Promotional items are the key to successful marketing campaigns, so you want your design to stand out and look professional. There are seemingly endless promo products to choose from, along with several different imprint methods. It can be a headache to try and understand all the different methods. That’s why we have it all broken down right here!

From screen printing to laser engraving and embroidery, each imprint process is unique. Learn more about how to print a logo on products, and which promotional items are best with each method!

Screen Printing

The process of screen printing, or silk screen printing is pretty self-explanatory. Your design is printed on to a screen where ink is then forced through the small holes and onto the surface of your promo item. Screen printing works best and is the most cost-effective with single-color designs because multi-color designs must be printed in separate layers. This logo printer is one of the most commonly used in the promotional products industry.

Where Did Screen Printing Start?

The earliest form of screen printing, or serigraphy, started in ancient China. At the time, silk was stretched between paper stencils and brushes were used to force ink through. This innovative printing method went on to inspire the first issued paper currency in the world!

By 1907, Samuel Simon officially patented the screen-printing technique in England. Back in China, the process had been fairly laborious since it all had to be done by hand. However, the mechanized nature of the Industrial Revolution completely improved the system. It became easier to mass produce a large amount of custom products, mostly wallpapers and silk clothing, at a faster rate.

Despite its value, screen printing didn’t became popular until World War II. It was used to print political propaganda on t-shirts, flags, banners, and even military tanks! Today, it’s a form of self-expression valued in both the professional and personal worlds.

What is the Difference Between Screen Printing and Laser Printing?

The main difference between screen printing and laser printing is the material used to create the design. Screen printing uses ink, while laser printing uses a powder. Laser printers fuses the colored powder to the item using heat.

What is Emulsion?

Emulsion is a gelatin-like substance used in screen printing. First, the emulsion is spread on the screen and dried. Then, your design is applied to the emulsion by a printer. Finally, the emulsion is exposed to UV light and hardened everywhere besides your design.

Screen Printed Promotional Items

Screen printing works best on soft fabric products, or products with hard surfaces such as tote bags, water bottles, plastic pens, stress balls, t-shirts, and umbrellas.

Digital Printing

Digital printing works much like a printer you would use with a computer. Your digital design is added to the product using a laser or inkjet printer. Color choices are limitless, and detailed designs can be printed with ease using this method.

When Was Digital Printing Invented?

Digital printing was invented in the 1940s, but the very first Inkjet printers weren’t available to the public until 40 years later. Hewlett Packard (HP) was the first to market printers for home use, though they weren’t as good as the ones we are used to using today.

Early HP printers would get easily clogged with dried ink, so the solution was to make the process completely digital instead. In 1993, Benny Landa, a micrographics researcher, developed a completely revolutionary new ink called ElectroInk®.  His company, Indigo, used this ink for their digital printers and the world never looked back. Digital printing was game-changing since it didn’t need a lot of chemicals or printing plates. Plus, the cost was significantly lower and the production time was faster.

What is the Digibrite Process?

Used by Hit Promotional Products, Digibrite Printing is the process of using the closest colors possible to your original design to digitally print your design.

Digitally Printed Promotional Items

Mouse pads, magnets, and note pads work best with digital printing.

Pad Printing

Pad printing, also known as tampography, is essentially the process of stamping your design onto your promo item. Silicone pads come in different shapes and firmness to accommodate several products. With pad printing, only one-color ink can be stamped at once. However, depending on the item, up to four different colors can be used to stamp your design.

When Was Pad Printing Invented?

While the exact date isn’t clear, pad printing can be traced back to roughly 200 years ago. The process was done completely by hand using a soft gelatin material that was transferred from a copper plate to a product. This early form of pad printing was primarily used for porcelain dinnerware or fine china, just like the ones you use during holiday dinners.

Following World War II, Swiss watchmakers industrialized the pad printing process. Although the process was done by machine, it was relatively time-consuming and still required manual labor to operate. In fact, the plates were engraved by hand and the blades had to be cleaned after every print.

By the 20th century, the hand-run machines were replaced by electric motors, making the printers fully automatic and able to mass produce a large amount of products. Wilfried Philipp, a toolmaker from Germany, developed a more modern version of the pad printer in the mid-1960s, and a version of this printer is still used today to create baseballs, cables, colored contact lenses, and of course, promotional products.

What is the Difference Between Pad Printing and Laser Engraving?

The main difference between these two imprint methods is that pad printing uses ink, while laser engraving uses heat. With pad printing, you can print with colors, while laser engraving cannot print in color. Plastic items can be pad printed but not laser engraved because of the heat used.

Pad Printed Promotional Items

Products with hard surfaces such a plastic and glass work best with pad printing. You can pad print your design on tumblers, sunglasses, and pens.

Heat Transfer

Heat transfer, or thermal printing, uses a special Teflon-coated paper that can withstand high temperatures. The back of the paper is coated with strong adhesives that stick to a product without any wear or tear. Large industrial machines, or heat presses, are used to transfer the design from the paper onto the product.

When Was the Heat Press Invented?

The first recorded evidence of heat presses came around the 1960s. This printing process was used to create political posters and clothes for rallying activists during the Vietnam War. Heat transfer was primarily part of the fashion industry, but it was also used for kitchenware, puzzles, and many other products.

Digital models have opened up the possibilities for this printing process, making it more accessible than ever before! It’s an exciting way to add a custom design or logo onto your promotional giveaways.

Heat Pressed Promotional Items

Because of the high temperatures involved in this imprint method, heat transfer works best with fabric such as tote bags, t-shirts, and bag chairs.

Laser Engraving

The word laser is an acronym standing for “light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation.” Once your logo is programmed into the engraving machine, the laser converts light energy into heat, and directs that onto your item. Lasers can work on nearly any material, however, then cannot engrave color. Use laser engraving in conjunction with other imprint methods. 

When Was Laser Engraving Invented?

Lasers in general have a long history dating back to Albert Einstein’s ideas for the technology in the early 1900s. Engraving lasers, however, have only been around since the 1970s. Will Dahlgren developed one of the first computerized laser machines.

“Laser Machining” applications rely on a small portion of light passing through a lens and being narrowed down into a precise beam for engraving. The most common types are carbon dioxide based, which work well with poor heat conductors like wood, plastic, or ceramics. Another option is YAG lasers, which are created with yttrium aluminum garnet and are great for metal products. You’ll find both lasers used in a wide variety of industries, most notably in automobiles and aircraft.

Laser Engraved Promotional Items

Laser engraving works best on metal pens, wooden items, glass, or plaques.

Emboss & Deboss

The process of embossing and debossing is similar to pad printing because it involves a “stamp,” however there are some key differences. First, your logo is molded on to a metal plate and stamped down on to your item using pressure and heat to create an indented logo.

What is the History of Embossing and Debossing?

The embossing and debossing processes can be traced back to hot stamping plates and early methods of engraving leather around the 15th century. By the 19th century, we were using these techniques to create engraved coins and other items. Today, this process is even used to get the name on Oreo cookies!

While the exact origins of embossing and debossing aren’t certain, the modern procedures can be traced back to Stanley Dashew’s techniques in the 1950s. His company, Dashew Business Machines, could emboss roughly 2,000 plates per hour, which was a groundbreaking achievement for the future of mass production. More notably, Dashew’s company changed currency in the United States by embossing the first plastic credit cards.

What is the difference between embossing and debossing?

Debossing is the process of stamping a design into a surface so it is indented, while embossing is the process of stamping a raised design into a surface.

Debossed Promotional Items

Paper, leather, and vinyl are all great materials for debossing. Use this imprinting method with leather portfolios, custom chocolate, or backpacks.

Embroidery

Embroidery is the process of creating your logo into a stitched pattern. Your design is uploaded into a computer that tells the machines what to sew. Each thread color is stitched individually, so the options are endless!

What is the History of Embroidery?

Embroidery dates back to handcrafted items from around 3000 BC. The first hand embroidery machine, however, wasn’t developed until the early 1800s. Josue Heilmann, a French inventor, created the first machine, which consisted of a frame to hold the fabric and a needle assembly to stitch the fabric in any direction. Because of this invention, manufacturers today can produce a high volume of embroidered items like t-shirts, hats, and jackets at a faster rate.

Embroidered Promotional Items

Embroidery works best on items like t-shirts, hats, blankets, backpacks, and towels.

How to Print a Logo or Design on Products

Whether you’re planning a company picnic or throwing a surprise party, you want your custom products to have your design perfectly displayed. When it comes to logo printing, each product has a number of imprint methods that work best.

So which printing process should you use? Here’s a quick breakdown of everything you need to know about these imprint methods!

Now that you’ve chosen which imprint method is right for the promotional product you like; it is time to sit back and wait for your items to arrive perfectly printed. Whether you need t-shirts for your school’s graduation or pens to promote your local bank, selecting the right imprint process is the easiest way to get exactly what you envision!

References

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About the author

Gianna Petan

Gianna is no stranger to all things promo products. Her background in research-based writing, linguistics, and advertising gives her an edge in blogging about the marketing industry.