What Is an Imprint and Which One Is Best for Promotional Gifts?

What is an imprint, you ask? It’s a mark on a surface—could be tire tracks in the snow, “will you marry me” in the sand on the beach, or your logo on a mug! There is an exception to this definition, and that applies to the question, “What is an imprint in publishing?” Read on to learn the most popular imprint options for promotional merchandise, and why “imprint” is used differently by book publishers!  

What Is an Imprint on Promotional Products?

For customized merchandise, your imprint is the mark that makes it your own. You pick your product, color, material, and other features. Your logo, slogan, or ad message is imprinted on the item using the method that works best with the material and style. For instance, a high-end pen intended as an employee anniversary gift might be laser engraved.  A sports water bottle with a push-pull top, intended for mass distribution at a fun run, is more likely to use a silkscreen imprint method.  

What Are Common Imprint Methods?

Following are the most popular imprint methods for promotional merchandise, including which types of products are best suited for each method: 

  • Silkscreen: Silkscreen is like stenciling, where a design is cut out of paper or another thin, strong material and then printed by rubbing, rolling, or spraying paint or ink through the cut-out areas. It’s most commonly used for single-color imprint. Very popular due to price and ease of use, this method is used for drinkware, pens, bags, apparel, and stationery.
  • Full Color: Full color printing is most often a digital process and includes laser printing and inkjet printing. For this method, all colors are printed at the same time. This method allows you to show off all your logo colors in their full glory! Against a plain background like white or neutral, a full color imprint draws all eyes to your branding. Look to it as an option on stationery, pens, totes, and drinkware.
  • Laser Engraved: This imprint method uses heat, in the form of laser, to burn your imprint into the top layer of a product, such as a metal pen or piece of drinkware.
  • Pad Print: Think of pad printing like rubber stamping. With this imprint method, a silicone pad designed with your logo is dipped in color and transferred onto a product. This technology is typically used to print on oddly shaped surfaces like a mood bracelet, light bar, or stress reliever.
  • Hot or Foil Stamp: For color and foil imprints on bags and paper, the hot stamp method is cost-effective and produces a great result. This method uses a hot stamp press and foils to imprint a design onto a surface. It is used for logos or artwork on plastic document cases, greeting cards, or paper bags. Unlike pad printing, hot stamping is a dry decoration process using foil, so the imprinted area can be handled or packaged immediately.
  • Heat Transfer: This is a popular imprint method for fabric. Think of it as a type of ironing! A heat press applies both heat and pressure at the same time to imprint designs onto fabric like a tote, hat, or clothing. First, the logo or other design is first printed onto high-quality paper. Next, the paper is positioned and pressed into the product. You’ll see heat transfer imprint options on products like totes, cooler bags, and folding chairs.
  • Embroidery: Most popular for bags and apparel, this imprint method gives an especially custom, handmade look to any item. Look for embroidery options on canvas totes, caps, blankets, and shirts.
  • Embossing and Debossing: These imprint methods are often used on covers of notebooks and portfolios. Embossing is a raised design where your logo or other design is pressed into a material like card stock from underneath. The raised area can have ink or foil applied, or it can be left unprinted/unfoiled. When an emboss is not printed or foil stamped it is referred to as a blind emboss. Debossing is the opposite of embossing. With debossing, the imprinted design causes depressions in the material, leaving a depressed (debossed) imprint on the image of the paper. Both embossing and debossing can be used in combination with offset printing or foil stamping to add depth and impact to a design. Look for these imprint options on wristbands, luggage tags, and journal books.

Which Imprint Method is Best for Promotional Merchandise?

Below we break down the most commonly used imprint methods for popular branded merchandise. 

What Is an Imprint in Publishing?

Publishing houses use the word “imprint” differently. Certainly, a book’s cover or flyleaf can be imprinted in the traditional sense, with a full color title or an embossed medallion, such as “National Book Award” winner. Book covers use foil stamping, debossing, and embossing to help book titles stand out. After all, when browsing a bookstore, we actually do indeed judge a book by its cover! But more often, the word “imprint” in publishing refers to something else.  

In publishing, an imprint is a division of a larger publisher. Individual “imprints” in publishing group books together to target specific niches and demographics. For example, Penguin Random House is a massive publishing company with many smaller imprints, like Alfred A. Knopf, Penguin Classics, Everyman’s Library, and Doubleday. Imprints in publishing can be looked at like different brands owned by the same company. An imprint in publishing is a brand or niche of published books, like Harlequin is the imprint for romance novels for the publisher HarperCollins. A non-publishing example is Gap, Inc., which owns multiple brands (would be called “imprints” in publishing) serving different demographics, including Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic, and Athleta. 

In all cases, an imprint is a distinctive marking, symbol or logo. This can be your brand in marketing your business on promotional products, or a publisher’s brand in marketing a certain genre of books. 

What Is Imprint When It Comes to My Brand?

When you shop promotional products, we recommend choosing your product category first. The goal of your branded merchandise is often to show customer appreciation, retain clients, or celebrate important events. You want to pick a product that is valuable, meaningful, or useful to your recipient. From there, sort by imprint method (for Pens.com, you’ll find that option on the left-hand menu bar). You can filter to see only drinkware you can laser engrave with your logo, or only totes you can customize with your full color logo. Depending upon your brand guidelines, occasion, and budget, you can choose the perfect imprint method for every product!  

Karleen Wise Andersen

From marketing tips to product recommendations, I’m here to help small businesses be their best.

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