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Custom Promotional Items: Pros and Cons

Updated on February 13, 2019
heidithorne profile image

Heidi Thorne is the author of SWAG: How to Choose and Use Promotional Products for Marketing Your Business.


When I was in the promotional products business, hardly a year went by without receiving at least one inquiry for custom promotional items. Everything from custom shaped magnets and notepads to custom molded action figures. Are all of them possible? You bet! Are all of them feasible projects? No way.

Usually the client is envisioning a high impact promotional giveaway that will help the company build their brand. Truly, this type of project could accomplish that. In fact, some of these unique items can become valuable collectibles, especially those for highly desirable brands.

But there are some of significant drawbacks to these one-of-a-kind projects.

Customized Promotional Items versus Custom Promotional Items

Most standard, straight-out-of-the-catalog promotional giveaways are considered customized promotional items. Customized means that the customer selects options such as the following:

  • Logo or text that is to be printed
  • Color of ink used and/or type of standard imprint process
  • Standard imprinting location on the product

Example: A customer wants customized screen printed T shirts. He would choose the logo, ink color and where he wants that printed. On a T shirt standard imprint locations are full front, left chest, right chest (less common) or full back.

In contrast, custom promotional products are usually specially manufactured and are not merely imprinted. Using the same example, say the customer wanted a T shirt made from a special fabric, with an unusually styled sleeve or neckline or printed with a design that spans from front to back. This is a completely custom build.

Why are Custom Promotional Items so Expensive?

To create custom promotional products, the following expenses could be charged and will vary by project:

  • Custom Design. Especially when it comes to 3D items, the cost to develop sketches and models can run into the hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. Virtual modeling technologies can help reduce the costs in this phase. However, a physical prototype, or proof, may still done prior to the final production run.
  • Custom Dies, Molds and Manufacturing. Once a custom design and model is complete, the actual dies and molds must be developed in order to actually make the product. A die is a cutting template to create the desired shape or size. A mold is usually used for plastic or poured materials. Custom manufacturing could also include processes such as hand detailing and piece-by-piece construction. Like custom design, these fees can also run into the hundreds or thousands of dollars, depending on the complexity and difficulty to physically manufacture.
  • Custom Decorating. If an item needs to be decorated in specially mixed inks or paints, or in unusual locations, there usually are fees for the custom inks or paints and the special handling required to decorate in difficult locations. As with the design, die and mold costs, the more complex the decorating scheme, the more expensive it is. One of the most common custom decorating costs is PMS (Pantone Matching System) color inks.
  • High Quantities and/or High Cost. Because of the high costs for the manufacturer, usually a high quantity of final custom promotional products need to be ordered, sometimes with a minimum of several thousand pieces. For those items where a low minimum order quantity is offered (even as small as one piece; custom awards being an example), the per piece cost may be extremely high.

What About 3D Printing?

Though 3D printing could make short run custom promotional products a reasonably priced reality, the industry is still not at a point (as of this writing) where that is possible or widely available.

Add to this the issue that a custom designed 3D printed item may not meet CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) safety requirements. This opens up both the manufacturer and the business using the items (which could be one in the same!) to additional product liability, especially if making these types of items is not part of the company's normal offerings.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2014 Heidi Thorne


Submit a Comment
  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    6 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hi Besarien! Sadly, small businesses and startups rarely can afford custom promos even though they could have a positive impact. However, I don't recommend taking blank products from retail and customizing, except for adding a gift tag or packaging. First, many products from retail cannot withstand the rigors of decorating. Trust me, I have seen some true disasters of this ilk! Second, there may be licensing issues with branded retail products. I've had several clients over the years ask me if they could buy some products from retail and have their logo printed on it. Absolutely not! They could be charged with trademark infringement. Third, there are some product liability issues that could come into play, too, since the products have not been designated for promotional use. Lastly, and probably most importantly, if the imprinting done in-house is less than stellar, it could reflect badly on the company's image.

    Wow, I bet you didn't expect that essay! :) But you brought up a very important issue that I've addressed in other places than HP. Maybe I should expand this hub or write a special one on it. Thanks for the suggestion! Have a wonderful Easter Weekend!

  • Besarien profile image


    6 years ago from South Florida

    Hi Heidi! Great hub! I wonder in some cases, for small businesses or start ups for example, if it isn't better buying standard promotional products then customizing your own. Stamping or stenciling a business logo/contact info onto calendars or shopping totes strikes me as one of those things that good employees do well instead of standing around and texting. Some probably would enjoy it as a break from routine.

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    6 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hi teaches12345! I think those of us who have some experience in the marketing realms can really appreciate the work involved in the whole custom project effort. Glad to see I have company! But, you're right, if it accomplishes the objectives of new business, then it definitely is worth considering. Thanks for adding your insight to the conversation! Have a great day!

  • teaches12345 profile image

    Dianna Mendez 

    6 years ago

    I was in marketing for a few years and know well the cost of customization. Clients have high expectations and expect quality work. It is a work much appreciated as it pulls in customers and new business. Great write on this topic!

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    6 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hi FlourishAnyway! Agreed, 3D printing is cool and will be a standard piece of equipment in the not too distant future. And, yes, custom is a money pit. I've seen some die cutting charges run up as high as $600 or more... and that's just to set it up. There are a lot of innovative ways to work with stock. Hmm... maybe a thought for another post. Thanks for the inspiration and conversation as always! Have a beautiful weekend!

  • FlourishAnyway profile image


    6 years ago from USA

    I have had a chance to see a 3D printer in action and it is a very cool technology. You explain well why customization costs so much.

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    6 years ago from Chicago Area

    Hi Bob Bamberg! You mentioned one of my very favorite giveaways, sticky notes, which come in so many stock shapes that going custom is rarely needed. Relatively inexpensive and, like pens, people will always want to come back for more. Indeed, you can spend a small fortune on custom, or even standard, promo goodies. But if they get the desired effect, then they're worth it.

    Thanks for stopping by and chiming in. Have a great weekend!

  • profile image

    Bob Bamberg 

    6 years ago

    Hi Heidi, when we had our feed and grain store people looked forward to our wall calendar, pocket calendar and some trinket we'd order...LED Flashlight Key Chains, Mugs, etc. One year we gave out a little booklet type thing that contained various shapes and colors of post-it type notes.

    They all had our store name on them, of course, and it grew to be a tradition for about 300 of our customers. We always had cheap, custom pens, but people loved them. My bank has a cheap custom pen they give out freely, and I love it. It has a good feel and writes well.

    We closed our store 3 years ago, and I still have people tell me they miss the calendars, are still using the keychain, etc. They can be very good for businesses, but you can go broke using them, too. Great hub, voted up, useful and interesting.

  • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

    Heidi Thorne 

    6 years ago from Chicago Area

    Billybuc, kickstarting both memories and new ideas is my job! :) I have some more brain-budgers in the works. So stay tuned. Happy Weekend!

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 

    6 years ago from Olympia, WA

    Although I've been there and done that often over the years, I still manage to learn something new from kickstart a memory in my feeble brain about something I had forgotten that I need to pay more attention to....thank you for that, and Happy Friday to you.


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