Sublimation Apparel Printing: The Basics

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Sublimation Apparel printing:

Just when think you’ve covered all your printing bases — screenprinting, DTG — someone asks you about sublimation apparel printing. You might not know what it’s called, but you can’t walk into a retailer without seeing an example of it. It’s a printing method that provides all-over coverage, in full-color.

In a nutshell, sublimation printing uses heat to transfer the dyes onto the fabrics. There are two ways to do this: one is to print onto a transfer paper and then transfer the image to the fabric using heat and pressure. The second involves printing the image directly onto the fabric. But either way, you’re looking at transferring the dyes into the polyester molecules using a combination of time, temper

ature and pressure. With dye sublimation, the result is a virtually permanent full-color high-resolution print that won’t crack, fade or peel under normal conditions. If you’re looking for color saturation, you’re looking for dye sublimation printing.

Unlike screen printing, where one color is added at a time, with sublimation printing, all colors are printed at the same time so there’s not a risk of the colors not lining up or running. And as we may have mentioned, sublimation printing is the only way to go, if you’re trying to get that all-over printed look.

Image above: Epson SureColor® F6070

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Offset vs. Digital Sublimation Printing

There are two types of sublimation apparel printing: Offset and Digital. The differences between the two can be simplified to a single word: volume. Offset sublimation requires a pretty hefty investment – the machinery alone can cost up to $1 million and you’re looking to do print runs of between 5,000 – 10,000. So if you don’t have a cool million hanging around, and you’re hoping for print run under 500 pieces, then you’re looking at digital sublimation, which will give the saturated all-over print look, without having to invest quite as much capital.

Image above: from Epson’s Digital Sublimation fashion show

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Direct to Garment Printing (DTG) vs Sublimation

While both DTG and digital sublimation use inkjet printer technology, the processes and results are quite different. The first big difference you’ll notice between DTG and sublimation is going to be your garment choice. DTG is the choice for 100% cotton fabrics, while Sublimation only works on polyester garments (sublimation needs a polymer-based surface). Both processes will work on blended fabrics, but the result will be a little washed out and faded.

But that’s only the beginning. The entire chemistry behind the two processes is different. I’ll spare you the Chem 101, but basically, the DTG process is relying on surface adhesion, while with sublimation, there is actual molecular bonding taking

place. (The dye actually begins as a gas before becoming a solid!)

Image above: The District® Young Mens Sublimate Tee is soft, lightweight and is quite literally, made for sublimation.

 

Sublimation Printing Perks

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  • You can print a highly detailed photographic image on nearly any polyester fabric.
  • You can print on textiles prior to the assembly of the garment for all-over coverage
  • Many polyester fabrics provide moisture-wicking capabilities making your garment perfect for high-performance sports ware.
  • There is no feel, which makes for a soft hand.
  • Perfect for full-color design on light textiles
  • Extensive color options

Sublimation Printing Downsides

  • You have to print on light color polyester – cotton need not apply
  • It can be a little more expensive than other printing options.

Image above: Alo™ M1006 Performance T-shirt’s moisture wicking shirt with an antimicrobial treatment that keeps clothes odor free, is perfect for sublimation printing.

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When you’re ready to take a leap into the world of sublimation apparel printing, check out our sublimation apparel category. If you don’t see what you are looking for, let us know. And we’ll help you get started on your sublimation journey!

Image above: The District® Juniors Sublimate Tee® is perfect for sublimation apparel printing

Cotton Heritage: A Lesson in Entrepreneurship

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Some people seem to have entrepreneurship in their blood. Neeraj “Mickey” Sachdeva, CEO and founder of Cotton Heritage came by both his entrepreneurial sense and his understanding of textiles honestly.

The Sachdeva family has a strong tradition of working with textiles. Mickey was actually raised in a city, which is considered to be the capital of the knitwear garment industry in North India. And the family business, Roochi Traders, a leading distributor of sportswear and active wear, was founded by Mickey’s father, Vishwa Sachdeva, back in 1982, the year that the Sachdeva family came to the United States.

In a true immigrant success story, Vishwa landed in the US with only $25 in his pocket, and looked to textiles to help provide a living for the family. He started importing fabrics from Japan with the help of some relatives. Then in 1986, when the Japanese yen turned strong, and it was no longer profitable to import from Japan, Vishwa began selling garments to Indian shops in the Los Angeles area. It was a true family business. Mickey’s mother, Prem, would sew from 6 AM to midnight every day, making the clothes that Vishwa would later sell.  Both Mickey and his brother, Vikram (Vik), helped out with the family business when they weren’t busy with schoolwork.

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Mickey was only 14 when the family left India and moved to California, but it didn’t take him long before he jumped straight into American commerce.  First, he took on a newspaper route. Then he got a job washing recreational vehicles. He flipped hamburgers at Wendy’s, and worked as a cashier at Knott’s Berry Farm. He got a job at a General Motors plant and then as a bank teller. He was just a teenager, but Mickey already had had more jobs than most people twice his age. Mickey says that initial work experience was critical to his later success. “It gave me an insight into a lot of different things,” says Mickey. “How to deal with people, how to handle money, how businesses work.”

By 11th grade, Mickey, was anxious to take the jump from working for others to working for himself and so he began pressuring his father to let him take on a bigger role in the family clothing business. “But my dad, a typically Indian father, wanted me to concentrate on my education first,” says Mickey. “I was very persistent and told him I would bug him every day about it. So Mickey was put to the test.  He was dropped off at the Los Angeles flea market with a box of 24 dozen undergarments and told to sell them. Only seventeen, Mickey wasn’t given any instructions about how to make the sales, but he still managed to sell nearly all of the undergarments in the box, and the experience only whetted his appetite for more.

While enrolling in college, Mickey started selling garments out of the family garage. That small business grew and grew until finally a neighborhood complained about the large trucks showing up to the Sachdeva residence on nearly a daily basis. Instead of being defeated, the push out of the family garage gave Mickey the momentum to move to a real warehouse, an 800-square foot space in Santa Fe Springs, California.

Today, the company is based in a 110,000-square-foot warehouse in the City of Commerce, its
headquarters since 1996. The company also has distribution centers in New York and Miami, for a total of 165,000 square feet of warehouse space. A far cry from that initial start in the family garage.girls

And Cotton Heritage still remains true to the Indian heritage of the Sachdeva family. All the goods are manufactured in South East Asia and in other Eastern garment industry hubs. Because they can speak the language and understand the cultures of these countries, it makes it an easy place for the Cotton Heritage brand to be manufactured. Mickey says that these days, his only goal is to make clothes that he wants to wear. That means, using the best yarns and dyes possible and making sure that quality control is top notch.

This commitment to quality means that Cotton Heritage shirts are considered to be one of the best shirts for direct to garment printing. Mickey says that they achieve this by choosing the right quality yarns, knitting them tightly and then by choosing the right dyes and chemical suppliers and enzyme helps the product to create a flat and good surface for printability. They also use an enzyme wash to keep the clothes extremely soft (The enzyme removes all the impurities from the surface of the fabric and gives it a better appearance, surface, and hand feel.

DTG Printing: What, When and Why

 

Custom DTG Printing

Brother DTG Printer

Direct to Garment printing (also known as DTG printing or digital apparel printing) is a method of printing designs directly onto t-shirts and textiles using a modified ink printer.

Direct to Garment printing is a direct descendant of ink jet printing. That means no screens, no mess, no thick plastisol ink–yet great detail and stunning color possibilities. How it works is a t-shirt is loaded onto the machine, and your design is printed directly onto the shirt using specially formulated water-based inks. The design is then heat set using either a heat press or a tunnel dryer. In the same way that your inkjet printer can print extremely detailed image, a DTG printer is able to produce photo-quality images on shirts that still have a soft feel.

Custom DTG Printing

No color limitations with DTG Printing means you can print what you want without the price going up. Photo courtesy of Behind the Blank

Sounds great, right? Well, Direct to Garment printing can does have it’s limitations. Specialized ink means it’ll end up costing a little more. It’s also a lot slower than screen printing (think of standing in front of an ink jet printer and waiting for a piece of paper to come out), so labor costs are higher as well. And the printable area is a little smaller, too.

So with so many factors to consider, the real question is when to use Direct to Garment and when to screen print. The basic formula is if you’re printing a multi-colored and detailed design with less than 50 shirts, Direct to Garment is the more efficient and cost effective choice. Once you start hitting quantities over 50, then screen printing becomes the faster and cheaper option. DTG is also the go-to option if you’re looking to print a photo-realistic image.

 

Custom DTG Printing

Print your illustrations right onto a shirt with DTG Printing

When printing DTG, the fabric content of the garment is by far going to be the main factor to consider when choosing which shirts to use. Lots of printers insist on going with only 100% cotton (like the Cotton Heritage MC1040 and the gildan 5000 ). We recommend going a step further and and choosing ringspun cotton (like the Next Level 3600 or 11600 Delta Apparel), which is much softer and smoother–and thus prints better. You could also choose an organic cotton shirt, which is great for marketing.

In general, screen printing is going to be a better choice for blended t-shirts if you’re looking for vibrant colors. This is because DTG Inks are best absorbed by 100% cotton, and the color won’t take as well to man made fibers. However if you’re looking for more of a subdued print with vintage-style faded colors, DTG could be the perfect choice for your design. White blended shirts print very well, but if you’re using anything other than that we suggest consulting with one of our print reps to be sure there won’t be any issues.

Next step–generating your custom DTG print quoteblankstyle.com is your one stop shop for all of your blank and printed apparel needs!

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