Imprint Processes

Screen Printing:

About: Screen printing is used to print a variety of products, especially those with large print areas where a good coverage of ink is required, for example; T-shirts, bags, folders, umbrellas etc.

Process: A screen is made using a piece of porous, finely woven fabric, usually nylon or polyester. The screen (or mesh) is stretched over a frame of aluminum or wood. Areas of the screen are coated or masked off with a non-permeable material to form a stencil, which is a negative of the image to be printed, the areas of the screen that aren’t coated allow ink to pass through.

The screen is placed over the product to be printed, a flood bar and ink is then passed over the entire screen to fill the mesh openings with ink. A squeegee (rubber blade) is then passed over the screen and pushes the ink through the open mesh leaving a printed image on the product. Each colour is printed separately and requires it’s own screen. If multiple colours are being printed the product would be printed with one colour, then lined up for the next colour, until each have been printed individually. After printing the product is “Cured” to extend the life of the print. If you are printing a light colour onto a dark colour it is usually advisable to print a “flash base” which is a white print first to ensure the vibrancy of the colours is maintained.

Most popular for: Textiles, and also widely used to print logo’s on notepads, rulers, pens, mousemats, calculators and many other promotional items.

Benefits: Ideal for printing relatively low, to high volume runs especially of single colour artwork. There are a variety of different inks that can be used depending on what is being printed.

Limitations: Will wear off on metal products. Not ideal for tints/full colour printing. Curing/drying adds to lead times.

Pad Printing:

About: Developed in the 1960’s Pad printing is used to apply a printed image to a 3-D product and is ideal for curved or spherical objects as you can print up to 180 degrees around a product.

Process: Pad printing is achieved by transferring an image from a printing plate via a silicone pad and on to a product. Ink is applied with a squeegee to the etched image area of the printing plate filling it with ink, the top layer of ink becomes tacky as soon as it is exposed to the air, the transfer pad presses down onto the printing plate, the pad is compressed and pushes air outwards causing the ink to lift from the etched image area and adhere on to the transfer pad. The pad then moves over and compresses down on to the product surface, transferring the ink from the pad to the product.

Most popular for: Golf Balls, Pens, USBs, and computer mice.

Benefits: You can print tints and therefore achieve full colour images. You can print onto pre-assembled products that can be difficult to print with other methods. Fine detail can be achieved.

Limitations: Tight registration can be difficult. Large curved areas have a limited print area.

Transfer Printing:

About: Heat transfer printing is used to produce high quality single, multi colour or 4 colour process images on a variety of fabric and nylon products. Transfer printing is the recommended print method for reproducing any designs that incorporate tints of a solid colour. There are also alternative methods of Transfer Printing including Dye Sublimation (see separate tab) and Water Slide, and different materials that can be applied such as Vinyl or Flock.

Process: The heat transfer process uses a specially coated carrier paper on which a design is printed, the carrier paper is then place on to the product surface and when heat and pressure is applied to the carrier paper by means of a heat press, the ink (image) is transferred on to the product. Vinyl or Flock can also be cut to a specific design (using a plotter) and then applied as above.

Most popular for: Mugs, Clothing, and stress toys where full colour logos are required.

Benefits: Water Slide Transfers can be hand applied meaning that areas that are difficult to access such as the inside of mugs can be printed. Cost effective way of producing small print runs on clothing/bags. No set up costs.

Limitations: It can be a slower process due to the amount that is not automated. If not applied properly a transfer may not be as durable as a screen print. Can be expensive if the print area is large.

Dye Sublimation Printing:

About: Dye Sublimation printing is a form of transfer printing which uses heat to transfer full colour images onto products.

Process: Inks are printed on to a specialist carrier paper that is then applied to the product using a heat press heated to between 180° – 200° which causes the inks to vapourise and penetrate the surface of the product being printed.

Most popular for: Mugs, glass and some clothing.

Benefits: Ideal for short print runs on Mugs – even individual names/images.

Limitations: Dye sublimation print can only be used where the item being printed has a synthetic fibre element (such as polyester), or has been treated with a special coating before printing). Not as “crisp” lines as screen printing so the edge of logo’s / wording can appear very slightly fuzzy.

Litho Printing:

About: Lithographic printing is used for printing paper products such as note pads and sticky notes.

Process: A piece of film produced from artwork is placed on to a flexible aluminium plate covered with a photosensitive emulsion and is exposed to ultraviolet light. When the plate is developed it shows a reverse image of the original (positive) image, this image is the exposed emulsion that remains on the plate after developing. The plate is fixed to a cylinder on a printing press. Dampening rollers apply water to the blank parts of the plate, water is repelled from the emulsion of the image area. Ink is then applied to the plate by inking rollers, the ink is repelled by the water and only adheres to the emulsion of the image area. The inked plate then rolls against a cylinder covered with a rubber blanket, which squeezes away the water, picks up the ink from the plate then transfers the image to the paper as it rolls across the blanket drum.

Most popular for: High print runs of paper products such as notepads or sticky notes.

Benefits: Excellent print quality. Pantone colours can be matched exactly.

Limitations: Expensive on small print runs. Not suitable for pre-assembled products.

Foil Blocking/Blind Embossing

About: Diaries and various leather products can be branded using either foil blocking or blind embossing. Some rubber, plastic and Paper products can also be blind embossed.

Process: A block (Die) is made usually of metal or wood bearing the image to be printed in relief. The block is then mounted to the print head of a machine which applies heat to the block. If required, coloured foil is placed over the area of the product to be embossed and under pressure the block and product are then brought together. The combination of heat and pressure releases the pigment from the foil and transfers the image to the products surface. Blind embossing uses the same process as foil blocking, but without the use of foil.

Most popular for: Leather products.

Benefits: High perceived value. Blind Embossing is a permanent branding method.

Limitations: It can take up to a week to produce the Die. Very detailed designs cannot be embossed. Only suitable for relatively small branding areas.

Laser Engraving: 

About: Laser engraving is used to engrave or mark metal, wood and some plastic products.

Process: The artwork is loaded into a computer programme which controls a laser. The laser then passes over the product and either vaporizes of fractures the surface layer to create an engraving. The lasers focal point is less than a fraction of a millimeter, allowing for fine details in complicated and intricate designs to be achieved.

Most popular for: Metal pens, USBs, premium metal gifts, Wooden products.

Benefits: Suitable for small runs. Intricate designs can be achieved. As soon as the product has been engraved it’s ready to be packed so very quick lead times can sometimes be achieved as no drying time is involved.

Limitations: It is generally more expensive than printing. Only suitable for some materials.