Pad Printing commonly used terms

Pad printing is an imprinting process for transferring an image from a printing plate onto an object, such as a mug or a pen. Like any other industry, the pad printing industry has common terms. These terms are essential for every decorator to understand the components and the pad printing process.

We have compiled, in alphabetical order and in sections, the commonly used terms and their definitions. Consider this a dictionary of pad printing. If you are new to the industry or even if you are an “old timer,” we believe that this glossary will be helpful. You should visit it from time to time and share it with others who are new to the industry.

  • Artwork: The image or design for printing onto the substrate (material).
  • Pad printing plate or Pad printing cliché: This is a flat “sheet metal” made from various materials. These materials include coated aluminum, thick steel, coated steel, ceramic, or steel coated with photopolymer material. The artwork is etched onto the plates with a laser-plate-making machine, chemicals, or an exposure unit.
  • Pad: Typically made from silicone, the pad printing pad picks up the pad printing ink mixture from the cliché and transfers it to the material. The pads come in various shapes and sizes to accommodate different printing needs.
  • Substrate: The substrate is the base material for printing an image. Examples of substrates include plastic, glass, ceramics, metals, silicone, and more.
  • Ink Cup: This is an important component of the pad printing machine that has several functions. These functions include acting as a reservoir for the ink and flooding and cleaning up the excess ink from the etch on the cliché.
  • Doctor Blade: This is a flexible blade used by open-ink well machines to flood and clean excess ink from the surface of the cliché, leaving only the engraved image filled with the right amount of ink.
  • Doctoring: The process of removing excess ink off the cliché with the doctor blade or ink cup ceramic ring.
  • Tampography is another term for pad printing.
  • Closed-Cup System: An ink cup system uses a cup-like component—the ink cup assembly—to hold the ink. The cup assembly has an ink cup ring, vent plug, O-ring, and the cup body. All these components play a crucial role during the pad printing process.
  • Open-ink well system: Unlike the closed cup system, an open ink well has a trough (tray) that holds the ink. A doctor blade floods and cleans (scrapes) the excess ink from the pad printing plate. Although less common than the closed-cup system, printers use this printing system to print large images.
  • A fixture is an important part of pad printing that securely holds and positions the object during the printing process.
  • Registration: It is the process of aligning a part during pad printing. Registration ensures accurate and consistent printing of the image on the part.
  • Curing: Often confused with the drying of ink, curing is the process by which the ink achieves a permanent structural state. When the pad printing reaches this state it cannot revert to its original components. Heat can accelerate the curing process.
  • Shuttle System: This is a pad printing machine mechanism where the pad or the table moves. The pad shuttle refers to the movement of the pad while the part remains stationary. A part shuttle occurs when the part moves but the pads remain stationary.