Choose The Right Decoration Technique

Embroidery, screen printing, heat transfers, sublimation, direct-to-garment … you’re proud of the different options your shop is able to offer clients. But how do you recommend the right method for each customer who walks through the door? Consider these factors.

Intended Use: Erich Campbell, embroidery digitizer/designer and e-commerce manager at Black Duck Inc., says he always asks what the wearer will be doing in the garment. Perhaps it’s for a 5K in a warm locale, a great fit for wicking tech tees with heat-transfer embellishment or sublimation. It might be for a corporate tradeshow, ideal for embroidered polos. Other recipients will enjoy the entertainment at a music festival with multiple stages, prime for large orders of screen-printed cotton/polyester T-shirts. Campbell also considers the possibility of additional orders in the near future, in order to pick a method flexible enough for different types of apparel. “They may want light garments now,” he explains, “but we might be asked to source matching winter gear or color-matched workwear in a month.”

Artwork: Printing a design with lots of colors? Screen printing may not be the answer. Decorators will charge screen fees for each color to be used, often about $15 to $30 per screen for each run; reorders run from $5 to $10 per screen to set the job back up, says Marshall Atkinson, COO of Visual Impressions. “For embroidery, shops will often determine fees in increments of 1,000 stitches,” he adds. “So there are setup fees of about $5 to $10 per 1,000 stitches to set up and digitize the art. But that’s usually a one-time cost.” In addition, says Howard Potter, CEO of A&P Master Images (asi/702505), often the client hasn’t settled on artwork yet. It’s then up to his shop to figure out images that match budgetary and program goals, whether it’s to be digitized for embroidered polos, or translated into ink for casual tees. Once the art is designed, “look at how many colors the logo has and what that means for future production costs,” says Campbell. “Their art might be suited to different sized placements or different color substrates in upcoming orders.”

Quantity: Potter says a client with only two shirts might turn to sublimation because of its very low setup fees. “We wouldn’t suggest screen printing because there’s too much setup to make it worth it,” he says. Atkinson adds that the complex setup process involved in screen printing is not conducive to quick runs, particularly those for ongoing programs. “Instead, use DTG, sublimation, heat transfers, anything without a lot of setup,” he explains. “Screen printing is good for a one-time order of 500 garments, but if it’s three orders daily for six months in a catalog program, you’ll stick the client with a lot of re-setup fees.”

Budget: While fees for heat transfers or sublimation are often low or non-existent, the less-expensive techniques aren’t always the best choice, depending on the garment. “We consider clients’ budget, but we have to give them our professional recommendation,” says Atkinson. “We’re definitely going to embroider polos from Cutter & Buck (asi/47965). Embroidery provides a high-end look that matches the garment and the application. You can’t put cheap decoration on a premium item.”