The technical fabrics that make up today’s team marketplace are complex in their performance traits, so it’s no surprise that they’re more complex to print. The polyester and compression characteristics, along with nylon and microfibers that comprise these garments can be intimidating. But when decorating for the team market, a combination of technologies will ease any apprehension and provide the most complete solution to embellishing all types of fabrics for team wear. These technologies that will apply logos, lettering and numbering to performance wear include screen printing (with a number machine for certain applications), heat transfer via print/cut, and heat transfer via CAD-cut/die cut. Here, we will explore the latter two technologies and how to determine what’s best for the task at hand.
Heat-applied film for sportswear
Utilizing heat-applied film for athletic garments involves stocking various colors and formulas of film for accommodating varying fabric types. Typically, one film will work for all cotton and polyester applications while another style will work for nylon.
To produce a design, create artwork in a graphics design program such as CorelDRAW or Adobe Illustrator. Select from the fonts available and size them on screen. Load the colors of choice into the cutter and cut them individually. (Alignment will happen when heat pressing.) After all numbers have been cut, weed away the excess material leaving just the intended design. Position them onto the garment and heat press. In the case of two-color designs, each layer must be heat pressed separately, however the time needed to adhere the first layer can often be reduced.
Print/cut for uniforms
Print/cut is a relatively new technology for team business. It is a fairly simple process for team uniform logos, lettering and numbering and is a viable digital decorating process for this market. A printer/cutter machine is loaded with a white or transparent media (depending on the color of the garment to be embellished) and then the artwork is designed in a graphics program and digitally output to the printer/cutter. Once again, this allows for easy size and font changes on screen.
Once designed, the printer uses a combination of CMYK ink and, in some cases, light cyan and light magenta, to print the art. Digitally printing all colors enables proprietors of this technology to stock only a few material options in white and clear media. Operators typically gang print runs together by team or batch to send all of the name/number combinations at once. After the unit is done printing the roll, it retracts the material back into the printer to begin a cutting process. A blade cuts around each name, number or logo, preparing the material to have the excess film removed. After the film is removed, it’s prepared for heat application by placing a mask over top of the design. It’s then applied with a heat press.
Breaking it down
There are many pros and cons to each workflow but all have their place with decorators. Print/cut seems to be the trending technology, specifically for names/numbers for a number of reasons. The system enables users to print the colors that are needed, eliminating the need for an inventory of ink for athleticwear. This provides an opportunity for an unlimited color offering and allows for color matching. Fills, gradients, repeated team logos, special effects and three- or four-color numbers are all doable, as are full-color team logos.
Additionally, print/cut technology allows decorators to print the sizing you want without the need for a screen for every size number as is necessary with traditional screen printing. On this same note, no extra screens or setup is required for additional fonts. This system ultimately saves money on inventory and space.
For designs other than names and numbers, the answer is not as definitive. A lot of the decision comes down to the number of pieces in an order. If each piece is unique, print/cut or heat transfer film processes will be the way to go. However, the ‘other’ size runs will need to utilize the varying technologies at different quantities. The breaking point as to when to choose heat transfer versus screen printing is typically at 24 to 48 pieces, depending on the number of colors. For all of these reasons, it’s important to have a combination of all techniques at your disposal. You’ll be equipped to handle any team printing job that comes through the door.