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Accentuating Athleticwear

The one thing every single team must have, no matter the game, is something to sport while they huddle up, hustle down the court, take the field and give it their all. But just any old jersey won’t do.

Peewee to professional, players require teamwear that unites them while simultaneously setting each apart with their very own proudly worn—and hopefully one day retired—number. Taking on teamwear therefore puts decorators in position before the ultimate one, two and three through 100-offs. With different numbers and names on every single item and so many ways to go about getting them there, Printwear steps up to bat to make sense of trends in teamwear decoration. 

Transfer technique

One solution to the situation, heat transfers of all types are cost efficient and ideal for applying names and numbers, says Cara Cherry of Stahls’ ID Direct. “They cover mesh holes on uniforms beautifully and some materials are even designed to clear the holes and allow the jersey to breathe,” she points out. “Heat transfers also allow garment decorators to create split-front designs for professional-looking uniforms.” To those attributes, she adds that team transfers can also be used in conjunction with sublimated jerseys as there is no bleed-through on the letters, numbers or graphics. 

Simple as a heat transfer can be, there’s potential for complications when concluding which method is best suited for each job. The logic behind this decision, Cherry explains, has much to do with substrates, seams and some other specs, such as quantity, graphic detail, durability and fabric composition.

“Each transfer type has different characteristics that will help the decorator decide which one to select,” she goes on, stating that inkjet transfers are in order for full color or white/light colored T-shirts with a modest life span. “Plastisol is effective if you need a high quantity of the same graphic,” she reports, whereas “CAD-cut or heat transfer vinyl is great for both lower and higher quantities. It is very durable, which is perfect for high-impact sports. Some materials also feature stretch and rebound properties.”

Digital transfers created using printer/plotters/cutters and solvent inks present yet another opportunity, which Cherry says is well utilized in full-color or highly-detailed designs and often come in different effects, such as metallic, puff or flock.

When opting to go the heat transfer route, imagers certainly aren’t confined to one technology or another and, in Cherry’s opinion, smart decorators will offer a variety of customization options based on each customer’s unique needs.

The good news for those who want to offer it all is that they don’t have to purchase it all first; several industry suppliers allow embellishers to test the waters, which remain relatively shallow at this point, with a nominal press investment and transfers made to order. “Custom services that ship designs same-day are very convenient,” comments Cherry. “They eliminate the need to carry inventory. All you need is a heat press to get started and with a minimal learning curve, it can be relatively easy to start a decorating business.”

For team dealers that choose to keep a garment inventory and want to turn jobs quickly, having a cutter or print/cut system and a bit of graphic-program know-how will enable them to offer on-demand personalization. “However,” Cherry continues, “both apparel and custom graphics ship very quickly, so a decorator can still offer a quick turnaround without maintaining a large stock of inventory.”

In-house printed or premade, today’s pressers can expect requests for extras, such as glitter, rhinestones, detailed graphics and text effects in addition to the standard name/number combos, Cherry reports. “Unique placement is also big—graphics down the shoulder, around the waist, across seams or on the sides of caps are quite popular.”

Systematic screening

From a screen printing standpoint, alternatives for decorating team athleticwear are facilitated by specialty structures designed just for the occasion. Screen print numbering systems are ideal in instances when the surface texture and color of the numbers should perfectly match those of the name drops, according to Mark Vasilantone, Vastex International Inc.

When said embellishments must hold fast to game-worn uniforms over multiple seasons, the direct screening method is also a pinch hitter, he says. “The durability issue is especially important for teams or organizations on limited budgets who cannot afford to be replacing uniforms annually.”

Direct screen prints tend to withstand better than screen-printed transfers, he reasons, because the former is pushed further into the fabrics where the plastisol inks can surround the fiber, thus providing better adhesion after being fully cured.

“All of your large athletic printers producing professional or collegiate game-worn uniforms direct print the logos, numbers and name drops because these uniforms sometimes have to last multiple seasons and resist having a helmet from a tackler abrade the decoration as much as eighty times in a football game,” Vasilantone remarks. 

While screen printing team athleticwear in-house represents a more significant investment than purchasing and pressing premade transfers, numbering system selections do exist. “Build it and they will come,” Vasilantone advises, “because when sporting-goods stores and teams find out you can do this, they will bring business to you. Screen printing numbers is not glamorous but is actually more profitable.”

Part of those profits may come from filling team Ts with more than strictly what’s required for any given game, with players selling and sporting ad space. “More and more, teams or organizations are looking to offset operating costs and there is probably no better way than to sell advertising to local businesses where their logos are prominently displayed on the uniform during a game,” Vasilantone remarks. “In America, this has really only taken off with men’s and women’s professional soccer, but this concept has been a phenomenon in Europe for several years.”

The answer to all-over 

With performance athleticwear making the roster progressively more, it’s hard to outfit today’s team without conjuring a little chemistry. Dye sublimation, says Ashley Scoville, Sawgrass Technologies Inc., is suitable in a number of scenarios, including any time it’s important to maintain the integrity of specialty performance fabrics.

“Many team apparel manufacturers use moisture-wicking technical fabrics in the garments. Unlike traditional screen printing, the digital sublimation process does not interfere with the high performance, breathable nature of technical fabrics,” she reports, adding full-color, low-run capabilities to sublimation’s successes. “Even though digital sublimation is ideal for production of high-quantity volumes, traditionally, it is also regarded as the best solution for low runs and customized printing. In any given sport, teams can vary from having two players to ninety-nine players or more, and digital sublimation can profitably accommodate orders.”

Sublimation printing can do so, Scoville continues, even when each garment is unique, with the capacity to fulfill short runs requiring quick turn around. “Last minute sponsors can be added or changed or additional team members can be accommodated.” 

Another of the technology’s main draws is its all-over abilities, with some grand demands stretching sublimation to the limits. “Wide-format sublimation enables designers to create garments and prints without limitation,” states Scoville. “Wide-format sublimation printing offers higher productivity and lower cost of goods, including major differences in ink and paper costs versus desktop solutions. Production speeds are greater and overall savings and efficiencies are associated with large format.” 

Roll-to-roll printing is another option within the subset sublimation, allowing for the additional capacity that unattended roll printing brings to the table, says Scoville. “On the other hand, printing to pre-cut fabric will minimize waste and allow pre-cut inventory in different sizes to be ready for immediate production, compared to transferring roll- to-roll and then cutting out the parts for sewing.”

Production volume and turn time will determine whether or not such endeavors should be carried out in-house, she offers, adding that printers ought to run the ROI to evaluate if they’re better served housing the workload or contracting it out to a print-service provider. “There are a number of subcontractors available for this process, and they can easily be found with a web search,” Scoville says. 

In any case or customization choice, embellishers can play with the art of name drops and numbering while their customers play their favorite sports; and when the two coincide, make way for a win/win.