Bringing bling back

Shine On

For more than 10 years Teresa Griffin has been writing articles for a variety of business publications ranging from farming to rhinestones. Griffin's industry-specific experience and business ownership, combined with the artistic and professional disciplines of her apparel and graphic design background, help her offer insightful knowledge about the rhinestone industry. Besides being active in her family's strawberry farm, Teresa is the owner of My Rhinestone Transfers.

One of the hottest new trends in the decorated- and promotional-apparel industry is rhinestones.

Some of the biggest markets for rhinestone embellishment are little league sports teams, cheer mom and high school designs. Even school fund raisers could use a little sparkle.

Moms and students who are looking for an alternative in team and spirit wear are turning to rhinestones; “Baseball Mom” in team colors with a player’s number and/or name on the back of a T is in high demand. Cheerleading and dance teams are not only embellishing uniforms; the list includes bags, hats, hoodies, socks and hair ribbons.

Corporate logos are popping up everywhere in rhinestones on anything from apparel to coozies. And, because the application for hot-fix rhinestones only requires a heat press, they are simple to use and can be incorporated with embroidery and screen-print designs to bring depth and bling to any design.

Marketing rhinestones to customers is easy, simply because it is currently one of the hottest trends. Many customers are looking for rhinestone embellishment but don’t know where to get custom designs done. One of the best ways to get the word out is by displaying a piece in your business. Advertising “We now do Rhinestones” as a tag line on an invoice or quote is a simple and inexpensive way to get the word out. If a design is currently done in embroidery, offer rhinestones to enhance the current design or change it up completely with an all-rhinestone design to provide more options to customers.


As with any new process, there can be a bit of uncertainty when working with a new product. But rhinestone transfers are easy to use; basically consisting of a piece of tape with rhinestones applied face-down on the sticky side. The rhinestones have glue on the back of each stone and a backing is used to protect the stones from moving. Also, the transfer tape allows for adjustments. It can be placed on the garment and then lifted again to adjust for centering and placement as necessary before it is heat pressed. (See specific application instructions available from suppliers.)

There are several choices available when it comes to producing rhinestone transfers in house or purchasing directly from a rhinestone-transfer supplier. For small quantity orders, transfers can be produced with tape and loose stones, laying each rhinestone to create the design. When working with small-quantity orders, hand-laying each rhinestone and the CAD-cutter/engraver can be efficient.

CAD-cutters and engravers can also be used to create designs for this type of transfer. With these systems, holes are cut in a template and the stones are then shaken into the template holes. Other systems use a robotic or CAM machine with proprietary software to create designs, then place the stones directly on the tape to create the rhinestone transfer. And finally, decorators that have higher-volume orders may choose to outsource to a rhinestone transfer supplier.

But no matter if producing them in house or purchasing directly from a supplier, there are some important questions to inquire with any vendor:

Are the stones molded or cut? Molded rhinestones are made by pouring hot glass or acrylic into a mold. Glass or acrylic machine-cut rhinestones are similar to a precious gem resulting in an edge that refracts more light and increases the “bling factor.” 

Is silicone or uneven tape used? When purchasing a rhinestone transfer that will be shipped, silicone tape is the best. It keeps the rhinestones from shifting within the design during shipment. Uneven tape is the best tape for manufacturing the transfer in-house and applying directly to the garment. The best way to tell the difference—uneven tape’s backing is bumpy, where the backing on silicone tape is smooth. 

What is the lead content? This is an especially important question when applying to children’s wear. If the stones are under the legal lead content, a supplier will most likely be able to give a copy of the certification stating the lead content for the decorator to keep on file.

When working with a rhinestone-transfer supplier it becomes clear how many options are available. Rhinestone transfers present many choices when creating designs as they come in several colors and sizes. When used alone in a design, the bling-factor is high and appeal mostly to women, but rhinestone transfers can also incorporate rhinestuds, nailheads and shapes.

A rhinestud is metal and is faceted just like the rhinestone. Nail heads and domes are also metal but they are smooth and round. Rhinestuds and nailheads come in many colors as well as silver, gun metal and gold. Shapes are metal and come in a variety of styles including stars, diamonds, rectangles and hearts. Utilizing rhinestuds and nailheads introduces the rhinestone transfer to men’s apparel and headwear by creating edgy designs with skulls, guns or even a western-themed design. Rhinestone-transfer suppliers that offer mass production can assist in creating these designs.

Custom rhinestone transfers are priced by rhinestone count, very similar to embroidery and stitch count. Custom designs often involve a set-up fee since a true quote can only be provided after the design is complete. Designs can generally be created by working from a .jpeg or .pdf file. Stock rhinestone transfers are produced in large quantities and will be less expensive, which also makes this a good way to introduce rhinestones to customers.

Still not sold on this shiny option? Take a look around the local shopping mall—from the patrons shopping to the displays in the major department stores and trendy boutiques rhinestones will be there. Major designers like Ed Hardy, Juicy Couture, Victoria’s Secret and even Lacrosse are utilizing rhinestones to enhance their apparel. If they haven’t already, clients are going to start asking about rhinestones, and whether you provide them custom or stock, they’ll generate revenue.