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Tooling and Techniques for Pad-Printing Irregular Products

(July 2006) posted on Thu Jul 06, 2006

Find out how to manipulate artwork and select the right equipment and consumables to pull off the project successfully.


By Linda Huff

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The origins of pad printing may have been in decorating flat watch dials, but times have changed (no pun intended). The era of plastic molded everything has required printers to adapt to printing on the most unusual of objects. Every printer can think of at least one project in which the shape of the part made the print job difficult. The long hours, repeated artwork revisions, and load of scrap parts generated before finally getting that perfect print make pad-press users appreciate those flat watch dials.

Unfortunately, even experienced printers have trouble when it comes to 3-D objects. Factors such as artwork distortion, equipment capabilities, and tooling contradict conventional, flat-surface pad printing. These projects provide you with valuable experience—but only after you've pulled out a little of your hair. Consulting equipment and supply vendors and being prepared is the best offense when accepting a difficult print job.

These projects can be very profitable if you're willing to take them on. But what you must realize before starting a challenging project is that it requires a unique approach to prepress and production. Awareness of the issues presented in this article will help you accept more jobs of this nature and complete them with greater success.

Artwork distortion, registration, and location

Let's say you need to print on a rubber ball. When you look at artwork on your computer, you see it as a one-dimensional image. So you print your artwork to film, expose your cliche, and set up your machine for printing. Then you print a ball and take a good look at it. Hmmm...not exactly like the artwork on the computer, is it? That's because artwork for an unusual object may need to be larger on the cliche than it appears on the object. Artwork distortion is to blame. In the ball example, the distortion is caused by the multidimensional surface of the ball. What you are looking for is a print on the part that is identical to the artwork as it appears on your computer monitor. On a 3-D object, this is sometimes not possible to achieve without modifying the artwork. This is where the hair pulling comes in.


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