Technology Comparison Summary
Digital Printing
Pad Printing
Printing from a digital-based image directly to substrate Transfer of ink from an etched plate to the substrate using a silicone pad
  1. Instant Changeover
  2. Instant curing- immediate part handling
  3. Virtually limitless color options at a single station
  4. Elimination/reduction of consumables
1. Print on rough & textured 3D surfaces
2. High-quality image
3. Extreme accuracy & repeatability
4. Accurate & consistent decoration color
5. Medical & Automotive-grade inks available
6. Fast & easy tooling changes
7. More cost-effective than many alternatives
8. UV curable inks for instant curing
1. Substrate NEEDS to be close to the ink source

2. Limited substrate compatibility

3. Limited ink options

4. Pre- & post-treatment options not efficient

5. Inferior color matching

6. Low-resolution small print

1. Pre-treatment may be required

2. Ink viscosity needs to be controlled

3. Solvents required

4. Post-Treatment may be required (solvent-based inks)

5. Print size limited by the size of the ink cup

6. Changing artwork requires changing plates

7. Limitations with metallic colors

  1. IV Bags
  2. Syringes
  3. Catheters
  4. Appliance
  5. Saw Blades
  6. Ski Bindings


Print on almost any surface
Did You Know?
Our parent company (ITW) developed the FIRST industrial digital printers in 2008. Be sure to identify a supplier with expertise in your application. Product development for applying digital printing to a new application is inefficient and costly. Morlock has over 40 years experience in pad printing equipment, tooling and consumables.

Digital Printing

Benefits, Considerations, Morlock Expertise

Digital Printing Benefits
Benefits Description
Instant Image Changeover Digital print allows for nearly instant changeover of the printed image. There is no need to manually change and realign printing plates and other equipment. This makes digital a good fit for applications like sequential numbering or short runs that require frequent image changes.
Instant UV Curing / Immediate Part Handling Digital printers print an image and cure it inline without the need for a separate curing station. This is a much faster process than pad printing where the UV curing time will depend on a number of factors such as the substrate type and curing station specifications.
More Colors at Single Station Thanks to the use of process colors, digital print makes it possible to use thousands of colors at a single printing station.
Elimination / Reduction of Consumables Digital printing eliminates or reduces the need for printing plates (clichés), pads, screens, solvents, and other consumables.
Digital Printing Considerations
Consideration Description
Substrate NEEDS to be close to ink source Digital printing does not work well with the printed substrate cannot be close to the ink source. For applications where the substrate geography does not allow a digital printhead to get very close to a substrate- pad printing or hot stamping will provide superior print quality.
Limited Substrate Compatibility Digital print is very substrate-dependent. It works well on some substrates, can be made to work on others with considerable effort and does not work on some substrates at all. Generally speaking, digital print works best on flat, white surfaces with 48-52 dynes of surface energy. Plasma, corona and flame treatments are applied in an effort to make more substrates compatible but results are uneven. Pad printing and hot stamping, in contrast, perform well on a much wider range of substrates.
Limited Ink Options Where as digital print is limited to the ink used in the system, pad printing applications enjoy access to hundreds if not thousands of ink options. Pad printing is a much older (40-year-old) technology and over those decades many different solvents, additives have been fine-tuned for specific performance requirements. Digital printing does not enjoy this history or this depth of available performance ink options.
Pre- and Post-Treatment Options Not Efficient Digital print colors. Pre- and post-treatment options (such as plasma, corona, and flame) are less efficient and less forgiving for digital print than for pad printing.
Inferior Color Matching Digital print colors are based on CMYK and white. Pad printing colors are based on RGB. RGB colors are superior for color matching.
Low-Resolution Small Print Digital printers have a hard time printing crisp alphanumerics at 4 point or smaller size. A pad printer with top-of-the-line plate etching capabilities will be better suited to make highly readable smaller print.
Challenges Decorating on Non-Flat surfaces Digital printers work best on flat or near flat products. Performance issues often arise when decorating on conformal surfaces.
Requires Skilled Operators Digital printers require greater operational skill than analog systems. This can be a challenge in environments where personnel cuts have been made.

Pad Printing

Benefits, Considerations, Morlock Expertise

Pad Printing Benefits
Benefit Description
Print on Rough Surfaces and Textures, 3D Shaped Objects Pad printing uses a silicone pad with the shape and durometer selected to fit the application needs. The pad conforms to the shape and texture of the object to transfer ink completely. Ability to print on products that have inconsistent dimensions or variations, such as blow molded parts. Utilizing flexible silicone transfer pads, pad printing is the ideal method for printing irregular shaped products. Pad printing also has the diversity to print round, cylindrical, flat, raised, as well as recessed areas. Pad printing has the ability to fill most textured surfaces.
High-Quality Images Pad printing can provide photographic quality decoration. Pad printing can provide fine-scale detail on critical components that require line definition down to .0001” (25µm).
Extreme Accuracy & Repeatability Pad printing can provide the accuracy required on components such as:

  • Medical devices
  • Pharmaceutical dispensing components
  • Surgical devices
  • Safety components
  • Automotive components
  • Military components
  • Consumer Electronic components & devices
  • Optical components
Accurate & Consistent Decoration Color The pad printing process applies films & coatings with extremely high accuracy.

With the high accuracy (.00011” / 3µm) the pad printing process provides an accurate & repeatable film color. (variations below what the unaided human eye can perceive).

Medical & Automotive Grade Inks Available Broad range of ink formulations available. Morlock provides materials for many specific requirements such as biocompatibility, chemical resistance, wear resistance, UV resistance, sterilization resistance.
Fast & Easy Tooling Changes Changeover time on pad printing systems. On systems that utilize liners, an ink change can be accomplished in 1-2 minutes. Liner systems can be removed & cleaned in under 5 minutes, without a need for wash tanks.
More Cost-Effective Than Many Alternatives Compared to hot stamping or heat transfer labels, pad printing is cheaper when flexibility is required. With pad printing, there is the flexibility to change graphics, ink chemistry, and ink color very quickly at a much lower cost. With hot stamping, the cost of foil is high due to high minimum order quantity and the cost for producing foils in specific colors for specific substrates can be extremely expensive. With heat transfer labels, there is a high cost associated with printing the label due to high minimum order quantity and the cost of applying the label.

Pad printing eliminates much of the cost incurred with labeling products. (cost of printing labels & cost of applying the label).

UV Curable Inks For Instant Curing With the UV curable ink formulations, the product can move directly into assembly or packaging. This ink completely cures in seconds, providing an extremely high ware & chemically resistant finished product.
Pad Printing Considerations
Consideration Description
Pre-Treatment May Be Required In some cases, pre-treatment may be required on chemically resistant materials.
Ink viscosity Needs to be Controlled Ink viscosity is relevant to the process & requires control to function properly. This can have an impact on print quality. Defective prints could result when the ink is too thick or too thin, where the pad won’t pick up the image from the plate or release ink onto the part.
Solvents Required Solvents used in the pad printing process are hazardous chemicals that may be volatile or flammable and may possess health hazards. Thinner is required to adjust the ink viscosity. Solvents are required for cleaning all components.
Post-Treatment May Be Required Some of the ink formulations require heat to increase adhesion. Post curing may be required if the product is packaged in bulk or assembled immediately after printing.
Print Size Limited by the Size of the Ink Cup The ink cup diameter defines the maximum size of the print image. 60mm ink cup = 50mm maximum image diameter. 90mm ink cup = 80mm maximum image diameter. 130mm ink cup = 110mm maximum image diameter. The exception is the Orion 130 with CupSlide, which can print an image 460mm in length.
Changing Artwork Requires Changing Plates Artwork is etched onto a steel or polymer plate and is permanent. To change artwork, a new plate needs to be etched with the new artwork.
Limitations on Metallic Colors A chrome finish cannot be accomplished with pad printing inks.
Skilled Operators/Maintenance Personnel Required Maintenance personnel need to understand the pad printing process in order to address any print quality issues. Some factors they need to understand are: how environmental factors such as temperature and humidity affect print quality and may need to adjust the ink viscosity accordingly.
Would you like to learn more about the relative benefits and challenges for pad and digital printing? We would love to hear from you.