Custom Decoration Methods

With so many different options out there for decorating your custom apparel or promotional products, how do you know when to use each method? Each decoration option comes with certain pros and cons as well as some limitations.

To make things easy, most of our products have a recommended or default decoration method and our dedicated team of Merchologists is always here to assist you if you have any questions. To make things even easier, the custom logo experts at Merchology have broken down the major decoration techniques below. Jump to the decoration type you want to learn more about using the links below and click into each section for more information on our custom capabilities for each decoration type!

Embroidery Screen Printing Heat Transfer Printing

Debossing Laser Engraving

Foil Stamping Digital Printing 3D Puff Embroidery

Pad Printing  


By far our most popular decoration style! The logo on your screen first needs to be "digitized"; mapped out for an embroidery machine based on the intricacies of a logo & its colors. From there, the appropriate thread colors are chosen, a sample stitch out is run, and once approved, your order is put on embroidery machines that read the final digitized file and embroider your logo to its exact specifications. You can read our complete step by step guide to embroidery here!

Custom Embroidery

When to Use Embroidery as a Decoration Method

Embroidered logos typically look best on polos, jackets, woven shirts, caps, and bags, but this is a truly versatile style of decoration. We've embroidered just about every style of apparel & accessory on our site!

Embroidery is Ideal for…

Benefits of Embroidery as a Decoration Method

  • There is an added texture to the design.
  • The product does not need to be laid flat like in printing, making embroidery suitable for hats and bags.
  • The intricate design evokes a high perceived value and sense of professionalism.
  • More durable and resistant to damage from washing than most decoration methods.

Drawbacks of Embroidery as a Decoration Method

  • The number of colors used in the design is limited to the thread color options and prices typically increase with additional colors.
  • Embroidery is only a suitable decoration method for fabric.
  • Embroidery machines can struggle with small lettering or fine details in the design.

Screen Printing

An easy way to think about this is as a photographic stencil process. A stencil is created and then is used to apply layers of ink directly onto a product. The result is the screen's image transferred to the print surface. The versatility of this decoration method allows it to be used on a wide variety of items. You can read our complete step by step guide to custom screen printing here!

Custom Screen Printing

When to Use Screen Printing as a Decoration Method

Screen printing, also known as silk screen printing, is the most cost-effective method for large quantity print runs (around 50+ items) and works especially well with items like t-shirts and tanks. A complex design with many different colors requires different stencils for each color, so this decoration method is best for logos with 4 colors or less.

Screen Printing is Ideal for…

Benefits of Screen Printing as a Decoration Method

  • Most cost effective decoration method for larger custom apparel orders.
  • Just about any design and ink color can be applied to any product through screen printing.
  • Ink is applied thicker than digital printing, making your design more vibrant and easier to see on darker fabrics or surfaces.

Drawbacks of Screen Printing as a Decoration Method

  • The necessity to create screens means screen printing is not ideal for smaller order sizes or individually personalized items.
  • Prices typically increase on orders with a high number of colors.

Heat Transfer Printing

If you have ever used an iron to press a decal onto a shirt then you know the basis of heat transfer, but our method is exceptionally more advanced. The digital heat seal decoration method utilizes regulated heat and pressure to thermally bond graphics onto a material’s surface. You can read our complete step by step guide to custom heat transfer printing here!

Custom Heat Transfer Printed T-Shirt

When to Use Heat Transfer as a Decoration Method

Heat transfer, also known as digital transfer, is a great decoration choice if you are looking for affordable design options with unlimited colors. With decoration methods like embroidery and screen printing, you are using physical resources - thread and ink - to create a logo. This cost can be avoided with heat transfer, making it the most ideal decoration option for smaller orders.

Heat Transfer is Ideal for…

Benefits of Heat Transfer as a Decoration Method

  • Minimal setup costs and equipment make heat transfers ideal for smaller order sizes.
  • Affordable individually personalized decoration, such as sports uniforms.
  • Allows for finer details and smaller text than embroidery.
  • Heat transfer is available in many different finishes and styles.
  • Environmentally friendly.

Drawbacks of Heat Transfer as a Decoration Method

  • Logos and designs larger than 15 inches tend to be more expensive than other design methods.
  • An image does not last as long as some other decoration methods and the printed area is not very breathable.
  • Unable to use an iron on the printed area of the garment.
  • When logos are too large the texture of the design can be thrown off.
  • Should not be done on certain synthetic materials that can’t be exposed to the high heat from the iron.


    Debossing gives your logo a 3D element. Dies are constructed from metal in the shape of your logo. Heat and pressure push into the product and form the material into the impression you want. This decoration method produces stunning & sophisticated results and is perfect for leather decorating. You can read our complete step by step guide to custom debossing here!

    Custom Debossed Leather Journal

    When to Use Debossing as a Decoration Method

    Perfect for products where subtle and high perceived value is appropriate. A crisp debossing adds lasting value to items used every day as well as unique dimension and quality to your product. Ideal products are leather goods such as padfolios, money clips, or luggage tags.

    Debossing is Ideal for…

    Benefits of Debossing as a Decoration Method

    • Creates dimensional depth and detail by depressing your design onto the material.
    • Doesn’t create holes in fabric like embroidery, making it ideal for water-proof apparel.
    • Works extremely well on leather apparel or surfaces.
    • Can be done in conjunction with other types of decoration.

    Drawbacks of Debossing as a Decoration Method

    • Can not be done across seams or zippers.
    • Small text or highly detailed designs do not work as well with debossing.

    Laser Engraving

    A unique application where the laser removes a thin layer of fiber or pigment dye. By adjusting the intensity and speed of the laser we can sculpt dimension into the design, resulting in stunning clarity and precision. You can read our complete step by step guide to custom laser engraving here!

    Custom Laser Engraved Metal Water Bottle

    When to Use Laser Engraving as a Decoration Method

    This decoration method creates sharp, crystal-clear logos that are unable to be peeled off. Ideal for items that get continuous use such as promotional pens, custom drinkware, and personalized tools.

    Laser Engraving is Ideal for…

    Benefits of Laser Engraving as a Decoration Method

    • Go-to decoration method for metal products.
    • The engraving process itself is cheap and can be done very quickly.
    • Designs are extremely durable, making them ideal for frequently handled items.

    Drawbacks of Laser Engraving as a Decoration Method

    • Laser engraving machines are expensive.
    • Laser engraving is typically only performed on metal or wood surfaces.

      Foil Stamping

      Foil stamping is a specialty printing process in which a metallic or pigmented foil is heated with a magnesium dye and then stamped with enough pressure to seal a thin layer of foil to the surface. Metallic foils are typically gold or silver and pigmented foils are most commonly red or black. You can read our complete step by step guide to custom hot foil printing here!

      Custom Hot Foil Stamped Notebook

      When to Use Foil Stamping as a Decoration Method

      Metallic foils have a glossy, polished finish and are a great way to make your logo pop on darker colored surfaces. Because ink is not involved in the process, the color of your desired surface will not impact the design. This decoration method is used exclusively on custom notebooks and journals at Merchology.

      Foil Stamping is Ideal for…

      Benefits of Foil Stamping as a Decoration Method

      • The polished and glossy finish stands out on any color surface.
      • Foil stamping does not use ink, so the colors of your design will not be influenced by the surface color.

      Drawbacks of Foil Stamping as a Decoration Method

      • Foil stamping is not a decoration method for apparel and is usually only utilized on hard goods.
      • Can’t be used in conjunction with designs that use thermography because the heat from the foil stamping process will melt the resins.

      Digital Printing

      You can think about digital printing, or direct to garment printing, as a similar process to printing a document from your computer. An image is created with no restraints to the number of colors or type of artwork used, and the image is printed or affixed directly onto the material. With embroidery & screen printing, you are dealing with physical resources (thread & ink) to create a logo; with digital printing, full color, high definition logos can be done economically, even in small quantities. Here at Merchology, we utilize digital printing strictly for hard goods like water bottles, notebooks, and electronics. You can read our complete step by step guide to custom DTG digital printing here!

      Custom Digitally Printed Notebook

      When to Use Digital Printing as a Decoration Method

      Commonly used as a substitute for screen printing on smaller orders, digital printing also works well with logos that require a high amount of detail or are very graphics heavy. This is also a commonly used option for logos that contain a gradient, as the print can closely match the digital version seen on a computer screen. Check out our breakdown of the differences between screen printing and digital printing here.

      Digital Printing is Ideal for…

      Benefits of Digital Printing as a Decoration Method

      • Easier set up than screen printing – no screen creation or color separation required.
      • Ability to print more precise details in a broader range of colors.
      • Great for smaller order sizes.

      Drawbacks of Digital Printing as a Decoration Method

      • Digital Printing is typically more expensive than screen printing for large orders.
      • Certain Direct to Garment Machines can only print on 100% cotton fabric.
      • Digital Printing is slower than screen printing for large orders.
      • DTG Machines can struggle with printing multi-color designs on dark fabrics.

        3D Puff Embroidery

        3D puff embroidery is done by placing a foam pad, or “puff”, onto your products and then having your embroidery machine sew an outline of your logo or design. Once this is complete you simply remove the excess puff around the outside of the embroidered outline and you’ve got a 3D design. You can read our complete step by step guide to custom 3D puff embroidery here!

        Custom 3D Embroidered Hat

        When to Use 3D Embroidery as a Decoration Method

        3D embroidery is used almost exclusively on custom hats and caps to give your logo or design depth and height. Outside of headwear, 3D embroidery is used on other heavy-fabric items like sweatshirts, hoodies, and workwear.

        3D Embroidery is Ideal for…

        Benefits of 3D Embroidery at a Decoration Method

        • Extremely durable – the design should outlast the garment itself.
        • The logo is more noticeable because of the 3D design.
        • More stylish and sophisticated look.

        Drawbacks of 3D Embroidery as a Decoration Method

        • Not ideal for intricate designs because of the thickness necessary to achieve the 3D appearance.
        • More expensive than traditional embroidery because of the extra thread used.
        • Not suitable for lighter weight fabrics.

        Pad Printing

        Pad printing is a decoration technique in which ink is transferred from a silicone pad onto your desired surface. The pad printing process can be thought of as a more advanced version of stamping – a pad with ink is pressed onto the product and then left to air dry. You can read our complete step by step guide to custom pad printing here!

        Custom Pad Printed Notebook

        When to Use Pad Printing as a Decoration Method

        Pad printing is a very versatile decoration method, in that it can be applied to just about any product regardless of shape or form. This makes it especially useful on rounded surfaces like golf balls, pens, and water bottles.

        Pad Printing is Ideal for…

        Benefits of Pad Printing as a Decoration Method

        • Superior image clarity.
        • Easier than screen printing for printing on unusually shaped objects.
        • Improved resolution on smaller fonts and designs over screen printing.
        • Pad printing is a gentle decoration technique, making it ideal for delicate materials and fabrics.
        • Low set-up costs and minimal equipment required.

        Drawbacks of Pad Printing as a Decoration Method

        • Not ideal for designs with a lot of different colors.
        • Pad printing process can be slow because you must change pads for each color and allow drying time.
        • Typically more expensive than screen printing.

          Direct Apparel Printing

          Direct apparel printing, also known as direct-to-garment or direct-to-film printing, is a merchandise printing method that applies ink directly onto a product. The ink is placed on a thin film, powdered glue is added, and the design is applied to the item with a special heated printing machine. You can read our more in-depth article on this decoration method here!

          Create the best company merch and gifts of all time with direct apparel printing from Merchology

          When to Use Direct Apparel Printing as a Decoration Method

          Direct apparel printing is especially wonderful for highly detailed and multi-colored logo designs. Perfect for uniforms and jerseys, as they are worn frequently and go through a lot of wear and tear. This decoration option is extremely dependable wash after wash. 

          Direct Apparel Printing is Ideal for…

          Benefits of Direct Apparel Printing as a Decoration Method

          • Quick application time, a turnaround of three days to one week for your merch order is no problem!
          • Color matches available - Direct apparel printing allows you to perfectly color-match your design.
          • Endless decoration possibilities allows for very small print and detailed artwork. 

          Drawbacks of Direct Apparel Printing as a Decoration Method

          • Direct to garment printing only works on clothing with at least 50% cotton material.
          • Direct apparel printers are expensive and must be completed in a temperature-controlled room.