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Hot Opps for Heat Printing

Josh Ellsworth

Josh is the VP of sales, dealer channel for Stahls'. He deals in the sales and implementation of heat-applied, apparel-decorating systems with a focus on customization. He holds skills in the production, sale, and marketing of customized apparel. He presents seminars at trade shows and contributes articles to trade publications, like Printwear magazine.

It’s hard to dispute that ecommerce and social media will be a major part of the future. The human network is becoming increasingly connected through the social network. Never before has there been so much capability for individually connecting and therefore targeting at a massive-yet-individual scale. This hyper-targeting presents individual marketing opportunities and no technology fuels individual textile decoration opportunities like heat printing.

Making sense of the opportunity

Imagine a Facebook user updating their status that they have recently been engaged. With Facebook ads, we can target an ad based on this update (nationally or to a specific region) and distribute an ad that markets customized products for recently engaged people.

One idea here is a bridal party T-shirt. With a simple click, the consumer lands on your website at the page you select. If the website accomplishes the goal, then an order is generated. Now, heat printing produces the order.

In this context, ideas to merchandise anything from a customized rhinestone “bride” T-shirt to a glitter-produced “Future Mrs. _____” T-shirt hit the mark. We see here that creating a customizable template and allowing for interchangeable fields is one idea that works, but heat printing also fuels the completely custom.

In this case, leverage online customization through your website. Online design software allows shoppers to drag and drop clip art, and to add text or even a photo, ordering as little as one shirt. Heat printing has the power to fulfill this complete individual customization on all areas of a garment and, further, on any type of garment. To go back to our example, the bride to be can now create something unique and custom to them.

Heat transfer film is a viable option to customize garments for both small and large quantity order sizes. (All images courtesy the author) This example of solvent digital heat transfer fi lm highlights how much detail can be achieved. A cost-effective option for multiple-color jobs, certain software for this technique allows for automation of variable data and Pantone color matching.

Scalability

For the shops aware of cash flow and the value in reducing inventory in today’s economic climate, this heat print workflow featuring print-on-demand offers scalability. The inventory of print/cut or vinyl cut processes for creating heat transfers is the best example of this. Businesses can show ready-made designs online and allow customization of garment color, placement or design elements. Even for a clothing line, this model presents value. Because the printing is done at the time of order, it eliminates the need for a clearance rack, close outs or specials facilitated by slow-moving inventory. Although it seems somewhat old school, the boardwalk beach shops have it mostly right. They stock blank garments and commit the screen printed transfer to the garment to replenish inventory, running lean and coming up with seasonal best sellers. However, one of the aspects they are lacking is the ability to move beyond the basic. Heat printing can fuel that too.

Special effects are not just limited to screen printing. Here, a heat-applied treatment is added to a basic print to enhance the design with a shiny foil effect.

UNDERSTANDING THE OPTIONS

To summarize heat printing and some of the techniques that can fuel your shop into the future, check out the breakdown of each heat printing technique that will help in navigating the future of apparel decoration.

Plastisol transfers

Screen printed custom transfers that look and feel the same as screen printing on a garment. These are more cost effective as quantities increase, similar to screen printing. The price goes up as colors are added.

Cut vinyl

Heat transfer film supplied in a roll form across various colors and styles such as basic, stretch, neon, metallic, foil, reflective, flock, glitter, etc. Users need a vinyl cutter and vector art program to utilize this media. It is cut on demand and the excess is weeded away from carrier. The design is then applied to the garment. This is a great option for customization for as few as one piece.

Solvent digital

Printable heat transfer film supplied in a roll, typically in white or clear depending on whether it will be applied to light or dark textiles. The solvent printer/cutter prints a design using CMYK inks and trims around the design as programmed in a vector art program. The user then weeds away excess film and completes a masking process for white media and transfers the print to the textile. A cost-effective option in terms of many colors, it is feasible for as few as one garment. Some software allows for automation of variable data and/or Pantone color matching via print/cut rather than inventory of single color rolls for vinyl cut technique.

Aqueous digital

Printable heat transfer paper supplied in sheets or rolls in white. This inkjet printer technology uses dye- or pigmentbased inks. Transfers are printed then loaded into an optical eye vinyl cutter for trimming. Users weed away excess fi lm, complete a masking process and heat apply. This scenario is typically a lower point-of-investment versus other digital technology. However, it is limited on durability and range of heat transfer media options.

Digital sublimation

Sublimation paper is printed in a mirror image with special sublimation inks. No weeding or masking is required and transfers can be heat applied to any light-colored substrate with a polyester component. Sublimation permanently dyes fabrics for a premium result. This technology is suitable for as few as one piece and offers a range of colors.

Laser digital

Printable laser paper is supplied in various styles, including clear for light fabrics, clear weedless for a “no-box” technique, and white for dark-colored fabrics. Laser print technology allows for faster production speeds. Durability of prints is not premier, but it is great for fast turn of low-wear T-shirts.

Specialty technique

Additional heat transfer techniques that can be produced in-house or outsourced include foil printing, rhinestones, nail heads, appliqué, etc.

Niche becomes norm

Tough-to-decorate items used to be considered niche; now they are the norm. Market growth in textiles continues to be fueled by technical fabrics. Heat printing accommodates these fabrics. However, it’s not just a one-technology-fits-all scenario. A combination of heat printing techniques may need to be employed.

Sublimation works well on polyester fabrics that are light or white in color. Print/cut transfers work well for prints on darks that look like four-color process. And, specific low-temp transfer products support sales opportunities in promotional products that are heat-sensitive. Heat printing is like a Swiss Army knife—there’s something for the job at hand but, since profit is paramount, it’s important to fit the right technology to the job.

An example of a laser heat transfer— this process is known for its faster production speeds.

Sublimation works well on polyester fabrics that are light or white in color. Print/cut transfers work well for prints on darks that look like four-color process. And, specific low-temp transfer products support sales opportunities in promotional products that are heat-sensitive. Heat printing is like a Swiss Army knife—there’s something for the job at hand but, since profit is paramount, it’s important to fit the right technology to the job.