Everything You Need to Know About Printing

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa Mertes

Promo Expert

Published: September 5th, 2018

Updated: April 22nd, 2019

Printing is an important part of advertising and is used to create business cards, brochures, flyers, and promotional giveaways, From screen printing to embossing, each process has an interesting history, technique, and purpose.

When you hear the word “printing,” you likely think of word docs from your computer. With a few clicks, you send your files straight to the printer in your office or home. It turns out, however, there’s a much larger world of printing out there you may have missed. This technology requires more than a few clicks of the mouse and is used for many purposes, including adding a logo to promotional products.

Magnifying glass

What are the different types of printing? How are they used? Let’s explore all of the ways your advertising materials can be printed.

Printing Processes Explained

As the world progresses, new printing techniques are introduced to keep up with demand. Each process has a different purpose, being used for everything from retail products to war efforts.

Screen Printing Process

Screen printing is an extremely versatile printing method, making it the perfect choice for a wide variety of products. The process works by pushing ink through a mesh stencil known as a screen, which is switched out every time a new color or design is used. A thick green material called emulsion is spread over the screen to create a specific design. Finally, the product is ran through a dryer that cures the ink onto the item.

History of Screen Printing

The earliest form of screen printing, or serigraphy, has roots 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. These items were a huge hit with the upper-class, as they were fairly expensive when first introduced. Shortly after Simon filed his patent, three developers named Roy Beck, Charles Peter, and Edward Owens introduced stencils to the industry. This technique was kept confidential and protected as a “trade secret” for most of the 20th century.

Source: qualitylogoproducts.com

Despite its value, screen printing didn’t make it to the mainstream until World War II. It became a popular way to print political propaganda on t-shirts, flags, banners, and even military tanks! From there, this printing technique became a staple of individualism, especially during the 1960s when Andy Warhol created his iconic Pop Art pieces. Today, it’s a form of self-expression valued in both the professional and personal worlds.

If you’re interested in learning more about the screen printing process, check out our page about the topic!

Fun Fact!

Due to its history in China, you’ll sometimes hear screen printing referred to as silk screening.

Pad Printing Process

Pad printing, also known as tampography, works by taking a giant rubber stamp, dipping it in ink, and stamping it onto the products until the design is complete. The stamps come in a variety of sizes and densities, making them great for everything from pens to tumblers. Since the ink is poured directly onto a metal or plastic plate, a new stamp has to be used every time the ink color changes. The final result is a beautiful product with your logo prominently placed.

History of Pad Printing

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. This made it easier to create dials and faces for their fancy timepieces. The pad printers were also used to promote brands and provide care instructions for clothing. Although the process was done by machine, it was relatively time-consuming and required manual labor to operate. In fact, the plates were still 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. Unlike the printers in World War II, this version used cold vulcanized silicone rubber and new solvent inks, though it still was used primarily for watches. Today, pad printing has branched out to include a large amount of products, such as baseballs, cables, and promotional products, to name a few.

If you’re interested in learning more about the pad printing process, check out our page about the topic!

Fun Fact!

Pad printing is used to create colored contact lenses using a specialized ink in a four color process.

Digital Printing Process

Sometimes referred to as the four/full color process or CMYK printing, digital printing relies on an Inkjet printer or laser to transfer a digital image to a product. The color options are limitless, making this a popular choice for multicolor logos or designs.

History of Digital Printing

Printing in general has a long history dating back to Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press in 1440. Digital printing, on the other hand, didn’t emerge until over 500 years later. The very first Inkjet printers became available to the public in 1988. Hewlett Packard (HP) marketed them for home use, though they still weren’t to the quality they are today. In fact, HP needed to improve ink efficiency, prevent the nozzle from being clogged with dried ink, and control the flow of ink to the page.

Source: qualitylogoproducts.com

The solution was making the process completely digital and using liquid ink cartridges 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. The results were staggering, with people all across the country purchasing this new technology. It took only a few short years for Hewlett Packard to put their eyes on the prize and invest in Indigo for a reported $100 million. Overall, 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.

If you’re interested in learning more about the digital printing process, check out our page about the topic!

Fun Fact!

Digital printing uses a complicated mathematical matrix to assemble each image.

Emboss & Deboss

The embossing process involves carving, molding, or stamping a raised design onto an object. It’s polar opposite is debossing, which is when a design is added to a surface leaving an indented shape. Both processes rely on customized metal plates and high temperatures of about 212 degrees Fahrenheit to achieve a polished, final look.

History of Embossing & 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.

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, however, Dashew’s company changed currency in the United States with the rise of plastic credit cards. Today, embossing and debossing result in high-end branded products that are both unique and memorable.

Source: qualitylogoproducts.com

If you’re interested in learning more about embossing and debossing, check out our page about the topic!

Fun Fact!

Embossing is used to brand the company name on Oreo cookies.

Heat Press/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.

History of Heat Transfer

The heat transfer process is relatively new when compared to other printing methods. The first recorded evidence of heat presses emerging onto the scene came around the 1960s. At the height of the Vietnam War, this printing process was used to create political posters and clothes for rallying activists. Heat transfer was prominently part of the fashion industry, but it was also used for kitchenware, puzzles, and promotional products.

Even though we live in a technologically advanced world, heat presses can be either manually operated or automatic. 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.

If you’re interested in learning more about heat transfer, check out our page about the topic!

Source: qualitylogoproducts.com
Fun Fact!

Heat transfers from one object to another until both objects are the same temperature. This is called conduction.

Laser Engraving

The word laser is an acronym standing for “light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation.” The process for engraving works by equipment being hooked up to an electrical source. Once the energy passes through, the electrons give off photons. Mirrors inside the equipment focus the photons into a concentrated beam of light, and just like that, the laser can be used to customize your promotional items.

History of Laser Engraving

Lasers in general have a long history dating back to Albert Einstein’s ideas for the technology in the early 1900s. However, lasers for engraving have only been around since the 1970s. Will Dahlgren developed one of the first computerized laser machines. From there, Tom “Rudy” Zarden invested in this technology and started a new laser engraving company. He borrowed $15,000 to keep his company afloat and started to experiment on fabrics.

“Laser Machining” applications, such as the ones used by Dahlgren and Zarden, 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.

If you’re interested in learning more about laser engraving, check out our page about the topic!

Source: qualitylogoproducts.com
Fun Fact!

The first known laser came onto the scene in the 1960s and was created by Theodore H. Maiman.

Don’t Forget About Embroidery

While it isn’t technically a printing process, embroidery is another common way to customize promotional products. The process itself dates back to handcrafted items from around 3000 BC. However, the first hand embroidery machine 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. Today, manufacturers can produce a high volume of embroidered items at a fast rate.

If you’re interested in learning more about embroidery, check out our page about the topic!

Source: qualitylogoproducts.com

Which Printing Process Should You Use?

With so many options, it might seem impossible to choose the best printing method for your promotional items. Luckily, we break down everything you need to know about each printing process.

Printing Type Year Invented Used For Pros Cons
Screen Printing 960-1279
  • clothing
  • tote bags
  • flying discs
  • stress balls
  • balloons
  • decals
  • medical devices
  • electronics
  • product labels
  • signs and displays
  • snowboards
  • pinball machines
  • inexpensive
  • sharp
  • printed images
  • inks last for years
  • can print same design on small and large scale
  • ink can smear on the product
  • only one color at a time means more costs for additional colors
  • longer turnaround for additional colors
Pad Printing est. early 1800s
  • cables
  • calculators
  • telephones
  • keyboards
  • brake pads
  • coffee pots
  • TVs
  • irons
  • dishwashers
  • washing machines
  • toys
  • pens
  • mugs
  • water bottles
  • key chains
  • clocks
  • USBs
  • watches
  • baby bottles
  • mobile phone cases
  • pill bottles
  • hearing aids
  • baseballs
  • inexpensive
  • can withstand at least 50 washes
  • clear image
  • great for 3D or unusually shaped objects
  • larger production volumes
  • light colors on dark products requires multiple steps increasing the production time
  • only one color at a time means more costs for additional colors
Digital Printing Late 1980s
  • brochures
  • flyers
  • calendars
  • magazines
  • newspapers
  • license plate frames
  • mouse pads
  • lunch bags
  • great for multiple colors
  • quick turnaround
  • low setup costs
  • clean design
  • longer production time
  • limited range of printable fabrics
  • not as durable
  • no reduced costs
Emboss/Deboss est. 1400 – 1500s
  • vinyl items
  • leather goods
  • coasters
  • jackets
  • padfolios
  • portfolios
  • credit cards
  • business cards
  • coins
  • wallpapers
  • edible products
  • street signs
  • permanent
  • high-end look
  • creates dimensional depth
  • intricate detail
  • fairly expensive
  • adds additional costs to printing job
  • certain fonts don’t transfer
Heat Press/Transfer est. 1960s
  • t-shirts
  • jackets
  • hats
  • puzzles
  • plates
  • mugs
  • kitchenware
  • great for multiple colors
  • photos are able to be pressed
  • not messy
  • longer production time
  • expensive setup costs
  • each image needs to be cut precisely which can be time-consuming
Laser Engraving 1970
  • awards
  • cars
  • aircraft
  • keychains
  • ballpoint pens
  • webcam covers
  • pocket knives
  • lighters
  • picture frames
  • permanent
  • high-end look
  • cost effective
  • can create intricate designs and patterns
  • some imprints may fade after repeated washes
  • colors can end up looking mushed together
  • time-consuming
Embroidery 3000 BC
  • sweaters
  • t-shirts
  • hats
  • tote bags
  • jackets
  • backpacks
  • scarves
  • blankets
  • permanent
  • high-end look
  • quick and efficient
  • not as creative or detailed as hand embroidery
  • excess threads can cause the imprint to come apart
  • more expensive than other customizing techniques
  • details may be lost

Screen Printing

Printing Type: Screen Printing

Year Invented: 960-1279

Used For: clothing, tote bags, flying discs, stress balls, balloons, decals, medical devices, electronics, product labels, signs and displays, snowboards, pinball machines

Pros: inexpensive, sharp printed images, inks last for years, can print same design on small and large scale

Cons: ink can smear on the product, only one color at a time means more costs for additional colors, longer turnaround for additional colors

Pad Printing

Printing Type: Pad Printing

Year Invented: est. early 1800s

Used For: cables, calculators, telephones, keyboards, brake pads, coffee pots, TVs, irons, dishwashers, washing machines, toys, pens, mugs, water bottles, key chains, clocks, USBs, watches, baby bottles, mobile phone cases, pill bottles, hearing aids, baseballs

Pros: inexpensive, can withstand at least 50 washes, clear image, great for 3D or unusually shaped objects, larger production volumes

Cons: light colors on dark products requires multiple steps increasing the production time, only one, color at a time means more costs for additional colors

Digital Printing

Printing Type: Digital Printing

Year Invented: Late 1980s

Used For: brochures, flyers, calendars, magazines, newspapers, license plate frames, mouse pads, lunch bags

Pros: great for multiple colors, quick turnaround, low setup costs, clean design

Cons: longer production time, limited range of printable fabrics, not as durable, no reduced costs

Emboss/Deboss

Printing Type: Emboss/Deboss

Year Invented: est. 1400 – 1500s

Used For: vinyl items, leather goods, coasters, jackets, padfolios, portfolios, credit cards, business cards, coins, wallpapers, edible products, street signs

Pros: permanent, high-end look, creates dimensional depth, intricate detail

Cons: fairly expensive, adds additional costs to printing job, certain fonts don’t transfer

Heat Press/Transfer

Printing Type: Heat Press/Transfer

Year Invented: est. 1960s

Used For: t-shirts, jackets, hats, puzzles, plates, mugs, kitchenware

Pros: great for multiple colors, photos are able to be pressed, not messy

Cons: longer production time, expensive setup costs, each image needs to be cut precisely, which can be time-consuming

Laser Engraving

Printing Type: Laser Engraving

Year Invented: 1970

Used For: awards, cars, aircraft, keychains, ballpoint pens, webcam covers, pocket knives, lighters, picture frames

Pros: permanent, high-end look, cost effective, can create intricate designs and patterns

Cons: some imprints may fade after repeated washes, colors can end up looking mushed together, time-consuming

Embroidery

Printing Type: Embroidery

Year Invented: 3000 BC

Used For: sweaters, t-shirts, hats, tote bags, jackets, backpacks, scarves, blankets

Pros: permanent high-end look quick and efficient

Cons: not as creative or detailed as hand embroidery, excess threads can cause the imprint to come apart, more expensive than other customizing techniques, details may be lost

The Bottom Line

Printing is an essential component of the advertising world. We use screen printing for most of our promotional giveaways, digital printing for brochures and flyers, and embossing to create our business cards. It all comes down to turning a marketing idea into something tangible for customers. Needless to say, printing has come a long way from our desktop computers and continues to advance every day. It will be exciting to see what’s in store for the future of this essential technology.

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa is the Lead Copywriter at Quality Logo Products. As a promo expert, she's uncovered the world’s first custom tote bag, interviewed the guy behind rock band ACDC’s logo, and had a piece published by the Advertising Specialty Institute, a leader in the promotional products industry.

References

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