Beyond Paper: Unusual Print Surfaces


When you say ‘print’, people tend to think you’re printing on paper or cardboard. For 90% of the jobs we handle, that’s probably true, but the remainder include more unusual print surfaces.

With modern printing technologies, the substrate (the base material you print onto) can be just about anything.  As our print expert Andrew Alcock says, ‘if you want to take your front door off its hinges and bring it round I can get a floral design printed all over it for you.

We’re not sure how useful that would really be! But here’s a summary of non-paper print options, with some ideas as to how you might want to use them. We’ve also highlighted any issues to consider.

Fabric printing

Most people are aware of printing on fabric – even if just from the printed t-shirts around them.

Common business uses include:

  • Include your own brand or imagery on retail products.
  • Promote your brand on t-shirts, polo shirts, hats, bags and other items.
  • Use ‘soft signage’ for items like flags, banners and exhibition stand decorations. It’s easier to transport, store and clean that traditional signage.

Fabric is usually printed by screen printing or digital printing.  Inks for fabric printing usually include thickeners to prevent the colour ‘running’ along the fibres of the fabric and blurring the pattern.

One question to consider is whether the colour is just on the surface of the fabric or whether it penetrates into the fibres.  The second option (dye sublimation) makes the design last longer. It’s vital if your goods will be washed frequently, needed over a long time, or exposed to sunlight. But for promotional items with a short shelf life it may be overkill.

The ‘spontaneity packs’ which Xpadite worked on for the Australian launch of HotelTonight included many non-paper printed items. Cotton undies. (So you’re fresh the next day after an unexpected night away.) Sunglasses with moulded plastic frames. And the bag to keep them in.



Printed Magnets

While we’re on the subject of promotional items, don’t forget the humble printed magnet.  With a good design – including your contact details – the fridge magnet can work wonders for a B2C business.

<pics of some cool fridge magnets>

Printing on plastic

Printing on plastic objects is standard for promotional items.  Pens, keyrings, water bottles, frisbees, all kinds of promotional items. (More information about promotional product in the marketing mix here.)

Flat objects can be screen printed or digitally printed. Difficult shapes and 3D surfaces are managed by ‘pad printing’. The ink is picked up on a silicon pad, in the design shape, then stamped onto the object.  Special inks are used to transfer smoothly without mistake.  That’s the print process we used for the HotelTonight sunglasses.

But it’s not just promotional items which are printed on plastic.  What about the following?

  • Gift cards
  • Hotel card keys
  • DVDs
  • Labels
  • Place mats and other homewares

We also need to give a special mention to printing on vinyl sheets.


Vinyl with an adhesive backing is great for stickers.  Stickers are great for:

  • Labels
  • Marketing campaigns
  • Short runs of items like branded bags. A single location store may only need one or two hundred bags. It’s not a long enough run for a printer, but it is possible to print labels and use them to customise a standard product.

Vinyl is also a fantastic alternative when pricing labels need to handle unusual conditions.  For example, what about food products which have to be stored in refrigerated containers? Condensation would damage paper labels, but vinyl is just fine.

We’ve used vinyl for promotional wobblers in refrigerated units as well.


Not all signs are printed on vinyl though.  Eden Gardens need signage for products which are stored and displayed outdoors. The signs need to be weatherproof. They have to withstand rain, so paper and card are no good. The ink can’t run either. And the ink needs to be UV-resistant so signs don’t fade in the sun. We supply foamcore signs as you can see in these photos.

unusual-print-surfaces-eden-gardens-signage  unusual-print-surfaces-eden-gardens-signage-2

Other unusual print surfaces

As we mentioned at the start of this post, nowadays you can print on almost anything.

Metal signs are hard-wearing and long-lasting. So they’re ideal for places like construction sites. They stand up to the weather and it doesn’t matter if a truck bumps into them.

Perspex signs are also common.  Perspex is robust enough for outside use. It can also be cut to various shapes (and thicknesses) to present just the impression you want.

And if you’re looking for something really spectacular (for corporate art or for  your home) what about printing on mirrors, or on the surface of a glass table?

The limit is your imagination!  And with our network of specialist printers, Xpadite can handle your jog whatever surface you want to print on. So what are you waiting for? Contact us today.