Swag, an acronym for “stuff we all get,” encompasses all the branded items you’ve gotten from businesses over the years, probably for free. T-shirts, stickers, note pads, pens, beer can koozies—all the fun little things you have lying around are there to remind you that the brand who made them still exists. That’s why logo printing is so important, it’s free advertising in a prime location—your customers’ homes!
But printing on a mug isn’t the same as printing on a hoodie, and if you treat them the same way, you’re going to have some shoddy swag. Instead, learn to look at logo printing from a designer’s point of view and make design choices that optimize your logo for whatever you’re planning to print it on. In this article we’ll explain how to print your logo like a pro.
Illustration by OrangeCrush
What you need to know before logo printing—
In any discussion about logo printing, there are a few terms that come up over and over again. So before we get into the technical aspects of printing your logo on specific materials, here’s a quick glossary of the terms and concepts to help you understand the significance of your design decisions.
CMYK and RGB
CMYK and RGB are two different color modes used for printing. Their names refer to the colors they use: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key, or the more traditional Red, Green and Blue.
But wait—key isn’t a color! In CMYK, it is. Specifically, key is black, the color you get when you mix the other three together.
With CMYK, unique hues are created by blending cyan, magenta and yellow in different ratios. This color mode was developed to use physical inks, and if you print a test page from a color printer or look closely at an old comic book, you’ll see individual dots in these three colors and the new colors they create when they overlap.
CMYK in action. Via Colour Studies
RGB works a little bit differently. Instead of overlapping base colors to create new ones, RGB works by displaying red, green and blue lights closely beside each other to create an image. Specific colors are created with varied combinations and intensities of red, green and blue light.
If you’ve ever picked a color with one of these, you’ve used RGB’s primary mechanism. Via WordPress
Bottom line: CMYK is for print projects, RGB is for digital. Learn more about the technical differences between RGB and CMYK here.
Raster and vector images
The next thing you need to know is the difference between raster and vector images, as well as the different image file formats used in logo printing.
Generally, vector images are recommended for logo printing.
Raster images are made up of pixels. In contrast, vector images are made up of geometric shapes. When a raster image is created, the number of pixels it contains is locked. You can make it bigger or smaller, but the image will get blurrier as those pixels are stretched and squashed. Vector images, on the other hand, are essentially math equations. When you scale one larger or smaller, it retains its original dimensions.
Vector graphics are infinitely scalable, meaning lines are crisp and sharp even when you zoom in. Logo design by KONSTABR.The pixels of a raster image are visible when you zoom in. Illustration by netralica.
Raster images are typically used for photographs and are also the default image type for certain digital design programs like Photoshop. Typically, graphics and other kinds of digital art are created as raster images.
Vector images, because they can be easily resized, are usually the image type of choice for print projects. This will likely be an AI, PDF, or EPS file. They’re also the best choice for logos, icons and typesetting. While Photoshop is the main program used to create raster images, Illustrator is the professional designer’s go-to choice for vectors.
If you’ve ever bought a monitor or a TV, you’re undoubtedly familiar with the term “resolution.” A screen’s resolution is the number of pixels it displays per every inch of surface area. Speaking more generally, that’s all resolution means: how many pixels are within an inch of space. The more pixels within an inch, the sharper the image.
A lower PPI resolution results in less detail and a pixelated image
A higher PPI resolution results in more detail and a sharper image
When talking about image resolution, you also hear the term DPI (“Dots Per Inch”) or PPI (“Pixels Per Inch”), which are the units of measurement for raster graphic’s resolution. In most cases, the larger the surface you’re printing on, the higher your resolution, or DPI, should be. Learn more about DPI and PPI here.
Logo printing on soft cotton (t-shirts, hoodies, etc.)—
T-shirts are one of the most popular places for logo printing, but they’re not the only kind of soft, wearable swag available to you. Long-sleeve shirts, hoodies, dog clothes, gloves, socks—there are a ton of ways to wear your logo.
Printing on a piece of apparel gives you lots of space for a detailed image. Apparel design by Smashlen
Logo printing process
There are three main ways to do logo printing on soft fabric:
Screen printing: the gold standard for T-shirt printing. The printer will make original screens of your T-shirt design, allowing you to print in bulk. Best for bulk orders and printing bright colors.
Vinyl graphics: vinyl graphics are created through transfer printing, resulting in a more dimensional look and texture from screen printing. Best for simple graphics.
Direct-to-garment: this method sprays ink onto the garment—like inkjet printing on paper, but with fabric. Best for small-quantity orders with high amounts of detail.
The process and end result for each is unique. Which of these option is going to be right for you depends on how detailed and colorful your logo design is and the effect you’re going for. You can read more about all three in our guide to printing on t-shirts.
Screen printingVinyl graphicsDirect-to-garment
Cotton stretches. Cotton breathes. Cotton wrinkles. Even when your t-shirt is a cotton blend, remember you’re designing something that will be available in multiple sizes, probably multiple colors, not to mention it will stretch and/or shrink through years of wearing and washing.
Make your logo easy to size up or down by sending it to your printer in a vector file format. If your logo has transparency in it, try creating a version where all the colors are opaque so the image doesn’t get lost or look weird on certain colored fabrics. Take a look at mockups on various colored shirts and choose to print only on the ones that work with your logo.
When you’re printing your logo on a t-shirt, hoodie or any other kind of soft textile, ask the printers to show you finished versions of every product you’re considering. In other words, if you want to print your logo on t-shirts and fleece zip-ups, make sure you see a t-shirt and a fleece zip-up from that printer. Although both are soft cotton, they have very different textures and your logo can end up looking great on one but awful on the other.
Logo printing on rigid fabric (baseball caps, tote bags, etc.)—
Baseball caps are another one of the most popular kinds of swag. Why? They’re small, they’re lightweight and they’re practical—just about everybody wears a hat sometimes, whether to keep their head warm, to keep the sun out of their eyes or simply to complete an outfit.
A baseball cap isn’t the only kind of rigid fabric you can use for logo printing, though. Tote bags, bandanas, bucket hats and flags all fall into this category as well. The difference between these and softer cotton products is that rigid fabrics don’t stretch like softer fabrics do. You don’t have to be as cognizant of how your logo will look when it’s stretched across somebody’s chest or pulled over their shoulders.
Traditional printing—pressing ink into textile fibers, as with t-shirt printing—isn’t the only way to print your logo on a baseball cap. You can also have your logo embroidered on a hat to add visual and tactile intrigue with texture, but that’s a process separate from logo printing.
Embroidery, while not technically printing, is another way to get your logo on merch. Logo design by Painted Pony Studios
With rigid fabrics, you have to design around your material’s texture and color. Product packaging design by TikaDesign.And you can always print on caps, too. Hat design by athenabelle
Logo printing process
Much like printing on a cotton jersey or other soft fabrics, the color of the material you’re printing on can discolor your logo. Either design your logo with fully opaque colors or choose specific fabric colors that complement your logo design. You can even design your logo around the material you plan to print on—maybe a light tan canvas is the perfect backdrop for your logo, like we see in TikaDesign’s shopping bag for Feather & Bone.
Logo printing on mugs and other ceramics—
Take a look in your kitchen cabinet and we guarantee you’ll find at least one mug with a logo on it. Mugs are right up there with t-shirts as some of the most popular swag options, and it’s easy to see why: everybody uses them. (Not a coffee drinker? No prob—a mug makes a great desktop pen holder!). But one of the big reasons mugs are popular swag comes from behind the scenes: printing your logo on a bunch of them is a relatively simple, inexpensive process.
Your logo can go anywhere on a mug. Mug design by aran&xa
Who says your mug has to be mug-shaped? Mug design by degowang
Logo printing process
Dye sublimation printing
Direct screen printing
Each involves a different process and comes at a different price point… and each has different results. For example, direct screen printing is generally your least expensive option for logo printing on ceramic, but it also tends to produce lower quality prints than other methods, like sublimation printing and litho printing.
Mugs are curved, so your logo might get distorted. Try it out by printing your logo on paper and wrapping it around a mug to see how it will look when it’s actually printed on the mug.
Your logo’s design can determine which printing method is best. If your logo is relatively simple—that is, simple geometric shapes and no gradients—direct screen printing can work just fine and save you some money. If you’ve got a more detailed logo, you might want to go with litho or digital printing.
Logo printing on thin paper—
When it comes to logo printing, there are two types of paper, which we categorize as “thin” and “thick.” In this case, thin paper refers to:
As you can see by the diversity in the list above, it can be tough to give one-size-fits-all guidelines to printing on thin paper. Thin paper comes in a variety textures, thicknesses and opacities. Your logo printed on stationery can look very different from your logo printed on tissue paper.
When you print on thin paper, you can work negative space into your design. Flyer design by tale026
Logo printing process
When you’re designing to print on thin paper, be sure to mock up your design on every kind of paper you plan on printing onto. As we said above, factors like the paper’s thickness and texture come into play and can dramatically alter how your logo looks.
Another design consideration to keep in mind with paper is glossiness. On glossy paper, your logo’s colors will look more vibrant. Depending on the vibe you’re going for, this could mean dialing back your color saturation before you send your design to print, or conversely making the colors more vibrant in the version that will go on matte paper products.
Logo printing on thick paper—
As opposed to thin paper, thick paper refers to:
Product label tags
This category’s a little more challenging to characterize neatly like the previous one, because thick paper comes in various thicknesses and glossiness levels. As a general classifier, this category covers any kind of paper you can’t easily crumple up into a ball.
Often, contrast is key when you’re printing on thick paper. Cup design by Ryan@rt
Logo printing process
Just like with thin paper, you’ve got to consider how glossy or matte the paper you’re working with is.
Logo printing on hard plastic—
Think pens, flash/thumb drives, frisbees, travel mugs, water bottles, cafeteria trays—we’re surrounded by hard plastic, and a lot of it is branded. If you’re looking for interesting swag ideas, look into all the different plastic items you can print your logo on. Going with some kind of plastic merch can be a cool way to get your logo out there on something more outside-the-box than a t-shirt.
Print your logo on luggage and take it anywhere you go. Luggage design by alebelkaWater bottles are another common piece of swag for logo printing. Illustration by Eliza Osmo
Logo printing process
UV litho printing
Digital inkjet printing
Each of these printing methods comes with its own demands, limitations and cost. For example, pad printing involves etching your logo into a silicone pad, covering it in ink and then pressing it onto the plastic item, leaving the negative space in the image empty and the inked portions colored. This process can work for a multi-colored logo, but is generally easiest for single-color images. Digital inkjet logo printing instead prints directly onto plastic products.
Plastic can be opaque, somewhat transparent or completely transparent. How transparent (or not) the plastic you’re printing on is can potentially distort your logo’s colors.
With hard plastic, you don’t have to worry about stretching the logo out, so you can create an image with intricate details. But if you’re printing on something small, like a thumb drive or a golf ball, keep your logo simple. You can even create multiple versions of your logo—a detailed version for stationery, t-shirts and other large items, but a separate, smaller and more streamlined version for smaller pieces.
Logo printing on metal—
Think of decorative metal signs, stainless steel cups, travel mugs and branded jewelry. You can do a lot of fun branding with metal, like the metal business card created by HYPdesign. This kind of logo printing doesn’t have to be just decorative, either—logo printing on metal is a great way to brand unexpected items like cookware or tools.
Choose swag that fits your brand. Scissors are a great choice for any sewing or craft brand! Illustration by Andrey Prokhorov
Giving out metal business cards is one way to ensure you’re not forgotten. Business card design by HYPdesign
Logo printing process
Printing on metal is somewhat like printing on hard plastic. It’s inflexible, so you don’t have to worry about your logo getting distorted or stretched.
Although it’s not a form of printing per se, you can also laser engrave your logo onto metal. With laser engraving, you can cut a super precise logo into metal. But there’s no colors—the only color at your disposal is that of the metal you’re engraving.
Choosing a printer—
The final step in printing your logo is to choose the right printer for your needs. Choose a printer that offers the materials and printing techniques you’re looking for and make sure to go with a printing company that provides plenty of examples of finished products, so you can get a feel for what quality you can expect. Also pay attention to customer reviews when comparing printing companies.
Your printer will provide you with the final details and measurements for your printing project. Oftentimes they will show you a printing preview or offer the option of ordering a sample before producing a large batch of prints, so you can double check what your final result will look like.
A great option for logo printing is to choose a printing company like Vistaprint that offers a wide range of items and materials to print your logo on.
No matter where you plan to do your logo printing, first you need a logo—ideally, a logo designed with careful consideration of how it will be used, so you don’t have to worry about altering the colors, removing details or resizing it to fit the material you’re working with. The best thing you can do to ensure great print results is to consider all the different places you want your logo to go on and design it with those uses in mind.
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