Q&A: Pad Printing Ink Options Expand

by Jen Clark, Plastics Decorating

Pad printing has long been a popular choice for decorating plastic parts. It gives marketers the ability to decorate a wide range of two- and three-dimensional objects, including those with difficult shapes. New ink formulations have been able to give pad printed objects a high-end quality, as well as move companies specializing in the technique into new markets.

“From automotive applications to glassware, there still are so many markets that use pad printing as their first choice,” said Clif Treco, screen and pad sales manager at Marabu North America LP, North Charleston, SC. “We’ve also seen pad printing answer the need to print onto soft-touch items or thermoplastic elastomer substrates. These items are used widely in emerging technologies, such as cellphones and laptops.”

Micah Swett, national sales manager with Diversified Printing Techniques, Charlotte, NC, agreed. “As great as it is to see new and unique technologies develop for decorating, pad printing still is a very popular choice,” he said. “Also, with some return of large-scale manufacturing to the US market, there is a need for pad print.”

What benefits does pad printing provide over other product decoration options?

Swett said there are two “sweet spots” in the decorating industry that make pad printing an ideal option: unique shapes and surfaces and long production runs: “It seems that product designers always are adding curves to create visual appeal, which makes pad printing a popular solution for decorating.”

There is a strong pad printing presence in the promotional market, glassware and medical device industries, Treco said. “Most of the products these industries are decorating have irregularly shaped surfaces, and the very nature of the pad printing application allows users to get a perfect result on those surfaces every time. Also, pad printing inks work on such a broad range of substrates, this versatility sets pad printing inks ahead in the market,” he explained.

Swett said equipment versatility, ink adhesion, price of entry into the market and cost of operation make pad printing an ideal means of product decoration. “Pad printing equipment typically can be changed over from one job to another with ease, and there is a vast selection of inks for many different applications,” he said. “With these inks, there are additives that can be used to tweak an ink to work for a particular application. The capital cost also is much less than many other technologies, as are the consumable costs.”

Pad printing provides a larger window of success, Swett added. “It provides great decoration every cycle. It can do this even if the product is not always perfect – for example, if there are sinks in the surface, warp in the plastics, etc.”

What new developments are on the market for pad printing inks?

Recently, there has been a push for more environmentally friendly inks, Swett said. “There have been great strides in this with the creation of inks that perform well and are better for the environment.”

Treco noted UV-curable inks also have gained popularity in several market segments. “Specifically, the glassware industry has really taken to the UV-curable options,” he said.

Other new developments include Class VI inks for medical devices, color matching systems and inks specifically developed for new substrates and materials that are entering the market, Swett said.

Can any special effects be obtained through the use of these inks?

Special effects can include metallic inks, inks with color-shifting pigments, mirror inks and clear coat, Swett said. He’s seen these special effect inks used mostly in high-end specialty markets.

Added Treco: “High-end metallic colors and pearlescent effects can be achieved from pad printing inks offering outstanding special effects,” he said. “Thermochromatic effects (changing colors under different temperatures) also can be achieved using pad printing inks.”

Treco noted pad printing ink is trending in the medical field. “Again, there are several inks that are Class VI medical grade-approved, making them the popular choice for medical device decoration,” he said. “But, we’ve also seen upward trends in the automotive industry, the toy industry and in the promotional market.”

Plastics Decorating would like to thank Micah Swett, Diversified Printing Solutions, and Clif Treco, Marabu North America LP, for their insights on this article. For more information, visit www.diverprint.com or www.marabu-northamerica.com.