Editor’s note: This post was updated in August 2018 to reflect emerging trends in the industry.
Understanding the differences between imprint methods can be overwhelming, especially if printing jargon isn’t a part of your every day vocabulary. Are you wondering if your product would look better with a screen print or foil print? How about embossed or with an epoxy dome? Not even sure what all of that means? You’ve come to the right place!
To take the pain out of decision making and to help you better understand the most common printing terms you might encounter while placing an order, we’ve put together a handy “imprint methods defined” guide to make your ordering process as easy as possible.
Whether looking to print a simple one color logo, or choosing something more elaborate like a foil print or full color design, by referencing the below definitions, crafting your order is sure to be a breeze! And don’t worry – if you’re still not understanding something, we’re here to help every step of the way! Our team of printing experts are exactly that – experts – and custom printing phrases for us are as familiar as the words “thank you” and “hello.”
Screen Printing / Silk Screen
Screen printing, also known as silk screen, is a printing technique that involves a stencil, or a screen, that is used to apply layers of ink on to a printing surface. After the stencil has been cut, ink is spread over the screen, and then a squeegee is used to press the ink through the screen and onto the product. Each color is applied using a different screen, one at a time, combined to achieve the final look. Screen printing is one of our most popular printing methods and is commonly used when printing apparel, drinkware, reusable shopping bags, and much more.
For small designs, especially on small surfaces like pens or keychains, silk screening isn’t practical. Similar to a rubber stamp and ink pad, pad printing involves transferring ink from a silicone pad to the object you want printed. Using a machine that holds both the pad and the product steady, the pad is pressed into an inked plate etched into the shape of your custom design, and then pressed into the object, creating a crisp printed image. Pad printing is most often used on small items like keychains, small plastic giveaways, and pens and writing instruments.
Full Color Process and Digital Printing
Best for logos with more than three colors, for elaborate or colorful designs, or for photographs, full color process, also known as four color process, is a process of printing four transparent colors to achieve a full color or photographic image. Digital printing involves your artwork being processed by a computer and then printed directly onto the surface of a product.
We offer this printing capability on a wide selection of products from hand fans, to power banks, to plastic cups. Quickly becoming one of our most popular imprint methods, as the demand for full color products grows, our selection grows with it! You can check out our full selection of full color products here.
If you ever took a trip to a local newspaper printer as a child then you’re likely familiar with offset printers. Offset printing is a print method where images printed on metal plates are transferred, or offset, to rubber rollers that transfer an image onto a product. The flexible rubber conforms readily to the product surface, allowing the process to be used effectively on products with rough surfaces, such as cloth, canvas, or wood.
Bleed is a term that is used to describe artwork that extends beyond the surface area of an object, ensuring no edge or margin is left exposed.
Full bleed printing is popular on items where you want the entire surface to be covered with your design, such as hand fans, coasters, magnets, and labels (for more on label terminology, be sure to check out our “Custom Labels 101” post here).
Pantone Colors / Pantone Matching System (PMS Match)
If you have a specific color you want to use on a project, the Pantone Matching System is an invaluable tool. An international ink color matching system, pantone charts allow you to pick specific colors and match them exactly to your printing needs.
Foil Printing / Hot Stamping
Using a combination of heat and pressure, foil printing, also called hot stamping, is the application of metallic or pigmented foil on to the surface of a product. Decidedly shinier than standard inks, metallic and foil inks are often used to achieve a striking three-dimensional effect and sophisticated look.
Debossing and Embossing
Standing out in relief giving the appearance of a raised up look, embossing, and stamped into or pressed down into a design, debossing, are print methods that make an area more tactile and prominent than the surrounding area, suggesting a slightly three-dimensional look.
Laser Engraving / Laser Etching
Laser engraving and laser etching are useful for making your mark on hard surfaces that wouldn’t hold other forms of print well. Laser engraving is a process where a laser beam physically removes material to expose a deep etched cavity in the surface of a product. During this process, the laser creates high heat, which essentially causes the material to vaporize. This creates a cavity in the surface that is noticeable both visibly, and by touch.
Laser etching, a subset of laser engraving, occurs when the heat from the beam causes the surface of the material to melt. The melted material then expands and causes a raised mark.
A popular imprint method available on wide variety of products, we like laser engraved imprints best on glass and stainless steel drinkware, pocket knives, cutting boards and cheese sets, and metal coasters.
The art of decorating fabric or other materials with needle and thread or yarn, embroidery is an old skill, but you don’t have to be handy with a needle to embroider something anymore. Today, using thread or yarn to decorate fabric with elaborate stitches can be done with a machine, making it simple for any business to stitch their logo onto gloves, hats, blankets, uniforms or other apparel.
Dye sublimation is useful for transferring text or designs to light-colored fabrics like those used for lanyards or drink koozies. Dye sublimation is a process by which sublimation dyes are printed onto a transfer medium with a specially prepared inkjet printer, and are then transferred from the medium under heat and pressure delivered by a commercial heat press. This technique works best on white or light colored fabrics and allows for full color, full coverage imprints.
Epoxy Dome Imprint
A unique way to add dimension and shine to a logo, an epoxy dome imprint is clear, high-gloss dome placed over a logo, and affixed to a product with permanent adhesive.