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How To Decorate An Umbrella

Many decorators are surprised to learn that it’s actually possible to decorate an umbrella with heat-applied graphics. Others are aware that it’s possible, but they think it’s too hard to bother doing it. Well, surprise to both parties, because decorating an umbrella using CAD-cut materials and a heat press is quite possible, and much easier than most think.

That’s good news, because umbrellas represent a great promotional product for your customers. For instance, car dealers sell vehicles rain or shine, so why not sell them umbrellas with their dealership logo emblazoned across them? Every time the dealer’s employees or customers open their umbrellas, they’re getting free advertising. Read on to find out just how easy and lucrative it can be. . . .

Stocking up

You can get your feet wet (so to speak) with umbrellas by picking up an armful of them at a local dollar store. That way, you don’t have to worry about making costly mistakes as you learn the process. By the way, if you worry that a nylon umbrella will melt in your heat press, don’t. You shouldn’t have any issues as long as you’re staying in the range of 305–320°F.

Some umbrellas are treated with silicone for water repellency, which can make them harder to decorate because the silicone tries to repel the heat-seal adhesive. Still, you can use alcohol to remove the silicone, or you can preheat the umbrella to dissipate it. It’s best, though, to avoid heavily treated umbrellas.

CAD materials are available in a huge variety of styles and colors, meaning you can do everything from simple one-color vinyl designs to eye-catching reflective logos. Suppliers even offer material you can print in four-color process—then cut and heat seal—allowing for full-color, photo-quality images. As you might guess, vinyl and film work best for one- or two-color designs, whereas multicolor designs are much better suited to printing and cutting.

If you do not own a digital cutter and are not ready to invest in one, there are a number of service bureaus that will custom-cut jobs for you. You choose the size, layout and colors you want. The designs are available weeded or unweeded (that is, with or without the left-over vinyl following the cut). Print-and-cut designs also are available, typically from the same sources.

You’ll want to stay away from heat transfers which require greater application pressure. With the various film materials, you’re not driving the adhesive into the substrate; rather, you’re just bonding to the top of it, so a lot of pressure isn’t required.

While you can use different types of heat press, a cap press is your best bet as it fits nicely between an umbrella’s ribs—an important characteristic. With a cap press, you can position the machine at the end of a table—so the umbrella handle goes underneath the table—while you then drape the umbrella over the press.

The only limit to your design size is the size of the cap press. If you need to imprint a larger design, you can use a traditional heat press—either clamshell or swing-away. When using a traditional heat press, you’ll still want to pull the machine to the end of the table so the handle can go underneath.

When you bring the top of the press down, there’s a chance the umbrella could move a bit, so invest in some heat-resistant tape (also called thermal tape). I’d suggest using the blue variety, as the red, which is sold by some sign companies, can cause discoloration. With thermal tape you can affix the transfer in the position you want it.

To avoid the umbrella’s ribs, you’ll want to use a pillow or a print pad of heat-resistant rubber. Some decorators use mouse pads, but these can become mushy if they get too hot. It makes most sense to simply employ the same rubber that’s found on the bottom of tye typical heat press. It’s about a $40 investment, but will last the lifetime of the press.

You can buy pads in different sizes and shapes. I recommend buying a piece bigger than you need and cutting it to your own specs.

When you trim the pad to fit your design, you’ll want the umbrella’s ribs to fall over the pad. One option is cutting the pad to the width of the ribs, in a roughly triangle shape. When you drape the umbrella, the ribs will be on either side of the pad. This way, when you bring down the platen, it won’t be touching the ribs at all; you’ll have better contact and pressure, which will lead to a better application. That’s because anytime you’re decorating using a heat press, you want a flat area rather than a raised one. You won’t get an effective seal if the platen can’t close down evenly all the way.

Clear so far? If not, consider this example. Let’s say you have a 16” X 20” heat press, and an umbrella with about 12 inches between the ribs (at its perimeter). You’d cut your pad to 10 inches and place it on the bottom of the heat press, centered, open the umbrella, drape it over the pad and lower the head of the press. The ribs won’t be touching anything, allowing you to close the press down over the umbrella and pad.

Umbrella opps

Aside from car dealerships, potential markets for decorated umbrellas include beauty salons and hair stylists, where customers want to protect their just-styled hair when leaving in the rain. Realtors are also great customers, as are any customers who spend a fair amount of their time going indoors and outdoors.

When you get right down to it, practically everyone’s a potential customer. As the saying says, “Into every life a little rain must fall.” The meaning is a little sad when you think about it. But not for us. Everyone needs an umbrella; let’s make it a decorated one!

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When it rains it pours

Consider a Custom Umbrella Platen

If you decide you want to print lots of umbrellas, you can get a platen custom made specifically to accommodate an umbrella shape. This eliminates the need for a print pad and speeds up your production.

“When ordering a custom platen, the first thing the manufacturer needs to know is your current model of heat press,” says Ben Robinson, director of operations for Hotronix. “There are different mounting patterns on swinger presses versus clam shells.”

Robinson says a custom umbrella platen would cost in the range of $180 and could be delivered in as little as one week. It’s a relatively simple process to remove the press’s existing platen and exchange it for an umbrella platen. And now you’re ready to crank out decorated umbrellas at a steady pace.