While the exact date isn’t clear, pad printing can be traced back to roughly 200 years ago. The process was done completely by hand using a soft gelatin material that was transferred from a copper plate to a product. This early form of pad printing was primarily used for porcelain dinnerware or fine china, just like the ones you use during holiday dinners.
Following World War II, Swiss watchmakers industrialized the pad printing process. Although the process was done by machine, it was relatively time-consuming and still required manual labor to operate. In fact, the plates were engraved by hand and the blades had to be cleaned after every print.
By the 20th century, the hand-run machines were replaced by electric motors, making the printers fully automatic and able to mass produce a large amount of products. Wilfried Philipp, a toolmaker from Germany, developed a more modern version of the pad printer in the mid-1960s, and a version of this printer is still used today to create baseballs, cables, colored contact lenses, and of course, promotional products.
Pad printing is the transfer of a two-dimensional image onto a tri-dimensional object through the use of silicone pads. Silicone pads come in different shapes to accommodate several products. With pad printing, only one-color ink can be stamped at once. However, depending on the item, up to four different colors can be used to stamp your design.
- Works both for flat surfaces and rounded or concave surfaces;
- The silicone pad wraps around the surface shape of the product without distorting the image;
- Can achieve fine details and multicolour printing;
- Uses automation for high-volume projects;
- Can print on plastic, glass, ceramics, metal, silicone, and even foods and pharmaceutical products.
- Requires a stabilised environment;
- A proper print process can be difficult to establish.
Pad printing is used for complicated and irregular shapes, such as symbols on keyboard keys, industrial tools, electronic components, sporting goods, toys, and household appliances.