By Steffen Andersen · 12. May 2020
Tampon printing also better known as pad printing is the printing process primarilly used for printing on convex surfaces. So it is commonly used for printing on keyboards, auto motives, and other objects that don’t have a super complex design. So in this article, we are going to dig into how the pad printing works, what it is used for, and compare it to other printing methods.
In simple words, Tampon printing is a process of putting a 2D image on to a 3D object. The process works by a silicon pad transferring the ink from a printing plate on to the object. The printing plates can consist of either steel or nylon, but it is most commonly made of steel. This also means that the ink is put onto the printing plates, and not on the silicon pad because the printing plate is what ensures there is enough ink all times, so the quality of the printing does not become low. So making the printing plates is of high importance for the print.
When the printing plates are made of steel, the design or what you wanted to have printing on the objects are engraved into the steel printing plate. When it has been engraved there is a cleaning process of the printing plates to make sure, that no other objectives will be transferred from them than the ink.
Before the printing process can start, the printing plates need to have added ink. The only colour schemes that pad printing can use is Pantone colours, because of the ink being transferred directly onto the objective, so the colours are not mixed as they need to be when using CMYK colours. Because the colours need to be added separately, the colour will be added directly where it is needed in the design in the engraved area.
It is, of course, depending on the size of the machine but normally when using Tampon printing as the printing method it can only printing up to 2 different colours in the design. This is due to the fact that the more colours are added in the design, the more complex and time-consuming is the making of the printing plates.
Now that the printing plates have been made, the only thing left to do is transfer the graphics from the printing plate to the object. This is also the most simple part of the process. The silicon pad is made as a half-cylinder, the size of the silicone pad can be adjusted depending on how big the print needs to be on the object. The silicone pad does then the first roll over the printing plates and then transfers the print by rolling over the area on the object that needs to be printed. Since the pad is made of silicone it is easily adjustable to surfaces.
Tampon printing is primarilly used for printing on convex surfaces and surfaces that are not easy to print on. When it comes to packaging, tampon printing is especially used for plastic cups, plastic boxes, and a lot of plastic packaging except plastic bags.
It is though not often used and good for printing high volumes of a product since it is a rather manual process. This is the reason why the manufacturers we work with that uses tampon printing starts from small quantities.
Tampon print and flexography (flexo print) are the most used printing methods for printing on convex and complex surfaces, and they are specially used for plastic packaging. One of the differences is that flexo printing can both use Pantone and CMYK colours (Pantone is though mostly used), but Tampon printing can only use Pantone colours. The second one is the set-up of the printing process, where tampon printing is rather easy to set-up and great for smaller quantities, the set-up for flexo printing is rather long but a lot more efficient in the long run and therefore better at larger quantities. If you want to know more about flexo print, then we have written an article about the process.
Tampon printing and offset printing do not have that many similarities, and they are often used in different settings. It is due to the fact that tampon printing is great for printing low quantities on more convex and complex surfaces whereas offset printing is a lot better for higher quantities and printing on paper. The reason why tampon print is better at printing on convex surfaces is that the print is transferred via the silicon pad whereas offset print uses a rubber cylinder. The last main difference is that offset print can both use CMYK and Pantone colours (CMYK is mostly used though), then Tampon print only uses Pantone colours. If you want to learn more about offset printing, then have a look at this article.
Tampon print and letterpress printing are both methods that apply the print via a press mechanism, and they are therefore a lot alike in terms of usability. The letterpress method is though a lot more manual and it is not as easy to use on other surfaces as Tampon print, and the method is very bad for higher quantities, so it is primarily used for special products. The Letterpress printing method can though both use CMYK and Pantone colours, where Tampon print only uses Pantone colours.
Rotogravure is not a very commonly known printing method, and it is only used for printing in very high quantities due to the set-up cost being very high. The printing plates used for rotogravure can though be used for many millions of prints. Rotogravure is almost only used for printing on paper and textile products.
Tampon print is used for small quantities and the set-up cost is not that high, and the start-up process is rather fast. Tampon print is great for printing on plastic, metal, and more complex surfaces.
Both printing methods use Pantone colours as their standard colour system.
Digital print and tampon print are great printing methods for printing in lower quantities. The difference is though that tampon printing only can use Pantone colours, and is used printing on more concave objects and surfaces. Digital printing can only use CMYK colours and is primarilly used for printing on paper projects. Do you want to learn more about the digital printing process? Then read this article.