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Custom Printed Neck Lanyards: From A to Z

From parties and reunions to trade shows and special events, custom printed neck lanyards are being used to advertise names, logos and messages. Traditionally, neck lanyards have been used to carry and display id cards and name badges. Today many more uses for neck lanyards are being found for other small objects. From pens and cell phones to lip balm and keys, they provide a convenient way to keep these useful objects accessible while keeping the hands free.

The most-used materials for producing custom printed neck lanyards are flat cotton, nylon and polyester from 3/8" to 3/4" wide. The methods being used to imprint this material are hot stamping, screen printing and dye sublimation. The choice of printing method is typically based upon several criteria, including price, durability, single or multi-color, one or both sides and production time. In some cases, material color may also be a consideration, since all materials are typically not available in all colors. Here we discuss the printing methods, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of each as they relate to the selection criteria listed above.

Hot stamping by far produces the most economical custom printed lanyard of commercial quality. These lanyards are ideal for employee and student i.d. cards, as well as for trade shows, conferences and special events. Imprints are applied with a combination of heat and pressure applied to polyester material. A metal plate incorporating the design is loaded onto a chase which is then inserted into the machine and held in place. The plate, chase and holder are referred to as the printing head. A roll of the polyester material to be printed is installed on one end of the machine and then threaded under the printing head and out the other side. Rubber pressure rollers hold as well as move the material through the machine. Guides on each side keep the material on track as it's being fed through the machine. The imprint color is transferred from a roll of foil which is fed over the material and under the printing head. The machine has presets for print pressure, print head temperature and material feed speed. The actual printing occurs in two steps. First the heated print head is lowered onto the foil and material with sufficient pressure to transfer the foil color underneath the imprint design of the plate and onto the material. Since the color from the foil goes on "dry" there is no drying step necessary. The next step combines the lifting of the print head and advance of the material to the next area of the material to be printed. Most "step and repeat" style of lanyard printing leaves one inch between repeats. The now-advanced printed material is either allowed to fall into a collection bin or is re-rolled using a rewinding unit. For double sided printing, the material must be re-rolled in order to be fed into the machine for printing the second side.

Hot stamped neck lanyards are available in both 3/8" (shoelace) and 5/8" (budget) widths in an assortment of colors. Due to the thin layer of color deposited onto the material, hot stamped neck lanyards are subject to some material/imprint color restrictions. Typically printing light on dark works the best (i.e., white, silver or gold on a darker color material). In most cases, the relatively inexpensive price of these custom printed neck lanyards compared to other lanyard imprint methods outweighs the color combination restrictions.

Silk screening produces excellent quality custom printed neck lanyards. This type of imprinted lanyard is more durable than hot stamping, and suitable for all occasions, as well as retail sales. The imprint is applied by pushing ink through a fine mesh screen which is positioned on top of the lanyard material. The mesh "holes" in the area of the design to be printed are open, and closed everywhere else on the screen. These open areas of the screen are achieved by exposing the screen to a piece of clear sheet of acetate film containing the black and white image to be printed. The flow of ink over the screen is now restricted to move only through the image area defined by the open holes in the mesh. The device used to push or "squeeze" the ink through the screen mesh holes is referred to as a squeegee. Screen printing, compared to hot stamping, has far fewer material/ink color combination restrictions, as more ink is applied to the material surface. Unlike hot stamping, screen printing employs ink which is still wet after the material is printed. For this reason, the ink is dried by running the material through a conveyer-type dryer set to approximately 350°F. Whereas hot stamped lanyards are printed from a continuous roll of material, screen printed neck lanyard are first precut to 36" and then printed one at a time. The extra labor involved contributes to the higher price for screen printed neck lanyards versus other automated printing methods (i.e., hot stamping and dye sublimation). The most widely used lanyard material for screen printing is flat cotton or nylon from 3/8" to 3/4" wide. Obviously, the wider material allows for a larger imprint area and for more information to printed, as well as better resolution of logo details. Because screen printing applies a thicker layer of ink than hot stamping, this type of custom printed neck lanyard is typically more durable and longer lasting than hot stamped neck lanyards. Even so, screen printed images will also wear over time, since the imprint sits on the material surface and is subject to abrasion.

Dye sublimation produces premium quality custom printed neck lanyards. The big advantage of dye sublimation over screen printing and hot stamping is that multi-color designs up to six colors can be reproduced on one or both sides of the material. Like hot stamping, dye sublimation requires the use of polyester material. But unlike hot stamping, the color of the material used is always white, as the dye sublimation process applies the ground color as well as the image color (s). Similar to hot stamping, custom imprints are applied using a combination of heat and pressure. Dye sublimation requires special heat transfer paper to first be printed with the design which is then transferred to the material. In most cases the transfer paper will contain the design as well as the solid color for the background as well (unless of course the background color will remain white). The process of dye sublimation results in the individual yarns of the material being dyed the color(s) of the design from the heat transfer paper. Since the imprint colors penetrate the material surface, dye sublimated custom printed neck lanyards tend to be less prone to wear due to surface abrasion.

Custom printed neck lanyards offer a relatively inexpensive way to advertise your name, logo or message, as well as providing a useful means for convenient accessibility to small objects being used throughout the day. Here I've outlined the most common ways for producing custom printed neck lanyards, each with its pros and cons. Hopefully you have found this information helpful towards selection of the best custom printed neck lanyards for your next big event.
- Article by Scott Shenkel