Though it sounds counterintuitive, pad printing is not flat printing. In fact, it is the way companies can have their logos on everything. It’s the reason your keyboard, for all of its curves, still have letters, numbers and symbols undistorted on each of the individual keys. It’s how our coffee mugs can have cute sayings and pictures that aren’t oddly stretched in different ways.
While printing itself has been around since ancient China, pad printing is actually relatively new. It is credited to the Swiss. In order to up the quality of their watches while saving time, they developed a way to transfer watch face designs without any kind of distortion. This original method used a bag of soft gelatin that would be pressed into the ink wells already designed in the shape desired. The ink would stick to this back, retaining its shape, and then be pressed onto the object. It was also a popular way to transfer over blue designs onto china plates and color the eyes of dolls.
Eventually, in the 60s and 70s, this method was further developed using more technological methods and machines. Gelatin was used up until after WWII when silicone became the preferred transference material as it resulted in much more accurate results.
Even with a few hundred years of development, the actual practice of pad printing remains the same. To begin, a printing plate that has been etched with a design is filled with ink. As soon as the ink is exposed to air, it dries on top, forming a tacky surface. The silicone pad is then pressed into this and the tacky layer attaches itself. As the pad is raised, the ink comes with it. Now exposed to the air, the bottom of the ink begins to form a tacky layer while the layer on the pad reverts back to a liquid. The pad presses down onto the item awaiting an image and the ink is transferred and allowed to dry.
For manufacturers, pad printing is a necessary way to make sure their brand appears on their product, no matter how small. This allows for an entirely new level of marketing – one where the brand can aid the potential client without being overtly pushy. Mugs, pens, notepads and virtually everything else can be marked so that users are always reminded of the benefits a certain company brings them thereby increasing the chance they will proceed to do business with said brand.
Pad printing enables inexpensive branding on all sorts of gear, and economically at that..