Feature Article in Supplier Global Resource on the Evolution of Print Plates and Laser EtchingWith the constant evolution of the pad printing industry, lasers have made their way to the forefront of technological advances. In the past, lasers emerged as a great way to mark you product by etching into the substrate providing a finished product. The one thing lasers couldn’t provide the end user was allowing their product to stand out from the competition with colorful, fine detail. Recently, lasers have broke into the pad printing industry by serving the purpose of creating the perfect print plate. With recent software upgrades, etching capabilities of lasers now include half tones and provide incredible detail. Also, the repeatability of etching to an exact depth is as easy as pressing a button. Removing the human error in process is a major relief for all the headaches polymer plates have once caused. The days of warming up your denatured alcohol and testing out exposure times to create the perfect depth are long gone. Surrendering to the constant changing environment and surroundings have since past. Lasers know only one thing, precision. Affordability and Availability Lasers are easy to get your hands on or find information about. The ongoing problem in the past has been that the YAG lasers were far to expensive for a smaller printing operation. Financially, it didn’t make a lot of sense for an investment into the laser technology with sales not supporting the idea. With CO2 Lasers emerging, the cost has dropped significantly, allowing the smaller operations to join in on the fun. The CO2 lasers can effectively be about 30% of the cost of a basic YAG laser. Since this cost effective strategy of using a lower intensity beam to etch polymer print plates has been highlighted, the market for supplies has grown significantly. The etching of standard polymer print plates with a CO2 laser is a significant step in the right direction. But, here lies a problem, which currently has a spotlight upon it. The process of exposing polymer plates to light, to harden the surface, has not been dealt with. Exposing the plates to light creates a problem within the realm of being efficient. The direct to plate technology eliminates significant time from your plate making process, but with having to expose polymer plates for 10-15 minutes to ensure they’re hard enough for etching, the end user forgoes the real benefits of having the technology. This has forced a search for the right material to be utilized to eliminate the hardening of the polymer material. This material must be hard starting off, but must be soft enough to be etched by a lower intensity CO2 laser. The availability of this new “laser material” is limited, but more versions are being created daily. Options and Flexibility The material being used initially during the up-start phase of laser plate technology was an anodized aluminum based print plate. It was a revolutionary material because previously, once the print plate was etched, that was it. The anodized aluminum plates allowed for etching multiple images at different times. The laser etch-able plates allowed for etching to be done put on a machine to be used, then able to be put back into the laser and etch another logo at a different time. The print plates were double sided as well. The top and bottom could be etched, which paired with using ends of the plate, gave the user a maximum of 4 sections of the print plate to be utilized vs. just two previously with polymer plates. In addition, with the cost of aluminum being so inexpensive, this provided the industry with a very cost-effective product. Then after using the anodized aluminum plates for some time, operators starting growing weary of the constant doctoring, shadowing and ink leaking problems. Looking a little further into the issue, the reason behind this came to the forefront. Anodized aluminum plates were just that, Aluminum. With closed cup technologies becoming an industry standard, the magnets need something to attract to for a proper hold down and aluminum just wasn’t getting the job done with it’s non-magnetic properties. Then the industry turned to an old friend, the steel backed print plate. But, this time with a laser etch-able quality that isn’t light sensitive. Reuniting steel and the closed cup design with magnets has brought relief to operators around the globe. These proprietary materials have been a major influence on the pad printing industry and continue to inspire revolutionary ideas. The path where efficiency meets effectiveness is currently underway, but new ideas continue to shape the landscape of pad printing supplies. The advancements have not come to a stop, and by the looks of it, have only just begun. - The AutoTran Team/p>

Monday: #MediaMonday – Feel free to share any media that pertains to pad printing, as we will be posting photos of our equipment, supplies, and operations

Tuesday: #TuesdaysTips – We will be sharing helpful tips to you every Tuesday that will help with different aspects of pad printing. Feedback is always encouraged and any helpful tips that you have learned throughout your experiences, please share them with us.

Wednesday: #WhatsPrintingWednesday – Sharing with the pad printing community some of the capabilities of pad printing by showing current product trends and applications

Thursday: #10%Thursday – Who doesn’t like savings? On Thursdays, we will share with you a deal that will only last 24 hours savings you 10% on equipment and supplies.

Friday: #FunFriday – Fridays we will share pictures and media to help you get to know us better. We are always trying to find ways to bring together the pad printing community and this is a fun way to do it. Feel free to participate and keep us up to date on getting to know our customers better.

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