Imprint Processes: Which is Best for Your Promotional Items?

I know that sometimes the choices given for imprint areas and processes can be a little overwhelming. What’s the difference between debossing and embossing? Will a screen print or laser engraved logo look better on my promotional pen?

To make the selection process a little easier, I put together this quick guide on the different imprint processes and some of the products that they look best on.

Screen printed water bottle

Screen prints look great on water bottles!

Screen Printing. This process makes use of spot colors (premixed inks with a standard recipe) and a screen to transfer your logo onto your selected item. A screen made of nylon or polyester is covered by the inverse of your image, so ink can only be printed as your logo. The ink is then spread across the screen and transferred to the surface. Screen printing is generally the most inexpensive option.

Best products to use with screen printing: Tote bags, water bottles, plastic pens, stress balls, and can coolers.

Digital Printing. When you want to print your logo in a whole bunch of colors, screen printing isn’t going to cut it. That’s when you have to take a step up and move to digital, or full color, printing. This process makes use of physical printers instead of screens and generally allows you to print over the entire surface. HINT: Digital printing is also referred to as CMYK, full-color printing, color burst, and 4-color process printing.

Best products to use with digital printing: Mouse pads, magnets, and note pads.

Heat Transfer. If you ever used an iron to press a decal onto a shirt, then you know the basis of a heat transfer. Printers use intense heat to press the ink into the material, making sure that your logo isn’t going anywhere. Heat transfer is sometimes the only option if you want to create a logo with more than one color.

Best products to use with heat transfer: Tote bags and t-shirts.

Laser engraved pen

Logos look sleek and sharp when laser engraved!

Laser Engraving. This process creates sharp, crystal-clear logos that are unable to be peeled off. Without ink or tool bits, this process is simple, clean, and easy. Logos are programmed into the laser software and then executed onto your items. If available, you can also opt for oxidation, which adds a little more color to your logo and makes it a touch more distinctive.

Best products to use with laser engraving: Metal pens, wood items (like cutting boards), glass awards, and corporate gifts with metal plaques.

Debossing/Embossing. Debossing and embossing give your logo a 3-dimensional element. For both processes, dies are constructed from metal in the shape of your logo. The product is then placed between them and heat and pressure push and form the material into the impression you want. Embossing rises from the product, while debossing pushes into the product. For an additional cost, you can also add color to the logo.

Best products to use with debossing/embossing: Leather portfolios, vinyl pouches, custom chocolates, and backpacks with leather or vinyl patches.

embroidery cap

The texture and color of embroidery draws instant attention!

Embroidery. Texturize your logo by choosing embroidery. Any cloth product, and especially corporate apparel, looks great with the vibrant stitching. In the embroidery process, your logo is changed to a digital image and then assigned color threads. Your garments or blankets are placed in the embroidery machine, the needles go to work, and then excess threads are cut off.

Best products to use with embroidery: T-shirts, blankets, hats, backpacks, and towels.

What processes have been used on promotional products that you’ve received? Do you have a preference? Any items to add to our suggestions?

Mandy Kilinskis

Mandy is proud to be a part of QLP’s content team. A self-professed nerd, her interests include video games, sitcoms, superhero movies, iPods and iPhones but never Macs, and shockingly, writing. Her claims to fame are: owning over forty pairs of Chuck Taylor All Stars, offering spot-on coffee advice, and knowing an unbelievable amount of Disney Princess facts. You can connect with Mandy on


  1. Rachel

    Great rundown, Mandy! All the imprint possibilities on promo products can be overwhelming sometimes, so this is really helpful for customers weighing their options. I’ve got a bunch of pens and some stress balls on my desk with screen prints, and they all look pretty spiffy :)

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      You’re right, screen prints do look really spiffy! The standard recipe makes sure that you’re getting exactly the color you want – every time!

  2. Jen

    What an informative post Mandy! This is sure to answer any and all questions about imprint methods, and I like how you gave product examples for each method. It takes away all the guess work. Nice Job!!!!

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      Thanks, Jen! While talking to one of our customer service representatives would definitely be the best way to decide on a promo item, at least this guide will give brand’s a nice start!

  3. Jill Tooley

    You nailed this post, Mandy! :)

    I’d say that regular screen printing vs. digital printing is one of the biggest obstacles in the promotional products industry. Screen printing is the standard for most products, but it can’t produce the kind of photo-quality image that digital printing can do. On the other hand, though, digital prints tend to be more expensive, so it’s always best to research all of your options before paying more for an imprint. If the logo/decoration doesn’t have tons of colors, sometimes you can save money by choosing a simpler method instead of splurging on digital! But, our customer service reps are always willing to answer customer questions like this (which is nice)!

    Debossing and embossing throw many people off as well. What’s the difference? One produces raised letters and the other produces that freshly-stamped look, as you’ve explained here. I love that you’ve included suggested promotional products for each printing method, too. It’s obvious that you’ve done your research!

    Here’s one of my favorite digitally-printed items: the Digital Insert Tumbler. It’s a cheap way to include all of the colors or photo imprints you’d like!

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      You’re so right, Jill. There are fantastic reasons for both screen and digital printing! You have to decide on colors, price, and product, and it’s going to be different for every promo item. Thank heavens for our customer service reps!!

      I love that Digital Insert Tumbler! That’s a great product for brands that have a lot to say and want a lot of color to say it with! And it’s on sale through the end of the year? That’s triple fantastic. :)

  4. Amanda

    Super post Mandy! You did a great job of explaining the different processes in normal terms that anyone could understand. And providing the products that each would look best on too?! Stellar! =)

  5. amy

    Thank you for this awesome post Mandy! This is a great blog to bookmark for future reference :)

  6. Joseph Giorgi

    This is a fantastic breakdown, Mandy! Very thorough.

    Like Amy mentioned, this post is definitely bookmarkable!

    My preferred imprint method? I’d probably have to go with debossing — if only because portfolios and padfolios are my favorite promo items. Debossing just looks so sleek and stylish on those products. :)

    • eta

      This is very interesting information.
      I have some gift items which have been given out for debossing. They are leather watch boxes and leather jewellery boxes. However, I have been told the leather is too soft and the logo can’t be debossed because of padding.
      I was wondering if laser engraving will be a good idea…… Any advice?

      • Mandy Kilinskis

        Hi there!

        Generally we would advise against laser engraving on leather. Laser engraving looks infinitely better on metal pens, water bottles, flashlights, or awards. If you’ve been told that the leather is too soft for debossing, then I would look into a standard pad print. Pad printing will work even if the leather is soft and you can even get a little color in that way, if you like.

        Thanks for stopping by!

  7. Lili Montes

    Hi, Mandy, I am 15 years old and I am the creator of the Catchy Kahootz. I have tried a few different companies that have screen-printed my logo on my plastic part and it rubs off with wear. My product is a wear-intensive product. What type of process would you recommend for me? Please see my website or You Tube video to see my product. Thank you!

    Lili Montes, President, Catchy Kahootz

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      Hi, Lili!

      The best process for your item, I believe, would be a laser engraving. It can be tricky to get that done right on plastic, and the logo wouldn’t be as noticeable, but it’s going to last a lot longer. Plastic products + a pad imprint + lots of use = possible rubbing off, as you have experienced.

      So I would see if you could get a company to try a laser engrave on your product!


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