Creating the Right Look
Decoration is one of the most important parts of an order. A decorated shirt offers something different than a plain shirt. It may seem clear-cut—place logo here—but it's more complex than that. What type of decoration works on this fabric? Which has the desired look the client wants? Where will the imprint make the most impact? We spoke to Vantage Apparel, Avenel, N.J., and Stahls' DFC, Masontown, Pa., to learn tips in five areas distributors should focus on when deciding the best imprint method for a client.
"First is to review the design or logo complexity, along with the number of colors and halftones," Mary Blondell, Stahls' promo marketing manager, said.
Those complexities may require a certain type of decoration. "If the artwork was photo-realistic or had a lot of shading, detailing [or] gradients, we may look to suggest screen print to create those fine details, whereas if the artwork was a lettering or mark that we could achieve through embroidery—[with] which you can get a lot of detail—maybe the larger areas or thicker areas would be appliqué and then the smaller, finer detail would be embroidery," Lauren Cocco, Vantage's director of merchandising, said.
2. Garment Type
"Second would be [to determine] the apparel fabric content and color that is requested for decoration," Blondell said.
Budget would also come into play, Cocco added. Embroidery or appliqué would be more expensive than screen print, but those methods would better complement a performance fleece item. Then there's laser etching, which only creates a permanent imprint on 100 percent polyester or denim.
"Laser etching uses a laser beam to mark the surface fabric, so in polyester it actually burns the surface of the fabric leaving a darker tonal mark," she said, noting a lighter mark will occur in denim as the etching removes its pigment. "That application, if someone is looking for that, wouldn't be feasible on a cotton/poly-based fabric."
"Third is [to consider] the quantity requested for decoration and the location," Blondell said.
In terms of location, Cocco warned to plan around obstacles, such as seams and zippers, and to be aware of panel sizes if a logo will be placed within the panel. "If you're doing a split front where there is a zipper, you would want to set up the logo so the artwork has the split," she said. "So for example, for appliqué, you would set up the artwork and split the artwork so that you're not embroidering over the zipper. And the same thing if you were to put something—embroidery or even a heat transfer—at the shoulder, you would want to place it below the seam.
Still, there are exceptions. "Now with etching, you can actually go over zippers and seams, which could create a fun look," Cocco said. "It's just marking the surface of the fabric. You're not actually stitching or going through the fabric where you would then impact the areas of the garment, like the zipper. If you stitched through it, it wouldn't open up or if maybe if you put a heat transfer over a seam, the bulkiness of the seam may impact logo whereas when you etch over a seam, it doesn't impact the quality of the logo."
4. What's New and Trendy
Technology is driving decoration, with digital and laser options allowing for more creative imprint methods. Late last year Vantage added laser tech appliqués, which use a 2mm piece of synthetic foam to create a dimensional look. Cocco noted it works best on full or center chest designs on various fleece items. "We offered it last year as a patch, so it was more of a simple shape in which we actually would laser etch the logo on the patch, so it would leave a tonal mark," she said. "This year we've taken that material and used it as appliqué—whether it be for lettering designs or even some logo designs, so it's just stitching it and cutting it on the garment, and using that material as the appliqué."
At Stahls', full-color digital transfers provide an alternative to screen prints or embroidery, as they can create vivid recreations of logos with fine details, gradients or more than four colors. "The advantages are that they heat apply at [a] low temperature with short dwell time, which allows you to easily decorate performance wear and the latest technical fabrics," Blondell said. "Full-color digital logos have stretch and rebound, allowing movement without cracking or peeling."
In its second year of availability, heat transfers have been gaining traction at Vantage due to an increase in performance fabrics, Cocco said. "As the fabrics get a little bit lighter, we were finding that lighter weight applications actually complement it a little bit more and it was more comfortable to wear," she said.
5. What's Popular
Screen printing remains popular with high- to medium-volume orders that have one- or two-color imprints, however, heat transfers have risen to the favorite decoration method, Blondell said. "With the performance wear and technical fabrics, the go-to decorating method would be heat transfers of full-color or special-effect designs and logos," she said. "Heat transfers continue to increase in popularity due to the ease of application, durability and mess-free decorating when screen printing and embroidery are not an option, due to fabrics and/or location."
Cocco added that embroidery is a popular choice at Vantage. "It has the best or greatest quality with the highest perceived value," she said. "It's also a great alternative for program business, whether it be single-piece orders and/or large-volume orders."