Decoration Methods Guide
FIRST THINGS FIRST, WHAT IS DECORATING? Decorating is the act of customizing or personalizing a promotional product to display a logo or marketing message on an item. There are many different types of decoration methods for all types of promotional products. What are the types of decoration methods? Laser Engraving Screen Printing Heat Transfer Embroidery Embossing/Debossing Custom Patches Foil Stamping Digital Printing 3D Puff Embroidery Pad Printing Applique Embroidery Vinyl Transfer How do you help your customers decide which type of decorating method to use when so many possibilities are available for their customized apparel and products? Each decorating choice has various advantages. In this guide, we’ll break down the most common decoration methods so you can help inform your customers to make the best possible choice. and more!
WHAT IS EMBROIDERY? Embroidery is a decoration method that uses a needle and thread on fabric or other fibrous materials to incorporate a design. First, the logo has to be “digitized”; essentially, this is a process that converts a logo image into a stitch file for an embroidery machine using the specifics of the design’s colors and details. After that, the correct thread colors are selected, a trial stitch out is performed, and embroidery machines are then used to stitch your logo precisely to the requirements in the final digitized file. • There is an added texture to the design. • The product does not need to be laid flat like in printing, making embroidery suitable for hats and bags. • The intricate design evokes a high perceived value and sense of professionalism. • More durable and resistant to damage from washing than most decoration methods. Benefits • Depending on the level of detail, embroidery can be substantially more expensive than other printing methods. • Not all designs are suitable for digitizing/embroidery such as intricate designs or gradients. • You may encounter an added cost for digitizing a logo. • Embroidery is not suited for large areas. Cons TOP PROMOTIONAL PRODUCTS FOR EMBROIDERY: Sherpa Blanket Item # 7950-57 PCNA | SAGE # 52344 Omni Mens Polo Shirt Item # OMHARPOLO-FD Gold Bond Incorporated SAGE # 57040 Marketplace Jute Tote Bag Item # 3625 Hit Promotional Products SAGE # 56780
WHAT IS SCREEN PRINTING? • Most cost-effective decoration method for larger custom apparel orders. • Just about any design and ink color can be applied to any product through screen printing. • Ink is applied thicker than digital printing, making your design more vibrant and easier to see on darker fabrics or surfaces. Benefits • You may incur additional fees for more than one color. • Less cost-effective for smaller orders due to extensive set up. • Screen printing uses a lot of water and is not considered environmentally friendly. Cons TOP PROMOTIONAL PRODUCTS FOR SCREEN PRINTING: An easy way to think about this is as a photographic stencil process. The most common method of screen printing is to create a stencil on a mesh screen and then apply layers of ink directly onto a product by stamping or scraping the ink on top of the stencil, transferring the logo or design to the print surface underneath. The result is the screen’s image transferred to the print surface, except in the areas that are impermeable to the ink. The versatility of this decoration method allows it to be used on a wide variety of items. Unisex Cotton T-Shirt Item # A11730 BEL Promo | SAGE # 67337 The Rebel Umbrella Item # 800IN Peerless Umbrella Company SAGE # 53091 Cooling Towel Item # H710 High Caliber Line | SAGE # 64740
WHAT IS HEAT TRANSFER PRINTING? Heat transfer, recognized as digital transfer and thermal printing, stands as an excellent selection for affordable design alternatives, boasting limitless color possibilities for decoration. This type of printing uses heat or pressure to transfer an image to a product or apparel. The two most commonly used methods use vinyl or ink. Benefits • Not ideal for large orders. • Designs don’t last as long due to fading, wrinkling, or peeling. • The imprinted portion of a fabric heat transfer can feel stiff. • Colors are not as bright as screen printing. Cons • Minimal setup costs and equipment make heat transfers ideal for smaller order sizes. • Affordable individually personalized decoration, such as sports uniforms. • Allows for finer details and smaller text than embroidery. • Heat transfer is available in many different finishes and styles. • Environmentally friendly. TOP PROMOTIONAL PRODUCTS FOR HEAT TRANSFER PRINTING: Canvas Tote Bag Item # 8407 Evans Manufacturing | SAGE # 50018 Polycotton Table Throw Item # HT722 Fairdeal Import & Export Ltd SAGE # 62894 Pet Fetch Tennis Ball Item # PET102 Tekweld | SAGE # 67569 Polyester Drawstring Backpack Item # B515B High Caliber Line | SAGE # 64740
WHAT IS DEBOSSING / EMBOSSING? Debossing / embossing gives your logo a 3D element. Dies are constructed from metal in the shape of a logo. Debossing incorporates heat and pressure pushed into the product to form the material into the logo impression. Embossing is where the pressure will be applied from the back to create a raised impression of the image on the front. This decoration method produces stunning and sophisticated results and is perfect for leather decorating. • Creates dimensional depth and detail by depressing a design onto the material. • Doesn’t create holes in fabric like embroidery, making it ideal for water-proof apparel. • Works extremely well on leather apparel or surfaces. • Can be done in conjunction with other types of decoration. Benefits • Materials that can be debossed / embossed are limited. Debossing works best on paper, leather and some plastics. • Debossing / embossing is prone to wear and tear over time. • Changes are irreversible, as correcting mistakes is not an option. Cons image source: curiousbookco.com TOP PROMOTIONAL PRODUCTS FOR DEBOSSING & EMBOSSING: Journal with Magnetic Closure Item # WOF-CJ21 Ariel Premium Supply Inc SAGE # 60462 Debossed Silicone Wristband Item # ZZWB004 Giftarget Inc | SAGE # 69533 Genuine Leather Patches Item #PLE2 EMT | SAGE # 50054 Arrow Zippered Padfolio Item # 15820 Koozie Group | SAGE # 57550
WHAT IS LASER ENGRAVING? A unique application where the laser removes a thin layer of fiber or pigment to create a design dye. By adjusting the intensity and speed of the laser, it sculpts dimensions into the design, resulting in stunning clarity and precision. • Go-to decoration method for metal products. • The engraving process itself is cheap and can be done very quickly. • Designs are extremely durable, making them ideal for frequently handled items. Benefits • You may incur a high initial setup cost. • Materials that can be laser engraved are limited. Laser engraving works best on wood, glass, acrylic, and metal. • There can be design constraints limiting the level of detail or complexity of the design. Cons image source: wudnpromo.com TOP PROMOTIONAL PRODUCTS FOR LASER ENGRAVING: 30 Oz. RTIC® Tumbler Item # RTIC-30 HIRSCH | SAGE # 66296 Leatherette Keychain Item # Q49958 ADG Promotional Products SAGE # 50324 Bamboo Cutting Board Item # 1398 Evans Manufacturing | SAGE # 50018 Textari Comfort Stylus Pen Item # 693 Hub | SAGE # 50033
WHAT ARE CUSTOM PATCHES? • Patches have a three-dimensional effect and add texture and depth to a design. • Patches are much tougher and sturdier than traditional embroidery. Benefits • Custom patches can be more expensive than other forms of customization and you may encounter an added cost for digitizing a logo. • Production time can be longer due to the multistep process of creating the patch itself, then attaching it to the product. Cons TOP PROMOTIONAL PRODUCTS FOR CUSTOM PATCHES: Eco Friendly Backpack Item # 81012 Acehigh Tech Corp SAGE # 60392 Full Zip Hoodie Item # TM18224 PCNA | SAGE # 52344 Straw Hat With Custom Patch Item # R1168-1H Active Life Promo | SAGE # 69207 Custom patches are a great way to add some texture and depth to a logo! Either a logo is debossed on a leather patch and then the patch is embroidered to the product OR an embroidered patch is created, and it is attached to an item via sewing, adhesive backing or heat transfer.
WHAT IS FOIL STAMPING? Foil stamping is a specialty printing process in which a metallic or pigmented foil is heated with a magnesium dye and then stamped with enough pressure to seal a thin layer of foil to the surface. Metallic foils are typically gold or silver and pigmented foils are most commonly red or black. • The polished and glossy finish stands out on any color surface. • Foil stamping does not use ink, so the colors of a design will not be influenced by the surface color. Benefits • Foil stamping can be relatively expensive compared to other imprinting methods. • Design intricacy and color options are limited. • Not all materials are compatible with foil stamping, such as porous or textured materials. • Foil stamping is not durable and can be scratched or wear over time. Cons TOP PROMOTIONAL PRODUCTS FOR FOIL STAMPING: Foil Stamped Beverage Napkin Item # ASCBN-F Tranter Graphics Incorporated | SAGE # 53600 Foil-Stamped 2 Pocket Folder Item # 591-FF1C-LET-1-2 Enduraline | SAGE # 61624 Classic Cover Medium NotePad Item # NP-700C JournalBooks | SAGE # 50031 Foil Stamp Tote Bag Item # LPMC087 PromoSales USA | SAGE # 69802
WHAT IS DIGITAL FULL-COLOR PRINTING? You can think about digital printing, or direct to garment printing, as a similar process to printing a document from your computer. An image is created with no restraints to the number of colors or type of artwork used, and the image is printed or affixed directly onto the material. With embroidery and screen printing, you are dealing with physical resources (thread and ink) to create a logo; with digital printing, full color, high-definition logos can be done economically, even in small quantities. • Easier set up than screen printing – no screen creation or color separation required. • Ability to print more precise details in a broader range of colors. • Great for smaller order sizes. Benefits • Not ideal for large orders as the production speed can be slower than other methods. • The printable area is limited to the printer’s size, which means larger designs can not always be accommodated. • Depending on the fabric of the item, digital printing sometimes requires a pretreatment solution to help the ink adhere to the fabric, this can add to the cost and production time of your project. • Limited washability as the design may not hold up over a long period of time. • Cons image source: soardistusa TOP PROMOTIONAL PRODUCTS FOR FULL-COLOR PRINTING: Full Color Custom Jigsaw Puzzle Item # T916 High Caliber Line | SAGE # 64740 Ladies Racerback Top Item # RACER-CUTSEW BamBams LLC | SAGE #67345 Phone Stand Item # YPSG Trident Promo Inc SAGE # 51211 Hard Surface Mouse Pad Item # NH7 Digispec | SAGE # 62268
WHAT IS 3D PUFF EMBROIDERY? 3D puff embroidery is done by placing a foam pad, or “puff”, onto a product and then having an embroidery machine sew an outline of a logo or design. Once this is complete, the excess puff is removed around the outside of the embroidered outline, and now it’s a 3D design. Benefits • Design detail can be limited due to the potential loss of definition. • 3D puff embroidery requires a higher stitch count than regular embroidery and an additional setup for the foam inserts, which can increase production costs. • Limited washability. Cons • Extremely durable – the design should outlast the garment itself. • The logo is more noticeable because of the 3D design. image source: hittnskins.com TOP PROMOTIONAL PRODUCTS FOR 3D PUFF EMBROIDERY: Chino Twill Cap Item # 1200S Quake City | SAGE # 50393 Cuff ToqueBeanie Item # 9F200M AJM International SAGE # 66981 Striped Knit Scarf Item # SM6702 SnugZ USA | SAGE # 53744 3D Print Hoodie Item # 23APP2 Promo Your Brand | SAGE # 69212
WHAT IS PAD PRINTING? Pad printing is a decoration technique in which ink is transferred from a silicone pad onto the desired surface. The pad printing process can be thought of as a more advanced version of stamping – a pad with ink is pressed onto the product and then left to air dry. • Superior image clarity. • Easier than screen printing for printing on unusually shaped objects. • Improved resolution on smaller fonts and designs over screen printing. • Pad printing is a gentle decoration technique, making it ideal for delicate materials and fabrics. • Low set-up costs and minimal equipment required. • Benefits • Pad printing is typically used for a one- or two-color design, limiting color options. • Ink adhesion, especially on certain materials like silicone or plastic, can wear or fade over time. • Printing irregularities or inconsistencies are more common with pad printing. Cons image source: deconetwork.com TOP PROMOTIONAL PRODUCTS FOR PAD PRINTING: Popper Ball Item # T515 High Caliber Line | SAGE # 64740 Popper Silicone Phone Wallet Item # T517 High Caliber Line | SAGE # 64740 Aqua Pearls™ Hot/Cold Pack Item # WHF-HC11 Ariel Premium Supply Inc SAGE # 60462
WHAT IS APPLIQUE EMBROIDERY? Applique Embroidery, also known as digital applique, takes the 3D texture of embroidery and combines it with the visual impact of full-color printing to create something different and unique. This application uses a process that allows an imprint full-color photo images directly onto a single layer of twill. • Applique is a great way to save on stitches and money for a larger embroidery design. • The layered embroidery really pops on any color fabric. • Great for highly detailed logos. Benefits • Setup includes both laser cutting and embroidery, making it more costly than time consuming compared to traditional embroidery. • Design alignment can be challenging, especially for intricate designs. • Not suitable for delicate or lightweight fabrics. Cons image source: targetda.com TOP PROMOTIONAL PRODUCTS FOR APPLIQUE EMBROIDERY: Vansport Zen Pullover Shirt Item # 3450 Vantage Apparel SAGE # 54200 Scarf with Elite Fringe Item # RK60 Cap America Incorporated SAGE # 50597 Women’s Full-Zip Sweater Fleece Jacket Item # 204113 Rivers Promo Inc. SAGE # 68786
WHAT IS VINYL TRANSFER? This transfer process uses heat to activate and attach a vinyl sticker to a fabric. Vinyl is soft to the touch with great stretch and is durable enough for sportswear. • The image is long lasting and durable. • Your company logo or custom design is easily applied to any fabric or material that can absorb color. • Vinyl transfer is a very affordable decoration method. Benefits • Vinyl transfer comes in a wide variety of colors but may not offer the same color range or gradients as other printing methods like screen or digital printing. • Vinyl transfers add a slightly raised or rubbery texture to garments where the application is adhered. • Time-consuming and not cost effective for large and bulk orders. • Some fabrics may not be able to withstand the heat required for the application process. Cons image source: stickermule.com TOP PROMOTIONAL PRODUCTS FOR VINYL TRANSFER: Tabletop Banner Stand with Vinyl Graphic Item # P03R0019 Orbus Visual Communications | SAGE # 51147 Removable Die Cut Decal Stickers Item # DPDL Digicali Promo | SAGE # 52052 Circle Sticker White Vinyl Item # 182102 Gill-line | SAGE # 57610 Select Your Sticker Sheet Item # 133134 Gill-line | SAGE # 57610
• 4-Color Process: The reproduction of full-color artwork through the combination of four process ink colors- cyan (blue), magenta (red), yellow and black. (CMYK) • 4-Color Separation: The breakdown of full-color copy into individual color plates so that when printed in register, they produce a full-color illustration. Four-color separations refer specifically to the process colors: CMYK. • Acid Etching: A chemical process where a strong acid, known as an etchant, is applied to the surface of a piece of metal to remove a portion of the metal’s surface to create an image, design, or component. • Blank Goods: Refers to promotional products without decoration/imprinting. • Contract Decoration: The process of embellishing a product with one of the many and varied decorating processes whereby clients provide the goods and the decorator provides and charges only for the decoration/embellishment. • Die Striking: A jewelry-manufacturing process that utilizes an enormous amount of pressure to form metal into a die struck mold. • Digitizing: The process of scanning printed text or logos into a computer. Also, the process where a design is plotted in a computer language that an embroidery machine can read. This is the process needed in order to take art from camera ready to a readable format in order to reproduce an embroidered design. Often a cost is associated, but once the original is created, you can reuse the file and avoid costs in the future. • Direct To Garment: Direct to Garment, or DTG printing, is a process by which a digital image is printed directly onto your apparel using cutting edge printing technology and inks. • Engraving: The cutting or etching of designs or letters on metal, wood, glass, or other materials. There are three engraving techniques. Hand engraving, hand tracing and computerized engraving. Engraving is performed with a diamond point or rotary blade that cuts into the surface of the product. • Etching: The product to be imaged is coated with a resist. An image is exposed on the resist, usually photographically, leaving bare metal and protected metal. The acid attacks the exposed metal, thus leaving the images etched into the surface of the metal. Very fine lines can be reproduced by this process and the only tooling is a piece of film, so spec samples are easily made. • Flexography: A form of rotary printing in which ink is applied to various surfaces by means of flexible rubber (or other elastomeric) printing plates. • Full Bleed: This print method is used when you want a design to touch the edge of the material leaving no white edge. Edge to edge printing is used for different projects such as business cards, magazines, books, flyers, brochures, posters, and so much more. DECORATOR AND ARTWORK TERMS YOU SHOULD KNOW DECORATOR AND ARTWORK TERMS YOU SHOULD KNOW • Laser Etching: How cool would it be to say your project was created using lasers? Well, you absolutely can with laser etching printing. With this method, an image or text is engraved onto the item and give it a contrast against the material. • Lithography: A generic term for printed material. Most typically used to refer to offset printed paper that is intended to be mounted to a display. • Offset Printing: A method of mass-production high quality printing in which the images on metal plates are transferred (offset) to rubber blankets or rollers and then to the print media. • Pantone or PMS Color Match: PMS, or Pantone Matching System, provides a universal system for identifying colors across the life of projects from design to manufacturing to the consumer. A PMS number tells the printer how much of each color to use when printing an image. That way you will never have to wonder if the color is correct on a project. • PNG: A .png file (pronounced ‘ping’) does not lose quality during the editing process. The .png file type was designed to transfer images via the internet and, therefore, is the ideal file type for web graphics. • Print-Ready File: The print-ready file, depending on the size of the item, could be extremely large and possibly take a long time to download or even require a special delivery method such as We Transfer, Dropbox, or Hightail. • Proof: A proof is a much lower resolution version of the actual print file, which is ideal for sending via email so the recipient can see a visual representation. • Sandblasting: Uses a pressurized abrasive stream to etch into a glass surface, creating a deep and permanent mark. • Special Effect Printing: The special printing effect gives the stamped lettering or graphics a shiny, professional appearance. • Sublimation: To convert a solid substance by heat into vapor that on cooling condenses again to a solid form. • Vector Image (EPS): A vector image is made of points instead of pixels. What that means in layman’s terms is that a vector image can be blown up to a much larger size without being blurry. The reason for this is that the points join paths (think, connect the dots), whereas with pixels, there is only a finite amount – the total amount that makes up your image. Generally, vector artwork is preferred for imprinting so that it can be sized up or down without losing image quality.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS Decoration methods are key to the successful personalization of promotional products. Without them, we would live in a brandless, imageless world! For more information, reach out to your SAGE Account Advisor. The Decorator Search function is available in SAGE Online, SAGE Web, and SAGE Mobile. The decorator search feature is located in the left menu. In the search filters tab, you can search by decorating service, program, location rating and other filters to find the perfect decorator for you! Alternatively, you can search decorators by company name, line name, ID number, contact and more! The results will appear after you click the magnifying glass. For more information, reach out to your SAGE Account Advisor. Where do I locate decorating services in SAGE? Every product has predetermined imprint area dimensions, based on what will make logos appear their best and the limitations of the process used. Printing machines are set to standard sizes, and it isn’t possible to change the imprint dimensions. Be sure to pay careful attention to these dimensions when selecting how much information you’d like to include in a product. If they’re on the small side, keep information to a minimum or the finished product could be very difficult to read. Just like predetermined sizes, most products come with a designated location for the imprint area. While these locations are intended to make imprints look their best, in some cases multiple imprint areas are available. Can I exceed the imprint area allowed? The appearance of an imprint depends on the texture of the promotional product on which it’s printed. An intricate logo will probably appear most clearly on a hard surface such as a notebook. Alternately, a softer surface, such as a tote, may cause some details to be lost. Another reason imprints vary is due to the imprinting method that’s used. Each product uses a specific imprint method, such as screen printing, pad printing or full color imprints. Each yields a slightly different finished look. Why does a logo look different products?
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