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How to Select Printing Pads

Tips on selecting, using, storing and taking care of printing pads

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How to Select, Use, Store & Take Care of Printing Pads

To produce high quality pad printing graphics it is vital to select printing pads that are the best for a particular printing job. Understanding about printing pads, knowing how to keep pads in the best working shape and how to restore them can have a major impact on the quality of a print job as well as decrease the overall cost of printing supplies. Below you can find practical advice on pad selection, use, and care brought to you by Inkcups Now.

Pad Selection

Selecting the right printing pad is crucial for image quality. Pad characteristics that affect imprint are: shape, size, hardness, surface finish, and material.

1. Shape

Shape is a most important factor: it is mostly the shape that determines how well the pad achieves its rolling action. Inkcups’ advice:
  • In general, the sharper the pad’s angle, the better the quality. However, if item to be printed onto has spherical surface (stress ball for instance), one should use flatter pads. Avoid pads with perfectly flat profiles, since these can trap air during ink pickup or deposition.
  • Look for pad shapes that extend the profile to cover the entire image. Distortion of image edges in most cases is caused by undersized pads.
  • Irregular ink pickup during the test print usually means that air is being trapped between pad and clichés’ surfaces. Watch carefully as the pad is imprinting to make sure that a rolling action is occurring.
  • When possible, try to avoid using pad’s apex for ink deposit. This tends to thin the ink at that point and cause a light spot on the image.
  • Always use as little pressure as possible to pick up and print the image: excessive pad pressure can cause distortion as well as poor ink transfer.
At Inkcups Now we have a variety of shapes to suit any pad print application. Should a specialty need arise, please be sure that our Pad Department Team possesses the expertise and technology to satisfy it.

2. Size

In general, the larger the printing pad, the less image distortion. The pad should be at least 20-30% larger that the desired image size. So for the best quality use the largest pad size that is practical for the item to be printed onto. For larger items the maximum pad size will be dictated by printing machine’s parameters, namely by the distance between the image and machine’s body and its ability to compress large, hard pads.

3. Hardness

Hardness of the pad mostly depends on the amount of silicone oil that is used for pad molding. Pad hardness is measured by shore durometer tool; the same term refers to the measurement. “Shore 00” is a commonly used scale. The table below shows typical shore durometers that suit most of pad printing applications.

Hardness Description
35-40 Soft
50- Medium
60- Medium hard
70- Hard
80- Very hard

Some manufacturers use colors to code levels of pad hardness by adding pigment to the pad or coloring its base.
Choosing the appropriate pad hardness for a specific job is a matter of experiment and experience. In general, a harder pad (of higher durometer) produces more precise printing. However, a hard pad is impractical in some applications, for example when using a low-power machine or printing onto a delicate item. Inkcups’ advice:
  • Use hard pads for textured surfaces. You can also use them when you need to print an image in a lower-leveled area next to a raised surface. The pad will have to roll over the "step".
  • Hard pads can be used in a pad "nest" or matrix, when you need to use one machine with many pads that are placed with small gaps between them e.g. when printing computer keyboards.
  • Softer pads are ideal when printing onto heavily contoured surfaces and fragile items.
  • Use a softer pad if the power of your machine can't compress the pad adequately to achieve a satisfactory rolling action.
  • Try as much as possible to avoid using pads of different hardness on the same application. The thickness of the ink deposit will vary on the substrate. This is particularly true when dealing with a pad matrix.
At Inkcups Now pads are carefully inspected prior to shipment and can be manufactured in durometer increments of 5 with a tolerance of plus or minus 1.5. It enables the company to fulfill our clients’ pad printing needs, including custom ones. For your reference, below there are major types of Inkcups Now printing pads.

ICN Line of Printing Pads:

EVERFLEX (Neon Pink Color)
This durable silicone has excellent ink transfer qualities and is extremely resistant to abrasion and tears. It has no break in time, provides exceptional fine line detail and has excellent resistance to "image burn-in" and "memory." This high-tensile strength silicone has exceptional life and works with all ink types.
INSTAPRINT (Off White Color)
This popular silicone is a relatively "dry" and is known for its instant break in time and its ability to get full ink release in high quality prints. This pad has very good life with average cut resistance.
DURAFLEX (Brick Red Color)
This silicone is somewhat oily and has very good abrasion, chemical and cut resistance. Its ink release qualities are very good and the silicone generally works well with two-components inks. The life of the pad is very good, however this silicone has been found to be susceptible to static related printing problems.
ULTRAFLEX (Light Blue Color)
This specialty silicone is slightly oily and has very good ink release characteristics. It is a very long life silicone, especially when used with two-component ink.
AUTOFLEX (Color Coded)
This is a slightly oily silicone works well with most applications and has a very good life. It has shown exceptional performance with metallics and aggressive pigments. This silicone is color coded for durometer identification.
CRYSTALFLEX (Semitransparent)
This silicone features time release conditioning agent that keeps the pad durometer consistent for the life of the pad. Of all ICN pad materials, CrystalFlex has the highest density molecular structure so it does not absorb solvents that end up drying the pad. The semitransparent material allows the pad print operator to instantly see and remove ink leftovers (if any) from the pad, facilitating clean crisp prints. CrystalFlex perfectly suits printing on textured items, such as golf balls.

4. Surface Finish
Traditionally pad manufacturers use high gloss finish for their pads. However, excess silicone oil that creates the glossy appearance prevents the pad from effectively picking up and transferring ink during pad printing process. As a result, pad users have to matte pad surface – to remove excessive silicone before initial application. Some erroneously choose to use strong solvents, such as fast thinners, which damage the pad and shorten its life.

At Inkcups we have recognized this problem and started making printing pads with a “ready to use” finish that virtually eliminates the need to matte them. Inkcups’ advice:
  • Before the first use of a high gloss pad, remove extra silicone by gently wiping the pad with an alcohol-based pad-cleaning fluid.
  • Once you have used the pad, the best way to get rid of solid debris, dried ink, and dust is with brown adhesive packaging tape. In fact, by carrying out this simple procedure regularly you will improve your print quality, reduce downtime, and prolong pad’s life.

 5. Material
The printing pad consists of two parts: the pad itself and pad base that is mounted onto pad printing machine. Pads are made of highly elastic silicone rubber. Pad bases can be made of different materials: aluminum, wood, plastic.

Wooden bases give the user more flexibility: because wooden bases are easy to drill in, they can be mounted to a printing machine with any number and configuration of screw holes. This is also true of plastic bases but not of aluminum ones. The major benefit of wood is that it provides good bond between the base and the silicone mold. As a result the mold is less prone to fall off during printing cycle and the pad point stays well-centered, assuring accurately repeated imprints. Wooden bases are also cheaper than aluminum or plastic ones. The advantage of aluminum bases is that aluminum screws and screw paths are more resistant to damage.

At Inkcups, we make all three types of pad bases. The wooden ones are made of multilayer laminate core plywood – the material that guarantees base durability. All pads are carefully inspected to assure the best quality supplies for our customers.

Pad Quality Control

Poor-quality pads can destroy the performance of the printing machine. When you receive pads from your supplier, it's vital to check the pads for:
  • Blemishes on the print surface
  • Foreign particles on the print surface, such as wood splinters
  • "Nipples" on the print surface
  • Firm attachment of the pad to the base (the pad should be secure, with no air bubbles that can cause the rubber to come away from the base)
  • The desired hardness (use a durometer gauge to check hardness).
  • The positioning on the backing plate (it should be concentric, with its vertical center line at a 90° angle to the base)
  • The height (this is particularly important in multiple-pad applications)
Report any defects to your pad supplier immediately so that replacement pads can be furnished.

Pad Storage, Use, and Care

  • Unpack new pads as soon as you receive them from the supplier: a prolonged contact with shrink wrap and other packaging material may deform the pads.
  • Do not store a pad on top of another.
  • Do not use pads with rubbed or abraded surface.
  • Use an adhesive tape to remove dust, dirtand dried ink before starting a printing cycle.
  • With wood-base pads, do not allow the mounting screws to penetrate the rubber.
  • If possible, avoid printing near sharp edges.
Inkcups’ specialists have created a product line to refine printing pads and extend their life. Nu-Pad Cleaner and Nu-Conditioner – available exclusively from Inkcups – can help you to handle the following situations:
  • Pads dry out over time. Nu-Conditioner extends pad life by replenishing it with oils and restoring it. Just apply Nu-Conditioner to the pad surface at the end of the shift and let stand overnight.
  • Certain inks have aggressive solvents that will be absorbed by the pad during printing. This absorption causes the image to "grow" on the pad and eventually affects the print quality. When you see this, stop and replace the pad. This is not a permanent condition. Allow the pad to stand; the solvents that have penetrated into it will evaporate. If you want to speed up the process, use soft cloth to wipe the pad with Nu-Pad Cleaner and apply Nu-Conditioner to help it rejuvenate.

Good luck!

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