A Beginner's Guide To Four Common Decoration Methods
Blank brandable goods are great, but it’s the decoration that makes them customizable and truly unique. This quick guide to four of the most popular decorating methods – screen printing, embroidery, laser engraving and die casting – can help you explain to clients how each approach works and which is best for their projects.
Screen printing (aka silk screening) is used to transfer images onto blank products, such as T-shirts, glass, electronics and banners, using ink or dye, a mesh metal screen and a squeegee. Ink is forced through the metal screen onto desired areas using a stencil for each color in the design.
Screen printing is one of the most popular methods of decorating blank products, especially fabrics and paper goods, and it’s a fast, affordable way to print sizable orders with relatively quick turnaround.
Since 1959 (the year plastisol ink debuted), screen-printed T-shirts have served as walking billboards for businesses, brands, benefits and events of all sizes. Screen-printed T-shirts in all kinds of fabrications, styles and colors have become one of the most-popular clothing items – there’s even a market for worn T-shirts in vintage wear.
Screen Printing Is Ideal For:
- Graphic T-shirts to advertise local businesses, events, bands, school spirit, etc.
- Work uniforms.
- Safety apparel.
- Paper, canvas and artwork.
Screen Printing Quick Facts:
- A screen-printed T-shirt will last through 40-50 washes.
- Best fabrics for screen printing are cotton, cotton blends and polyester. (Not suitable for coated fabrics.)
- Produces bold, vibrant colors and clean, sharp edges.
- Best-suited for one- or two-color designs (more colors mean more costs).
- Not ideal for complex/detailed designs.
Embroidery is the use of needlework to apply decorative designs to fabrics and other materials by stitching thread or yarn into another material. A decorative art, embroidery is not to be mistaken for sewing, which refers to the process of stitching the actual product, like sweatshirts, curtains or bedding, together. Embroidery can be achieved by hand, assisted by a machine or automated for commercial purposes.
Embroidery projects may consist of a simple one-color running stitch used to outline designs or a multicolor project outlined in a more complex chain stitch. Embroidery can also provide a 3D effect with threads forming imagery that protrudes above the fabric’s surface. It may also feature embellishments like beads, charms, rhinestones or sequins.
Embroidery is one of the longest-lasting decoration applications and also allows for complex detail. When striving to achieve a professional look that’s durable and eye-catching, embroidery may be just what the client is looking for.
An embroidered design may last the lifetime of a product. Unlike screen printing, which can fade over time as the garment is washed and worn, embroidery won’t fade. Distortion can occur, however, if threads snag, pull or come loose. For this reason, it’s important to encourage recipients to wash their embroidered goods gently or by hand.
Embroidery Is Ideal For:
- Polo shirts.
- Tote bags and wallets.
- Accessories, such as gloves, scarves, ties, caps and slippers.
- Home items like tablecloths and table runners, napkins, curtains, pillowcases, bedding and towels.
Embroidery Quick Facts:
- Best fabrics for embroidery are cotton, canvas, fleece, linen and denim.
- Thin/delicate fabrics, such as silk and rayon, should not be embroidered.
- Not ideal for very small designs or very large gradient designs.
Laser engraving is a modernized version of the age-old art of engraving, now performed by computerized machines that replace the need for hand work, making it faster and more economical. The laser is programmed for precision, and its point focuses on just a fraction of a millimeter, so it produces a clean finish every time.
The lasers generate heat to pinpointed areas, which causes the surface material on these areas to vaporize. When the surface material vaporizes, deep cavities will appear. Today, laser engraving is the most common means of engraving at a commercial level. Popular promotional products that may be engraved or laser-engraved include trophies, awards, plaques, nameplates, glassware and wine bottles, as well as jewelry, such as rings, lockets, watches and necklaces.
Engraving is not to be confused with etching, which is similar, but rather than producing deep grooves by removing material, etching melts the surface to create raised marks. Engraving is typically done on metals, while etching is usually used to customize glass, stones or crystal. Both are high-heat processes that produce permanent markings.
Laser Engraving Is Ideal For:
- Metal drinkware.
- Awards, trophies, plaques and nameplates.
- Personalized leather items, such as wallets, bags, purses and journals.
- Jewelry, such as rings and wedding bands, necklaces, lockets, bracelets and watches.
- Laser Engraving
Laser Engraving Quick Facts:
- Depending on the material used, how deep the engraving is and how often it’s used or worn, laser engraving should last the lifetime of the product.
- Hard materials, such as stone, wood, glass, acrylic and metal are the best media for laser engraving, but it can also be done on leather, plastic and paper. (Not all materials can be laser-engraved, so it’s important to check first.)
- Produces high precision and intricate details.
DIE CASTING & STRIKING
First invented in the mid-1800s, die casting and striking is a method widely used to make metal parts for manufactured goods and machinery. Most consumer goods, from door handles to power tools to children’s toys to golf clubs, contain die-casted components. In the promotional products industry, die casting and striking are used to fashion custom items, such as awards, coins, medallions, belt buckles, model toys and pins.
Die casting is the process of manipulating metals into desired shapes by pouring molten metal into molds to create objects or parts. The most common metal casting materials include aluminum, magnesium, pewter, zinc, brass and copper. Time and pressure typically cause the liquid metal to solidify in a matter of seconds and take the shape of the mold. The result is a sturdy object that won’t lose its shape.
Die casting is a highly accurate way to duplicate an object’s dimensions, such as a 3D paperweight in the shape of a company emblem. Once the desired object is formed, details are added and excess material removed via metal striking, using mallets, chisels or other tools, while the metal is still hot and pliable. (Keep in mind that metal stamping is a different process that involves the use of upper and lower molds/dies to stamp an imprint into a product, such as a blank metal coin or name plate.) A single die lasts for about 80,000 shots – or 80,000 times of the mold being injected with metal – making this method ideal for mass production.
Since the goal is a solid object, 3D printing may be considered as an alternative to die casting. While 3D printing does not require the use of dies/molds, there are minimal costs upfront and a lower barrier to entry, but it generally costs more per unit for 3D printed products than die casting. Also, while 3D printing saves time, die casting offers a wider range of options, as not all materials can be 3D printed, particularly metals.
Die Casting and Striking Are Ideal For:
- Awards and recognition.
- Accessories for wearables, like belt buckles and bag hardware.
- Consumer electronics.
- Cookware (stainless steel skillets and cast-iron pans).
Metal Die Casting & Striking Quick Facts:
- Great way to create complex or unusual shapes.
- Uniform quality ideal for mass production.
- Fewer steps from raw material to finished product.
- Requires die/mold creation, which means longer lead times and changes to orders are costly and time-consuming, making it less economical for smaller orders.
Best in Class
PPAI Pyramid Award Winning Decoration
These economical branded tote bags were created for a local festival and feature screen-printed artwork that carries the event concept. The festival was made into a drive-thru experience due to the pandemic, and the artwork shows a merry band of festival characters in a parade of cars. The bags were completed on a three-day timeline with an achieved goal to ensure the artwork preserved its detail in a one-color imprint.
BAG MAKERS / PPAI 111408, S10
Created to celebrate an anniversary, this Vantage Apparel design features a variety of specialty embroidery-stitch techniques with a twill laser- applique accent. Depth and texture is incorporated throughout with over 36,000 stitches, including silver sparkle applique for the “25,” and set on a hoodie made from eco-friendly fabric.
Vantage Apparel / PPAI 113235, S10
The goal of this wine bottle by A+ Wine Designs was to leave an impression with attendees of a major in-person awards event turned virtual. Housed inside an engraved faux leather gift box, the wine bottle was spray-painted with PMS-matched enamel paint and features a vector cutout displaying the event logo. The large gift box included two wine tumblers, a vlogging kit, ear buds and sweet and salty nuts that were nestled in black crinkle.
A+ Wine Designs / PPAI 173549, S4
Die Casting & Striking
Gifted to season ticket-holders, the concept behind these paperweights was to replicate the design of the Los Angeles Lakers’ most recent NBA Championship ring. Pinnacle Designs used two die-cast injection molds to achieve the precision required. The supplier’s most intricate paperweight to date, each magnificent piece features 402 stones.
Pinnacle Designs / PPAI 112704, S6
Renda is a New York Metropolitan-area freelance writer and a former associate editor at PPAI.