With the dawn of the digital age, custom garment decoration has been brought within the reach of consumers looking for very limited quantity products. Our current technology allows us to do custom decorating on just a single garment, without the expense and setup of normal screenprinting. There are several methods that have become popular in the micro-decorating industry, several of which we use in-house.
Sublimation printing is super soft when printed on white shirts. The sublimation inks are semi-transparent, so the ink color will be a combination of the shirt color and the ink color on non-white shirts. If we use this process to go on a dark shirt, we use a special white material to lay down onto the shirt prior to printing the sublimation inks. This will add to the stiffness and weight of the print. Sublimation is very durable, because the inks go from a solid to a gaseous state and embed directly into the garment.
This method is great for single color prints where opacity is important. The nature of the vinyl allows for bright, bold colors on top of dark garments. The design is computer cut from a roll and then heat pressed on, the most common application is for numbers and individual names on athletic jerseys. There are several pitfalls to this method, which should be considered when using this option. Due to the vinyl being more rigid and less flexible than the garment it is going on, there may be some bowing if the garment shrinks. The larger the image, the more pronounced this effect can be. Also, the garment must be washed inside out on a gentle cycle to avoid peeling from the garment.
This is very similar to the opacity of vinyl and is single color. Rather than cut on a plotter, the image is printed onto a special film from a large laser printer and heat pressed to another sheet that creates an adhesive underbase backer only where the image is. This is then transferred to the garment and is very opaque. This method is more flexible than vinyl because it is thinner and allows for far greater detail. Although the material is called foil, and we can create the design with metallics, it also comes in standard colors. We even stock neon colors! The same care is needed for this method as vinyl, since the foil does not have any elasticity. Laundering should be done with the garment turned inside out on a gentle cycle, and tumble drying should be limited or avoided.
This method is very similar to the foil in that it use the same backing adhesive, but we can print a full color image and transfer it to the shirt. We use a method called "micro-masking" to add tiny little holes into the design to allow for better washability. This allows liquid to pass through the design areas and adds some elasticity. Care is still required when laundering, inside out and gentle cycle will ensure a longer product life.
Although this technology is wonderful, and it allows for fast customization of garments in many ways, it is in no way a replacement for screen printing. The process is more expensive per shirt than mass produced t-shirts, the color matching will vary slightly from computer screen to printed garment, and the durability of the image on the shirt is somewhat less than a screen-printed garment. The main benefit to digital printing is avoiding the steep setup cost and time involved with screenprinting, and the lightning fast turnaround the process allows. If you have any other questions or comments, please send us an email or call to speak to one of our specialists!