Learn all about printing balloons
History of Balloon Printing
The first latex balloons were invented by Michael Faraday in 1824 and used in his experiments He made his balloons simply by cutting out two sheets of rubber, placing them on top of each other and pressing the edges together. Today they are made by dipping stainless steel formers into latex solution. After drying the balloon is peeled off and powdered talc is inserted to stop it sticking together internally.
Large balloons for advertising (also called "blimps") have always been individually painted or printed using the same materials used for posters and other items. Printing the small "toy" balloons in bulk came along later and was originally done using the offset litho process. A thin metal printing plate was made up using moveable type or photoengraving. This was bolted onto a cylinder which was in contact with a rubber roller. The plate was inked and it transferred the image to the rubber roller when the rollers turned. An inflated balloon held in contact with the rubber roller would then pick up the image.
Latex balloons and foil balloons
In the 1980's the Mylar foil balloon was invented. It was a byproduct of food packaging technology and was made by heat welding two sheets of thin plastic together. The plastic was vacuum coated with a very thin layer of aluminium which helped make it airtight. The plastic sheet could be printed in bulk before the balloons were made. Once manufactured the uninflated balloons can be personalised easily by screenprinting because they are completely flat.
How to print on a balloon
Screenprinting is most commonly used today. The image is put onto a wooden or metal frame which is stretched with a fine mesh. The mesh is left clear for the drak parts of the image. The screen is put into close contact with the inflated balloon, the image is covered with a thin layer of ink and the using a rubber squeegee the ink is forced through the mesh onto the balloon. The advantage of this method is that any iamge can be used and it produces a thick layer of ink on the balloon. Once the ink has dried the balloon is deflated.
Types of balloon printing machine
A manual screen press is a good place to start because all the automatic machines use the same printing method. A poor quality screen will still give bad results if used on a machine costing £20,000. You need a small screen press that can accomodate objects about 6 inches high so a lot of T shirt presses are not much use.
More expensive machines clamp the inflated balloon in position while it is transported into the machine for printing. This way all the operator has to do is keep putting is ding is