Posted by: brandextenders | April 4, 2011

You Can Silk Screen on Almost Anything, Right? Even a Coconut?

No and no. Given the universe of products you can imprint a logo or branding message on, it would seem that you could silk screen most anything, but that would be false. You can probably screen print (the term I’ll use since screens are rarely made of silk anymore) on well over 50% of all the promotional products out there, but some materials just aren’t amenable to the process. And yes, amazingly enough you can imprint a coconut, but because of the rough outer surface it’s usually accomplished through either pad printing or laser engraving, not screen printing.

There are many ways to decorate a product and I’ll be writing more about them in upcoming blogs. Today I’ll concentrate on the two most common that use ink, screen printing and pad printing.

  1.  Screen Printing: One of the oldest printing methods, silk screen printing dates back to the Song Dynasty in

    A screen with the design ready to print

    China (960-1279 AD). In modern times, the first patent for a silk-screening method was given in 1907 to Samuel Simon of Manchester, England. This technique of printing involves stretching silk or some other fine woven mesh, usually a polyester material, tightly over a wood or metal frame. A light-sensitive emulsion coats the mesh; a stencil of the design is placed over the screen which is then exposed to ultra-violet light. The emulsion in the area not covered by the stencil hardens so nothing can pass through the screen. The emulsion in the area covered by the design didn’t harden, remains water-soluble and is washed away allowing the ink to pass through that area of the screen which leaves the design on the material being printed. Screen printing is a very versatile method and is used on everything from T-shirts to pens to drinkware and more. With automatic presses it’s easier these days to screen print however it is still a very labor intensive process. It’s probably the method most commonly used to imprint a logo or design on a product, but some products because of the material they are made of or their shape/size don’t lend themselves to this method of decoration and there are other choices.

  2. Pad Printing: This technique of transferring ink onto a product was first used by Swiss watch makers in the 1940’s & 50’s. The first commercial pad printing machine was patented in 1968 by Willfried Phillip and at the heart of this process is a silicone pad. The logo or design is transferred onto a thin metal plate coated with light-sensitive emulsion and like screen printing, the emulsion hardens where the light hits it and remains water-soluble in the area covered by the design. An additional step adds tiny little dots into area of the design which allows the ink to transfer from the plate onto the silicone pad which then is pushed onto the product being imprinted. This method is great for imprinting products that aren’t flat or that may be oddly shaped and is used to in many industries other than promotional products including medical, automotive, sports equipment and toys. The keys on the keyboard you’re using with your computer, be it a lap top or desk top, are pad printed as is the logo on the monitor you’re reading from. If you use an iPad though, those keys aren’t pad printed!!

These descriptions are the very basics and there is much more involved in decorating a product with either of these methods. I’ve known many people who thought it would be a cinch to buy some equipment and ink and go into business for themselves. What most found out quickly though is that it’s not a get-rich-quick way to make money and, like anything, takes a lot of time and effort to become proficient.

Before you know it, you’ll be able to look at products and think, that’s pad printed or that’s screen printed. Just remember, you can’t embroider a stainless steel coffee mug which is why we’ll go into embroidery and embossing/debossing next time.

Would appreciate your comments below on these decoration methods and any tips you might have for readers.

I work with my customers to evaluate their promotional marketing needs and develop creative and measurable solutions based on those needs. I build long-term relationships to become a trusted advisor my clients turn to for their brand extension, promotional product, incentive and other branding needs. Contact me at  


  1. Pad Printing and Screen Printing both are very important type of printing. Screen Printing is one of the oldest method of printing but it is very easy to work. I like its processing very much.

  2. Pad Printing and Screen Printing both are very important type of printing.

  3. […] a previous blog I explained silk-screening and pad printing and below are two additional ways to brand products […]

  4. Thank you both. Maureen, I will attempt to do everything you wrote, about having a ball and living it up. I tend to be bookish and on the reclusive going to be more proactive about fun stuff.

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