A Roster Of Decorative Methods

Today's athletic garments present challenges and opportunities when considering decorative options. There are pros and cons to each approach. Let's look at each:

Screen Printing
Screen printing is a tried-and-true method of imprinting athletic apparel but for a good result, you must consider fabric, especially polyester. "When printing on 100% polyester, cure temperatures are reduced to forego dye migration of the material through the printed ink," says Mary Poissant, director of sales and marketing for Apple Imprints Apparel. "Inks used in printing on polyester must have a poly-blocking agent to avoid dye migration as well."

It's not uncommon for team orders to include a variety of pieces, not all of which will be polyester. Poissant cites the example of a school looking for purple basketball pinnies with the school mascot on front in white and gold, and also wanting 100% cotton tees to print with same logo. Screen printers must approach each differently. "To print all items at the same time, with the same inks, and same curing temperature in the dryer is asking for a return on the goods," she says. "The 100% polyester items need to run separate from the 100% cotton so the goods cure properly for the print to remain permanent on the shirt."

Performance inks may have greater stretchability, but Josh Wells, an instruction coordinator at Ryonet (asi/528500), suggests a stretch additive to assist the ink from cracking on very stretchy garments. Printing plastisol on Nylon will require catalysts and nylon-specific inks.

"But let's not forget that water-based technology has come to a point that it is now able to be printed on polyester and poly blends," Wells adds. The Green Galaxy ink line from Ryonet, for example, features a water-based low-cure additive called Warp Drive. "It keeps the ink at a cure temperature of 200 to 230 degrees," Wells says, "which circumvents many of the issues faced in printing on athletic garments."

Also keep in mind silicone inks, which are just beginning to gain a foothold in the industry. They work as a phthalate-free alternative to plastisol and are preferred for performance wear because of its high stretchability.

An upward trend in athletic garments is all-over decoration, which is best achieved with sublimation. "With sublimation, there are no limits to the color combinations that can be featured," says Andy Lehrer, executive vice president at Teamwork Athletic Apparel. "In addition, patterns can be integrated into various parts of the uniform for a look that commands attention and sets each team apart from the competition. Fonts can be filled with gradients, patterns and designs for a professional look that stock uniforms cannot provide." Teamwork's ProSphere Sublimation features patterns that can wrap around seams and logos that can reach front to back.

Penn Emblem Company (asi/77120) offers patches to recognize achievement, commemorate a championship, raise team funds and more. Traditionally, an embroidered poly twill patch goes great with team jackets. For a budget-friendly choice, try a heat transfer. If applying to performance apparel, consider PennTrans Transfers that are digitally printed in vibrant color and high definition. These heat transfers easily apply to a broad range of fabrics, including temperature-sensitive performance textiles. They allow for stretch and recovery to ensure long-term durability.

Embroidered twill patches add a traditional touch to team jackets. Available from Penn Emblem Company (asi/77120; circle 103 on Free Info Card).

Sublimation makes it possible to easily and economically create all-over team designs in any color or pattern – such as this lacrosse uniform from Teamwork Athletic Apparel (asi/90673; circle 102 on Free Info Card).

The Green Galaxy ink line from Ryonet (asi/528500; circle 95 on Free Info Card) includes a product called Warp Drive, a low-cure additive that makes waterbased ink work well on performance fabrics.