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Imprint Processes: Which is Best for Your Promotional Items?

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 promotional pens?

To make the selection process a little easier, here’s a quick guide on the different imprint processes and some of the products that use these methods.screen-printing-water-bottle-300

Screen Printing. This process makes use of spot colors (premixed inks with a standard recipe) and a screen to transfer your logo, design, or message onto your item of choice. 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. Digital printing is best when you have a logo or design with a lot of colors. This process makes use of physical printers instead of screens and generally allows you to print over the entire surface. 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-engraving-pen-300Laser Engraving. This process creates sharp, crystal-clear logos that are unable to be peeled off. 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 look. For both processes, dies are constructed from metal in the shape of your logo. Both processes rely on customized metal plates and high temperatures of about 212 degrees Fahrenheit to achieve a polished, final look. 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 leatembroidery-hat-300her or vinyl patches.

Contrary to popular belief, embroidery isn’t just for grandmothers 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?

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa loves food. A LOT. Particularly pizza and popcorn, but she knows beggars can’t be choosers. When she’s not stuffing her face (which is rare), she loves watching movies, playing volleyball and softball, and engaging in any number of interesting shenanigans. If she had to pick a spirit animal, she’d be an otter because they are playful and love to laugh. Most of the time she’s laughing at herself, whether other people are laughing with or at her is to be determined.


  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. 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! =)

  4. amy

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

  5. 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!

  6. 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!


  7. Boris C.

    Thanks for information Mandy

    I have a few questions if you don’t mind:

    1. What are all these and which are synonymous?

    Screen print/silk print/pad print/silver imprint

    2. It is good to know which imprint process is suitable for certain product but I think having list of raw materials indicating suitable imprint for each type would help because there are so much products

    3. Digital imprint is more advanced that screen print and would also work with products that you specified for screen print?

    4. Embossing and debossing method requires flat surface or it doesn’ matter? You mentioned that color can be added for additional cost. What type of imprint method from methods listed here is this and will color fade with time?

    5. Can you tell which method would be suitable for product packaging?


    • Mandy Kilinskis

      Hi Boris,

      1. I believe that screen and silk are synonymous. That is when you create a screen and transfer the ink over a design cut into the screen. Pad printing is transfering ink onto an item via a stamping-like process. I have actually never heard of silver imprinting before.

      2. That’s a good suggestion, but that can get a little tricky. For example: plastic. Plastic can be debossed and screen printed depending on the type of item you’re looking at. However, I will keep that in mind to update the post in the future.

      3. In general, yes, you can use digital printing on all of the screen printing-applicable items. Sometimes factories are not setup to do that, and it will probably be more expensive, but in general you can.

      4. That’s a great question. I’m pretty sure that you do because I have only seen flat items (or flat sections of items) with debossed and embossed logos. If it’s possible that you can do that on non-flat items you will have to let me know. Also the color is generally transferred via silk or pad printing and will last the same amount as a regular silk or pad printing.

      5. Again, it depends on the product packaging. We don’t handle any kind of product packaging here at Quality Logo Products. But my guess would be digital printing so that you can use as many colors as you would need.

      Good luck with your goals!

  8. Bastian Zawadiak

    Hi Mandy,

    thanks for your post!
    I need your expertise on choosing the right printing technique! We want to print colored, detailed logos on very small devices, such as in-ear headphones.
    Which one will be the right printing technique to choose from?

    Best Regards from Germany

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      Hi, Bastian!

      It all depends on the factory that you’re using to print your items. Generally you will be using pad or silk printing with ear buds. Some factories may have the capability for digital printing.

      So I would check with them. Thanks for stopping by!


  9. Marlone

    Hey Mandy,

    That was very informative post. I’m going into the promotional products business myself and your info will help me a great deal.

    I’ve received promotional pint glasses in which the imprint starts to wear down after a couple of washes. What type of printing method will work best on glassware?

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      That’s the trouble with pad prints on glassware – too many times through the washing machine and they’ll start to fade. That’s why we recommend handwashing for all of our drinkware!

      However, some glassware can come laser engraved. If you opt for a laser engraved imprint you will never have to worry about it fading! You won’t get color on the glass, but you do get longevity.

      It all depends on the statement you want to make!



  10. Jaimie

    This is such a great post! There are definitely different printing methods that are best for different items. It all just depends on the product and the detail in the artwork. This was a great breakdown! Way to go! 🙂

  11. Kim

    Hi Mandy
    Love your run down, thanks.
    Can you tell me the difference between printing and a flat emblem??
    I’m having some quick dry running caps made and have been asked which one I’d like for the logo. Thanks

    • Mandy Kilinskis

      Hi Kim,

      Unfortunately, I have never heard of a flat emblem imprint before! Could you clarify what you mean by flat emblem? That’s not a term that’s commonly used to described imprinting methods! Do you mean the difference between screen printing and digital printing? Or perhaps the difference between screen printing and heat transfer?

      You could also ask your printer what the difference is! If they are asking you to choose, I would hope that they would know the difference!


  12. Jen

    Even after all this time, I refer to this post a lot to share with my customers. Informative, to the point, and super helpful. Thank you!

  13. John Katzman

    Excellent knowledge you have shared here. Especially the uses and advantages of different types of printing on promotional imprinted products are truly important.

  14. R. Robins

    Hello, i just have a quick question. I’m debating on making a custom, 1 off jacket with designs on a white leather jacket. I have worked with embroidered designs before but this new one may be conplex as it has 2 distinct layers. What would look the best and be the most permanent option? Thank you

  15. Hellen

    Promotional bag manufacturer

  16. KC

    Best process to imprint onto a metal surface?

  17. tanya

    hey Mandy what is the best method to print logos onto tights/yoga pants?? thanks

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