Whether they’re worn to make a fashion statement, support a favorite sports team, or display a personal philosophy, imprinted garments have become a staple in wardrobes across the world. But many of today’s screen-printing customers are looking for more than conventional plastisol prints on the decorated sportswear they buy. They want high-quality designs, textures, and special effects that make their garments stand out from the crowd.
Whether they’re worn to make a fashion statement, support a favorite sports team, or display a personal philosophy, imprinted garments have become a staple in wardrobes across the world. But many of today’s screen-printing customers are looking for more than conventional plastisol prints on the decorated sportswear they buy. They want high-quality designs, textures, and special effects that make their garments stand out from the crowd. And a growing number of garment printers are responding by adopting innovative decorating materials and methods to produce designs that are anything but conventional.
Specialty inks and heat-transfer materials, embossing, and garment dyeing are just a few examples of alternative decorations to which screen printers are turning. While many of these materials and techniques have been around for years, printers are exploring new directions in their use and producing eye-catching garment graphics that are a hit with customers. On the following pages, you’ll see examples of these non-traditional decorations that may inspire you to pioneer alternative graphics of your own. (Unless noted otherwise, all photography by David Steinbrunner, Cincinnati, OH)
Those who visit the Southwestern US can’t help but be impressed with the area’s beautiful desert scenery and colorful history. And few leave this region without a souvenir. Native American dream catchers, pottery, and cactus plants continue to be popular items, but many tourists have discovered another memento that depicts Southwestern themes in an eye-catching way–T-shirts produced by Desert Impressions.
Prints with puff underbases, such as the image shown, are among the company’s hottest products. As art director Kevin Pike explains, "We found that the dimension of the puff and the added colors it can suggest when the puff is activated under the plastisol, where it lightens the colors, is something that no one else was doing." He adds, "I’ve been in retail shops and seen the reaction that people have when our designs are displayed well. I’ve seen people walk clear across the store just to touch them. The designs have a dimension, a texture that draws them."
Name of design: Medicine Wolf
Company: Desert Impressions, Chandler, AZ
Quantity of garments printed: 5000
Material or technique used: custom-dyed stonewashed T-shirt featuring white puff ink that is overprinted with standard plastisol in five colors (yellow, red, turquoise, gray, and black)
magine strolling down a dark street and suddenly noticing multiple pairs of glowing eyes and sharp glowing fangs coming toward you. Is it a pack of beastly wolves? No, it’s a person sporting Liquid Blue’s Wolf Pack T-shirt. The snarling beasts, representing the WCW wrestling team "New World Order," are disturbingly real in daylight. But when the lights go out, glow-in-the-dark ink gives the image a truly eerie appearance.
Liquid Blue, well known for its Grateful Dead products, tie-dye wear, and wildlife-themed garments, is also making a mark with glow-in-the-dark ink. As this design illustrates, the company carefully selects appropriate designs for the glow effect. And rather than overpowering viewers with glow ink, the company uses the subtle glowing elements to enhance its designs. "Customers like the coolness the image delivers," explains Gregory Burbank, Liquid Blue’s sales manager. "It works with the image." Name of design: Wolf Pack
Company: Liquid Blue, Lincoln, RI
Quantity of garments printed: 100 dozen
Customer: preprint, licensed by World Championship Wrestling (WCW)
Material or technique used: black garment printed with discharge ink, three plastisol inks (red, orange, and white), and glow-in-the-dark ink
You may have noticed holographic images on your drivers license, product ID tags, or other items that require security, anti-counterfeit, or authentication markings. People seem to be fascinated with holographics, so why not use them for decoration, too? That question is precisely what led Robert Sherwood Holographic Design, a developer of security markings, to create holographic images for use on apparel.
The company is working on a line of holograms that will be offered as stock images. In fact, they’ve already opened a store on the Internet at www.c3dgear. com where printers can buy their designs. Custom designs are also available, and the holograms can be cut into any shape or size for further customization.
Name of design: C3D Gear
Company: Robert Sherwood Holographic Design, Charlottesville, VA
Quantity of garments printed: samples only
Customer: prototype for a transfer line currently under development
Material or technique used: 2-mil metallized polyester (Mylar) with heat-activated adhesive. The hologram can be applied to garments with a standard heat-transfer press or hand iron.
Tie-dye shirts have been around for decades. But these days, they’re not just for flower children. Shops like Not Fade Away Graphics are finding new uses for this old favorite by combining tie-dyeing with conventional printing.
As this example shows, tie-dyeing can enhance the effect of printed graphics, leading a viewer’s eyes to the printed image or working in concert with the image to produce a larger, more vibrant graphic effect. And the ability of Not Fade Away’s artists to blend designs into the tie-dye pattern has made the company a leader in this decorating technique. Since no two tie-dyed garments are exactly alike, each shirt the company produces is essentially a one-of-kind original.
Name of design: Set You Free
Company: Not Fade Away Graphics, Kingston, NY
Quantity of garments printed: 1000
Material or technique used: tie-dye with conventional plastisol print in four colors (yellow, red, black, and blue), plus a white under print and red drop screen
The look and velvet-like feel of flock graphics is bringing new life to this old favorite. According to Nick Quaranta, vice president of sales for Insta Graphics’ printed products division, "People are asking for more dimensional types of things, stuff that gives graphics a little oomph."
The heat-transfer material and equipment supplier has taken the flock effect a step further by developing a flock transfer line that incorporates glitter in the adhesive. The resulting designs have the texture of flock plus a sparkling look that makes them ideal for children’s wear and holiday graphics. The company is also working on a flocking system that can be directly printed onto garments.
Name of design: Glitter Flock
Company: Insta Graphic Systems, Cerritos, CA
Quantity of garments printed: samples only
Customer: prototype for new line of printing materials
Material or technique used: printable glitter adhesive coated with flock fibers
Leather is to the West what Bikinis are to Florida. And GS Sportwear, one of Colorado’s largest garment printers, has capitalized on this reality by offering a convincing line of western-theme decorated garments.
The company has found that customers are drawn to the mock suede look and feel of the images, and are even more appreciative of the garments when they realize the effect was created with ink. GS Sportswear also works with other alternative decorating materials, including foil, puff, and high-density inks.
Name of design: Two Boots/Colorado
Company: GS Sportswear/div. of Golden Squeegee, Denver, CO
Quantity of garments printed: 5000
Customer: various western retailers
Material or technique used: mock-suede ink with additional plastisol colors, applied as a heat transfer
What better way to advertise your company on T-shirts than with a printed logo that literally "stands out" or a slogan that becomes reflective in the dark? Many corporate buyers are finding 3-D and reflective graphics to be ideal for getting their messages across, and Silverwing Productions has been quick to capitalize on the appeal of these alternative decorations.
Well versed in the latest ink technologies, the company determined that 3-D prints would be ideal for logos and other identification markings. Because these inks provide a thick deposit as well as sharp edge definition, they are ideal for text and other fine details. Reflective inks have also proven popular, particularly those that exhibit a standard color in daylight, yet still show brightly when struck by light in dark conditions. Besides custom orders such as this 7-Up design, the company finds reflective inks well suited for sport garments, including biking and running wear.
Name of design: Are U an UN?
Company: Silverwing Productions, Dallas, TX
Quantity of garments printed: 10,000
Customer: 7-UP Co.
Material or technique used: high-density (three-dimensional) plastisols on shirt front and reflective plastisol base with green pigment plus black ink on back
When Company X, a heat-transfer and private-label direct screen-printing company, first tried out a new reflective ink from its supplier, no one knew where it would take them. What the company discovered was that the near-metallic look of the ink attracted both customers interested in safety graphics, as well as those with novelty applications in mind.
The company learned that by printing a thick layer of the ink onto heat transfer paper, then applying the transfers to garments, the graphics provided a level of reflectivity ideal for policemen, firemen, and road-crews who worked at night. Printing the inks directly onto garments typically results in a thinner ink layer, which is less reflective, but still an attractive option for children’s garments and novelty wear.
Name of design: Castle
Company: Company X, Columbus, OH
Quantity of garments printed: 500 Customer: 3M
Material or technique used: reflective ink, applied as heat transfer
* Unless noted otherwise, all photography by David Steinbrunner, Cincinnati, OH
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