Decoration methods in the promotional industry are ever-expanding. You already know the top two decoration options for apparel and accessories—embroidery and screen printing—but rhinestones and dye sublimation both have loyal followings as well. Decorators always are exploring different ways to apply these imprint favorites, coming up with creative ways to get the most out of the item's decoration. This exploration can create a lot of choices for you and your clients, the biggest of which being indirect or direct decoration. We broke it down for you on the next few pages so you can figure out which option is best for your clients and your business.
Indirect decoration, as its name suggests, is when a decorator works on a garment indirectly. This can be done in a number of ways. For screen printing, it means using a heat press to transfer artwork from a piece of paper to the garment, and for embroidery, it means using a debossing process to simulate the effect.
Brian Fuchs, president of Windswept Marketing, Asheville, N.C., explained the company's "indirect advantage" and what it means for distributors, end-buyers and end-users.
What Are Your Options?
"The 'indirect advantage' is a big umbrella name that covers all the ways that we brand and decorate apparel," he said. "But we do them all in a very unique way that allows us to stock the decoration and brand the apparel as needed, when needed." Fuchs mentioned that the most popular indirect decoration is embroidery, but your client can choose one of many other imprint options as well, such as dye sublimation or bedazzled rhinestones. Fuchs noted that the indirect decoration process with embroidery or any other imprint option eliminates issues that arise with direct imprinting like loose threads, an itchy backside of the imprint and puckering.
Another benefit of dye sublimation indirect decoration is the ability to add more details. "Whether it is indirect embroidery or direct embroidery, you have limitations with how small you can get things or the detail," Fuchs said. He listed fading colors and distressed looks as limitations of standard embroidery.
"Our dye sublimation indirect embroidery eliminates that limitation. Now we can get all that detail," he added.
Why Should Your Clients Try It?
It's about control and ease of mind for the end-buyer, because last-minute additions can be made to the order at any time. "We are able to do one-off pieces that are often very expensive or impossible with different decoration methods," Fuchs said. "So we just give the client a lot more control to brand and decorate however they want to, when they want to."
Which Materials Work?
Fuchs noted that Windswept works with fabrics thin and thick. "Typically, we have great success with performance Dri-FIT apparel, very thin apparel all the way up through very plush terry cloth towels, fleece, jackets and blankets." Fuchs added that indirect decorating makes it easier to imprint difficult materials as well. "Neoprene is also a great product that we can decorate now with an embroidered look and feel that was never … done or able to be done with direct embroidery," he explained.
Where Can You Add Imprints?
Does your client want a website embroidered on the back strap of a hat, or even the mesh of a baseball cap? Now, both are possible. "The other thing that is very neat about the indirect embroidery is we can obviously decorate the left chest [of a shirt] and front of a hat, but now, we can brand in places you never could with direct embroidery with being able to do one-off pieces," Fuchs said. "We can do one-off pieces on the bill of a cap, on the back strap of hat, we can put a phone number or website or things like that. We can even embroider now on the mesh part of a hat, which we have done for NASCAR," he said.
Fuchs explained that in the past, distributors had to reach out to companies overseas and do large minimums to get specialized printing on mesh and unusual areas of a garment, but not anymore. "We can now put that embroidered logo virtually anywhere on the apparel. That can solve a lot of problems and open up a lot of opportunities and doors that were never there before with direct embroidery," he said.
Mary Blondell, promo marketing manager for Stahls' ID Direct, St. Clair Shores, Mich., explained what Stahls' ID Direct offers in direct and digital decoration for apparel and hard goods.
What Are Your Options?
"We offer full-color digital logos; custom-cut special effect designs and logos; [personalization] with names and numbers; classic, distressed and rip-away appliqués; embroidery; screen printing with specialty inks; Epson SureColor F2000 direct-to-garment printing; rhinestones; and sublimation, all under one roof," Blondell said. She listed other specialized options as glitter, glow-in-the-dark, hologram, rhinestuds, nailheads, carbon fiber and 3M Scotch Reflective. "All of our special effect materials are heat-applied and have great washability and durability," she added.
Why Should Your Clients Try Direct Decoration?
Blondell explained that one-color prints still rule for imprinting apparel and accessories. "End-buyers still choose one-color prints because 95 percent of logos are only one or two colors. One color is usually the least expensive decorating method and [makes] orders very affordable," she said.
Most logos may be one color, but that doesn't mean imprints have to be. Your clients can add text, artwork and other designs to incorporate color into an imprint. For this, Blondell suggested four-color imprints. "Four-color process [works best] for multiple colors with intricate design or artwork."
Which Materials Work?
Blondell mentioned that you must tell your decorator the material of a product or garment before ordering a specific type of decoration. "Yes, you must always check fabric content for the best decorating method," she said. Material matters not just to whether or not an imprint puckers or bleeds, but also how long it lasts. "Always check with your decorator or supplier of decorating method for the best performance, wash and durability," Blondell added.
Once you check the material, you still have many options for each type of material. "Stahls' ID Direct has heat-applied decorating solutions for a variety of fabrics including cotton, polyester, nylon, neoprene, leather and more," Blondell explained. "Many items can be decorated with a heat press outside of apparel, tote bags and caps." She listed items that hold full-color digital designs well: leather, neoprene, nylon and fleece. "As long as the promo item can withstand 300 degrees of heat for five seconds, chances are we have a decorating solution for you," she said.
Where Can You Add Imprints?
Blondell noted that heat printing offers many placement options. "Decorating with heat printing allows decorating in position next to the zipper, over seams—places that traditional screen print and embroidery are not suitable," she said. "Heat applied decorating solutions are very durable and can outlast the apparel in most cases."