Understanding Key Decoration Techniques

What is the right decoration method for your product? There’s a wonderful range of options available, but some techniques are better suited to particular materials and/or products, so making the right choice essential. On top of what suits your product, the type of artwork being used and how that will appear once recreated, delivery time frames and, as always, budgetary constraints need be taken into consideration.

The most commonly used decoration methods are – “printing”, embroidery, laser engraving, debossing, foil stamping and epoxy doming.

Printing can be a ‘catch all’ phrase for a multitude of decoration techniques, some of the different printing types are explained below.

Pad Printing has been one of the most popular decoration techniques in the promotional industry for decades and is very affordable. This form of printing permits a 2D image to be transferred to a 3D object, using a silicone pad etched with the desired image. Half tones and shading aren’t possible with this form of printing. This method is slowly being replaced by digital printing, which is faster, given it doesn’t require a curing period, and provides more flexibility.

Digital and Sublimation Printing permits a digital based image to be printed onto a variety of products either directly, onto a transfer sheet which is then applied by heat and pressure to the product or onto a sticker which is then manually adhered. These are cost-effective ways to reproduce complex designs, photographic images, and logos with shading/tonal work. Variable data can be accommodated, the decoration will not fade (under normal conditions) and there is only a single set up cost rather than per-colour.

Offset Printing sees images created on metal plates, transferred or “offset” onto rubber blankets or rollers, which are then printed onto the substrate – mainly paper, cardboard, wood, and plastic.  This technique permits high quality printing each time as the printer has greater control of the ink flow. Offset printing is much cheaper and faster for high volume jobs than any other form of printing.

Screen Printing was first used by the Chinese almost 2,000 years ago, it is an ancient and highly effective form of decoration, particularly for apparel, bags, and caps. Mesh is used to transfer ink onto a product, except in areas that are blocked by a stencil or “screen”. Colours are printed one at a time, so fine details and half tones cannot be achieved. Where printing on a dark substrate, a white under-base is required.

Finally, Rotary Printing permits images to be curved around a cylindrical item. It can be done with digital or pad printing on a variety of substrates including paper, cardboard, and plastic. While it is still relatively expensive in comparison to other decoration methods and join marks or gaps are visible at the connection point, it can be an incredibly striking technique. As retailers increasingly use this process, it will no doubt become more popular in the promotional industry as well.

Outside of printing, there are a number of other decoration techniques you may wish to consider.

Embroidery, which needs little explanation, is charged by the stitch count – the number of stitches required to reproduce a logo. The more complex, or the larger the logo is, the more stitches will be required to reproduce it effectively. Embroidery can also be done in a 3D format (in some cases). This form of decoration does not suit fine detail or small font sizes.

Laser Engraving is the practice of using lasers to cut lines into a hard surface such as metal. Typically, this is a subtler form of decoration, although some promotional products are created with a coloured under-base to permit engraving to contrast in a more striking manner. Laser engraving is durable, particularly on metal and variable data, such as individual names, can be easily accommodated.

Debossing, also known as embossing, is produced by pressing a hot engraved metal plate onto a product and applying pressure to impart a permanent image onto the product. Like laser engraving, it is subtler decoration choice. Products decorated in this way are often perceived as high end. 

Foil Stamping is similar to debossing, however a thin metallic foil film is also applied at the time the hot metal plate is placed onto the product. There is a timeless and glamourous look to this form of decoration, and it can be very impactful. There are some limitations in terms of colour selection, as the metallic sheets only come in a selected array of colours, however, silver or gold works well to replace more unique PMS requests.

Epoxy Doming is the process where a dome shaped, clear polyurethane substance is applied to the top of a printed paper or plastic substrate. This form of decoration is very durable, as it provides a protective “cover” to a design and minor scratches or cuts will reshape and “heal” themselves to look new again longer term. The three-dimensional appearance of epoxy domes catches the eye and permits metal products to be effectively decorated in a colourful, yet secure, manner.

Most decoration options require artwork to be supplied in high resolution file format – EPS, PDF, AI. These are referred to as Vector Art, which essentially means high grade design files, which guarantee the crisp reproduction of the artwork.

Pantone (or PMS) colours are also required to provide accuracy in the reproduction of a logo. Often this detail is embedded into Vector Art or detailed in company Brand Guidelines.

Recommending the best decoration technique to suit your product, design and material is something a skilled, promotional industry professional should be able to assist you with.

Exactly what is the difference between the types of decoration available??

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