considerations will play a role in selecting pads durable enough to meet required output quantities.

Types of pad print pads? A wide range of standard and custom formats are available, including:
  • Cylindrical, Square, Linear, Compound, Hollow, and Dual Durometer pads
Trans Tech
Pad Expertise
Unprecedented Time Savings for Pad and Ink Changes
  • Tool-less pad changes can be completed up to 80% faster.
  • Ink changes up to 86% faster than with competing systems.

Unprecedented Precision in Accuracy of Silicone Formulations

  • Innovative digital silicone metering and mixing system
  • Ensures silicone formulation is precisely repeatable
  • Achieves long pad life – superior tear strength and solvent resistance

Unprecedented Precision in Cutting of Pad Bases

  • Innovative laser cutting tool for wood pad base cutting
  • Ensures there is little to no variation from base to base
Trans Tech Pad Range Trans Tech offers over 1,000 different pad shapes and sizes to fit virtually every application and state-of-the-art custom pad-making capabilities.

Our Pads:

  • Allow for Unprecedented Time Savings
  • Are Made in the USA.
  • Use Advanced Process & Quality Control Standards for Superior Print Quality
  • Feature Stable Silicone Formulations for Superior Repeatability
  • Are Created With Cutting-Edge Manufacturing Equipment
  • Can Be Mounted on Customized Pad Bases – with standard or wood screws, magnetic set up, or locating holes, for simplified integration.
  • Most popular pads are kept in stock and can ship the same day
  • Custom Pads & Customized Pad Bases
  • Expert Pad Selection Support
Additional Resources Videos & Blogs:



Ink Cups

What is pad print ink cup? A pad print ink cup contains and transfers ink to the silicone or rubber pad (transfer pad), which then transfers the ink to the printed object.

The key characteristics of a pad print ink cup include its ability to contain the ink, maintain a consistent and sealed environment, and facilitate the controlled transfer of ink to the transfer pad. 

Types of pad print ink cups? Inkcups come in various sizes and configurations to accommodate different machines and printing requirements. Inkcups are commonly available:
  • with mechanical or magnetic hold-down frames
  • in 60mm, 90mm, or 130mm sizes
  • in traditional format or with patented ink cup liners
Trans Tech Expertise Our innovative adaption of this industry-standard design has produced a revolutionary method for containing ink for closed cup pad printing machines.

Trans Tech’s SpaceFrame TM consists of a red anodized aluminum ring, used with the patented ExpressLiner disposable reservoir, and easily replaceable carbide metal rings.

Simplicity & Convenience

  • The frame and liner configuration features pad printing with an optimized ink reservoir thereby saving material costs as well as reducing set-up and clean-up times by using disposable cup liners.
  • The carbide metal doctor ring fi­ts snugly into a recessed liner groove, forming a single, integrated unit.
  • The assembly can then “float” in the SpaceFrame, improving doctoring performance.

Unparalleled Savings

  •  Reduces labor time and cleaning supplies costs, generating as much as 27% cost savings.
  • Ink changes are up to 86% faster than with competing systems.
  • Reduces use of cleaning supplies (and disposal of hazardous cleaning solvents)
  • Optimized reservoir volume reduces ink waste
  • Simple design improves usability for machine operators
  • Improved doctoring performance
  • Reduced ink leakage
Trans Tech Range
  • Traditional RedStar Multicups
  • SpaceFrame with ExpressLiners (disposable)

Both are available with mechanical or magnetic hold-down in 60mm, 90mm, or 130mm sizes.




Holding Fixtures
Holding fixtures by ITW Trans Tech.


What is pad print holding fixture? Highly repeatable product decoration starts at the holding fixtures. If your part is not held securely at precisely the right angle, achieving quality repeatable decoration is impossible. A successful holding fixture will securely hold your piece in place while also providing operator ease of use.
How to select a holding fixture? Highly skilled fixture teams can custom-build a fixture to meet the precise needs of your application after considering the following elements:
  • Substrate to be decorated
  • Scratch resistance requirements
  • Industry-specific requirements (medical grade, etc.)
  • Compatibility with pre-and post-treatments
  • Number of colors required
  • Board shuttle type
  • Artwork requirements- distortion
  • Pad placement and composition
  • Part height requirements
  • Pad printer capabilities
Trans Tech Range of Holding Fixtures We design fixtures for:
  • Trans Tech & competitor pad print machines
  • Manual & automated pad print lines

Fixture Types:
We build standard, multi-position, vacuum hold down, automatic & manual rotate fixtures.

Our substrates are made with anodized aluminum, wet teflon seal (medical grade), derlin (medical grade), or stainless steel.

Trans Tech Holding Fixture Expertise Our engineers have solved the age-old challenge of customers choosing between cumbersome fixtures that provide secure product hold but are time-consuming and difficult to use and user-friendly holding fixtures that fail to provide firm product stabilization.

We carefully design our fixtures so that they work only in one way – ensuring precise product positioning time and time again. Our customers are so happy with the results – they came up with the descriptor “error-proof” for our fixtures!

Our fixtures feature an easy 2-step “Load & Lock” process where rollers, push pins, or simple clamps ensure operator-friendly performance, combining precision alignment, firm hold, and quick loading and unloading.



Pad Print Supplies: Enhanced Efficiency & Superior Results

The quality of the pad print consumable supplies you choose will go a long way in determining the quality of pad print decoration you achieve. Finding a partner with expertise in pad print machines and supplies ensures you have an expert who knows how to ensure all components are designed to work together for optimal results. High-quality pad print consumables enable superior decoration quality and generate significant time and cost savings.

Additional Resources Demonstration- Efficient Pad Print Consumables Set Up (Ink, Ink Cups, Liners & Printing Plates) (Video) (Blog)
Save on Pad Printing Supplies (Video) (Blog)




–Pad Printing Process

The pad print cycle is highly adaptable to each unique application. In some instances, pre- and post-treatments enhance results. More information on these treatments appears below. Here is a general overview of the main steps in pad print decoration:

  1. Artwork Preparation: The first step in the pad printing process is to create the artwork or design that will be printed. This design is typically converted into a digital format and used to create the printing plate. The printing plate (or cliché) contains the image or design to be printed.
  2. Ink Preparation: The appropriate pad printing ink is selected and prepared for use.
  3. Ink Cup and Cliché Setup: The cliché is positioned below the ink cup, and the cliché’s surface is coated with the selected ink.
  4. Ink Pickup: As the ink cup is pressed against the cliché (covering the engraved design), it picks up ink from the recessed areas of the design due to the ink’s adhesion properties.
  5. Transfer to the Pad: After picking up the ink, the ink cup is lifted away from the cliché, and a silicone pad (printing pad) approaches the ink cup. The silicone pad deforms and conforms to the shape of the ink cup, picking up the ink from its surface. As the printing pad lifts away, the tacky ink film inside the engraved artwork area is picked up onto the pad.
  6. Printing: The ink-loaded transfer silicone pad is then moved to the object or substrate to be printed. The pad is pressed against the substrate, conforming to its shape and transferring the ink from the pad to the substrate’s surface. The pad’s flexibility allows it to adhere to curved or irregular surfaces, ensuring a precise and consistent print. This completes one print cycle.
  7. Drying and Curing: Depending on the ink used, the printed image may require drying and curing to ensure adhesion and durability. This step can involve air drying, UV curing, or heat curing.
  8. Quality Control: After printing, the printed products may undergo quality control checks to ensure that the printed images meet the desired standards for clarity, color accuracy, and adhesion.
  9. Cleaning and Maintenance: The ink cup and transfer pad are typically cleaned and maintained to prevent ink contamination and ensure consistent printing quality for subsequent runs.



Types of Pad Print Machines

pad print automation

There are various types of pad printing machines available, each designed to meet specific printing needs and production requirements. These machines differ in size, complexity, and automation levels. Pad print equipment is classified in many different ways. It is common to see pad printing equipment classified by their level of automation, the number of colors the system is designed to deliver, or the type of driver the system has.

–Manual, Semi-Automated & Fully-Automated Pad Print Machines

Manual Pad Print Machines

What are manual pad print machines? Manually operated machines are suitable for high-performance, low-volume printing jobs. They are cost-effective and often used for short runs, small components, or prototypes. Operators manually load and unload parts and control the printing process.
Additional Information Aero Pad Printing Machine: Features Overview (Video) (Blog)


Semi-Automated & Fully Automated Pad Print Machines

What are semi-automated and fully automated print machines? Pad printers can be used on their own, independent from other systems. However, pad printing equipment can also be incorporated into semi- or fully automated systems.

Semi-automatic machines are an intermediate option between manual and fully automatic machines. They are suitable for moderate production volumes. While they still require manual loading and unloading of parts, they offer features like programmable ink cup movement and the ability to print multiple colors in a single pass.

Fully automatic pad printers are highly automated and designed for high-volume production. These machines can load, print, and unload parts without manual intervention.

Benefits of Automated Lines There are multitudes of potential benefits to be gained from automating the process. Automation can generally increase output/productivity, line speeds, safety, and repeatability while decreasing reject/scrap rates, manpower requirements, and factory lead times.
Common Components
of Semi- and Fully Automated Pad Print Lines
Part Feeder:
Fully Automated Systems: Automated, typically into a bowl-feeder. Part presence sensors are incorporated for automated verification of presence and orientation.
Semi-Automated Systems: Manual operator loading onto a nested fixture. Part presence sensors may be incorporated for automated verification.Safety: Full hard guarding around the system, safety light curtains, and safety laser scanners are typically used.Part Nesting Fixtures:  The part to be decorated fits into the precision-designed nesting fixtures. Depending on the requirements, rotating fixtures or vacuums may be incorporated.Transport: Depending on the system configuration, multi-position dial tables or linear slides may be utilized.Printers: 1 or more standard pad printers may be incorporated based on the decoration requirements.Treatment: Pre-treatment and/or post-treatment systems may be incorporated based on the application requirements.Vision Inspection: A custom-developed vision inspection system and automated accept/reject stations may be incorporated.
Additional Information Semi-Automated Pad Print System (Video) (Blog)



–Single & Multicolor Pad Print Machines

Pad printers can be categorized based on the number of colors they can print in a single pass. Single-color machines are suitable for simpler designs, while multicolor machines can print more complex and colorful images in a single operation. Many machines can operate as single or multicolor depending on customer needs.

Additional Information 4 Color Pad Printing: Efficient Multicolor Decoration in a Single Sequence  (Video) (Blog)
Aero (Multicolor) Pad Printing Machine: Features Overview (Video) (Blog)
Flexible Single or Multicolored Pneumatic Pad Printer – Orion (Video) (Blog)

–Pneumatic & Electro-Mechanical Pad Print Machines

What are pneumatic and electromechanical pad print machines? Electromechanical and pneumatic pad printing machines are two types of pad printers that use different mechanisms for their operation. They have distinct advantages and disadvantages, and the choice between them depends on specific application requirements. Here’s a comparison of electromechanical and pneumatic pad printing machines.
Electromechanical Pad Print Machine Benefits
  1. Operation Mechanism: Electromechanical pad printing machines use electric motors and mechanical components to drive the printing process. These machines have precise control over the movement of the pad and the printing cycle.
  2. Precision: Electromechanical pad printers are known for their precision and repeatability. They can achieve consistent print quality and registration accuracy, making them suitable for applications that require high detail and fine lines.
  3. Speed: They often have faster cycle times compared to pneumatic machines because of the precise control they offer. This makes them suitable for high-volume production environments.
  4. Adjustability: Electromechanical machines provide fine control over parameters like pad pressure, pad speed, and dwell time. This adjustability allows for customization of the printing process to suit different substrates and ink types.
  5. Noise Level: Electromechanical machines tend to be quieter during operation compared to pneumatic machines, making them more suitable for quieter work environments.
  6. Maintenance: They may require more maintenance due to the complexity of their mechanical components. However, they often have longer service lives when properly maintained.
  7. Applications: Electromechanical pad printers are used in industries such as electronics, medical devices, and promotional product manufacturing, where precise and high-quality printing is essential.
Pneumatic Pad Print Machine Benefits
  1. Operation Mechanism: Pneumatic pad printing machines use compressed air to power the printing process. They have air-driven cylinders that control the movement of the pad.
  2. Simplicity: Pneumatic machines are simpler in design and operation compared to electromechanical machines. They are easier to set up and require less operator training.
  3. Cost-Effective: Pneumatic pad printers are often more affordable than electromechanical ones, making them a cost-effective choice for businesses with budget constraints.
  4. Speed: While they may have slightly slower cycle times compared to electromechanical machines, they are still suitable for medium to high-volume production.
  5. Adjustability: Pneumatic machines offer limited adjustability compared to electromechanical ones. However, they are still capable of delivering quality prints for many applications.
  6. Maintenance: Pneumatic machines are relatively low-maintenance due to their simpler design. They are known for their durability and reliability.
  7. Applications: Pneumatic pad printers are commonly used for marking and decorating a wide range of products, including industrial parts, automotive components, and promotional items.
Which type is right for me? The choice between electromechanical and pneumatic pad printing machines depends on factors such as the required precision, production volume, budget, and maintenance considerations. Electromechanical machines excel in precision and flexibility but may be more expensive and require more maintenance. Pneumatic machines offer simplicity, cost-effectiveness, and reliability, making them suitable for a wide range of applications.
Additional Information (Pneumatic) Flexible Single or Multicolored Pad Printer – Orion (Video) (Blog)
(Pneumatic) Aero Pad Printing Machine: Features Overview (Video) (Blog)
(Electromechanical) SealCup Express: Features Overview (Video) (Blog)



–Special Format Pad Print Machines

Some applications require special format pad print machines. Two popular examples are Rotary Pad Print Machines and Cup Slide Pad Print Machines.

Rotary Pad Print Machines Rotary pad printers are specialized machines used for cylindrical or curved surfaces, such as pens, bottles, and tubes. They can print 360-degree designs around the circumference of a part. Rotary machines often have multiple pads and can print multiple colors simultaneously.

Unique in the industry, the Trans Tech Single-Head Rotary Gravure Pad Printer can provide superior 360° decoration on cylindrical, round, oval, or conical-shaped parts at speeds up to 9x faster than standard high-speed pad printers.

Flexible Pad Print Machines – Image Size Some pad printer machines, like the Orion, can print images of varied sizes (the system can run 60-, 90-, and 130-mm cups simultaneously).

A Cup Slide can be added to print truly long or large images. The Orion 130, with an optional cup slide, can print images 3.5x longer than those rendered by traditional pad print machines. Images as long as 460mm can be applied to products or components (compared to 130 mm with a traditional pad print machine). Printing long images is ideal for a wide range of applications, including medical tubing and catheters.

Flexible Pad Print Machines- Decorated Image Some pad print machines are designed to give users great flexibility in terms of the type of image printed. For example, the Orion from Trans Tech allows users to:
  • Provide single-color decoration or up to 5 color decoration in full photographic quality
  • Print multiple images, multiple colors, or multiple sides of a single part- all with a single system
Additional Resources High-Speed Rotary Pad Print Decoration (Video) (Blog)
Flexible Single or Multicolored Pad Printer – Orion (Video) (Blog)
Pad Print Decoration of Large or Long Images- Orion (Video) (Blog)



Auxillary Pad Print Equipment

What is Auxillary Pad Print Equipment? Auxiliary pad printing equipment refers to additional tools, devices, and accessories used in conjunction with pad printing machines to enhance the pad printing process’s efficiency, quality, and versatility. These auxiliary tools and equipment are often essential for specific applications or tasks within the pad printing workflow.
Pre-Treatments Pre-treatments are applied to the surface of the substrate to be decorated before pad printing to ensure superior ink adhesion. Flame, corona, and plasma treatment machines help make the substrate responsive to the ink and achieve a more durable print.

Flame Treatment
Flame treatment involves briefly exposing the substrate’s surface to an open flame. The heat and energy from the flame cause the surface molecules to become more reactive and chemically active.
Flame treatment effectively improves ink adhesion on plastics, is fast and relatively inexpensive, and requires minimal equipment. Flame treatment is not suitable for all substrates and requires careful control to prevent overheating or damaging the substrate.

Corona Treatment
Corona treatment involves using a corona discharge, which is a low-temperature, high-energy electrical discharge, to treat the substrate’s surface. The discharge ionizes the air, creating reactive species that chemically modify the surface. Corona treatment is effective, offers precise control over treatment intensity, and is a non-contact process that minimizes substrate damage. The equipment costs for corona treatment can be relatively high and require careful control of treatment parameters.

Plasma Treatment
Plasma treatment uses ionized gases to modify the substrate’s surface. The plasma generates free radicals and other chemically active species that clean and activate the surface. Plasma treatment is effective and provides precise control over treatment parameters via a non-contact process. Equipment costs can be high and systems may require specific gas mixtures for different substrates.

Each of these pre-treatment methods has its strengths and is chosen based on the substrate material, the desired ink adhesion, and the specific printing requirements. Proper surface preparation is critical for achieving good print quality and adhesion in pad printing, as it ensures that the ink adheres well to the substrate and produces durable and high-quality prints.

Post-Treatments Post-treatments are designed to speed the ink drying process – ensuring durable print ready for packaging.

Drying Tunnels
Pad print drying tunnels, also known as pad printing dryers or curing tunnels, are specialized equipment used in the pad printing process to accelerate the drying or curing of ink after it has been applied to the substrate. These tunnels provide controlled heat and airflow to expedite the drying or curing process, ensuring that the printed images adhere well to the surface and are resistant to smudging or fading.

UV Curing
Ultraviolet curing is a photosensitive curing process in which high-intensity ultraviolet light is used to instantly cure or “dry” inks, coatings, or adhesives. Offering many advantages over traditional drying methods, UV curing can increase production speed, reduce reject rates, improve scratch and solvent resistance, and facilitate superior bonding. 

Safety Packages OSHA requires systems to prevent operators from reaching the point of operation when the machine is running. There are three main types of safety packages for pad print equipment.

Full Guard Package
This is a hard guarding covering the entire system and safety light curtains. The operator runs the system by using an external safety touch button. The system de-energizes when the operator loads and unloads parts or when the operator interfaces with the machine’s user interface.

Small Guard Package
Hard guarding covering the part handing area and safety light curtains.The operator runs the system by using an external safety touch button. The system de-energizes when the operator loads and unloads parts.

Two-hand Anti-Tie Down Package
This package consists of two safety touch buttons. The operator runs the system by placing fingers from both hands on the safety touch buttons. The system de-energizes when the operator removes a finger from one of the safety touch buttons.

Pad Blowers Pad blowers perform two essential functions:
  • Drying the Pad: After the pad is coated with ink from the cliché, it needs to be dried before making contact with the substrate to ensure that the ink adheres properly and that there is no excess ink that might cause smudging or poor print quality.
  • Cleaning the Pad: Pad blowers also remove contaminants or dust particles that may accumulate on the pad’s surface. Keeping the pad clean is essential for producing clean and consistent prints.

Trans Tech offers both anti-static and magnetic pad blowers. Anti-static pad blowers are primarily used to minimize the effects of static electricity on the pad’s surface, which can attract dust and debris. They help maintain a clean pad surface for better print quality.

On the other hand, magnetic pad blowers securely hold the pad on the printing machine, ensuring stability during the printing process and facilitating easy pad changes. Both types of blowers play essential roles in the pad printing process, contributing to efficient and high-quality printing results.

Cliché (Printing Plate) Preparation Equipment:
  • Exposure Units: Used to expose photosensitive plates or films to UV light to create printing plates (clichés).
  • Plate Cleaning Equipment: Equipment such as wash tanks and brushes for cleaning and maintaining clichés.
  • Etching Machines: Used to engrave or etch images onto clichés.



Pad Print Alternatives

Pad printing´s ability to apply multicolor, durable decoration to a wide range of substrates, including plastics, metals, glass, and ceramics has made it a popular decoration solution. Its ability to adapt to irregular and contoured surfaces makes it suitable for a variety of products and materials.

Hot Stamp Decoration
The hot stamp decoration process will be an attractive option for those looking to achieve the highly sophisticated look provided by metal stamping. Hot stamping can provide an elegant, shimmering finish that conveys opulence and exclusivity, making it a popular choice for luxury packaging, branding, and high-end products.

Our sister company, United Silicone, is a leading provider of hot stamp equipment and supplies.

Digital Printing
Digital printing is a viable option for those seeking variable data printing, and quick setup for short runs. We have prepared a comprehensive comparison of digital and pad print decoration.

Screen Printing
Screen printing involves pushing ink through a mesh screen onto the substrate. It is known for its versatility, screen printing is capable of printing on textiles, paper, plastics, glass, and metal. Screen printing produces vibrant, opaque colors and is particularly effective for bold, large designs. However, setup costs for screen printingcan be high, making it more cost-effective for larger print runs. Screen printing excels in durability, with prints capable of withstanding multiple washes and environmental exposure.


What To Look for in Pad Print Machine Manufacturer

In addition to finding a pad print supplier with a full range of pad print equipment and supplies, it is helpful also to ensure any potential pad print supplier offers the following:

  • High-tech Art Lab: using specialized graphic arts equipment and a team experienced in solving unique pad print challenges
  • Dedicated Test Lab: for research on ink-to-substrate compatibility, pad suitability, image distortion, and customer training
  • Complete Platemaking Facilities: for processing and etching steel and plastic clichés
  • Machine Shop: for building, testing, and machine service
  • Tooling Department: For holding fixture design, build, and testing.
  • Ink Lab: For ink mixing and precision color matching
  • Automation Team: With deep expertise in high-volume industrial applications, including part indexing, orientation, load and unloading, and pre-and post-treatments.



How To Get Started With Pad Printing

When exploring your pad printing options, make sure to find a partner who listens to your unique decorating challenge and has the expertise to create a customized solution optimized for your specific needs.

Our team comprises seasoned professionals who understand production needs from the ground up. The average experience of our lab technicians is over 30 years. We have seen it all and understand how to create the best solution for your unique application. Speak with a Trans Tech Pad Printing Expert today to learn more.