In this paper, we propose a practical approach to minimizing embedding impact in steganography based on syndrome coding and trellis-coded quantization and contrast its performance with bounds derived from appropriate rate-distortion bounds. We assume that each cover element can be assigned a positive scalar expressing the impact of making an embedding change at that element (single-letter distortion). The problem is to embed a given payload with minimal possible average embedding impact. This task, which can be viewed as a generalization of matrix embedding or writing on wet paper, has been approached using heuristic and suboptimal tools in the past. Here, we propose a fast and very versatile solution to this problem that can theoretically achieve performance arbitrarily close to the bound. It is based on syndrome coding using linear convolutional codes with the optimal binary quantizer implemented using the Viterbi algorithm run in the dual domain. The complexity and memory requirements of the embedding algorithm are linear w.r.t. the number of cover elements. For practitioners, we include detailed algorithms for finding good codes and their implementation. Finally, we report extensive experimental results for a large set of relative payloads and for different distortion profiles, including the wet paper channel.© (2010) COPYRIGHT SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering. Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.