Reprinted from Imprint Canada Jan/Feb 2017 Issue
Seeking Success in 2017?
Heat Printing Trends
by Ted Stahl
There are all types of predictions for businesses in 2017—including the use of delivery drones and virtual reality purchasing apps—but let’s get real. If you are reading this, you are probably not an Amazon-wannabe or some other multi-billion dollar conglomerate looking to take over the world. You are just trying to figure out how to best serve your custom garment customers. The imprinted sportswear marketplace enjoyed a strong 2016. Here are some of my suggestions as to how you can continue riding that wave of success into 2017 and beyond.
As in previous years, the need to understand and offer digital decorating techniques should still be on the top of your “TO-DO” list for 2017. If you don’t want to invest in a printer/cutter, to be able to create full color logos in house, you should at least find a reliable company who can print them for you. The world of digital media available for printer/cutters has grown substantially, with offerings that allow you to print full color metallics or full color logos for application on performance wear. You can also enter the full color digital world with an ink jet printer or a laser printer. The quality of transfer papers for these output devices has come a long way since you last tried them. There are even ink jet and laser transfer papers that can be successfully heat printed on dark colors and a variety of substrates. If you own a sublimation printer, there are also new options for printing on cotton fabrics. For those of you that own printers using solvent or eco-solvent inks, you will need to investigate what is known as “white toner” transfer papers. (A good resource for learning more about transfer papers is TransferPaperExperts.com)
The Need for Transfers
Even if you have the capability to screen print in-house, you have to admit that not every job that comes your way is best served with screen printing, and heading into 2017 you will find even more instances where screen printing doesn’t make sense. The development of high tech fabrics and the demand for custom printed performance wear only continues to grow. As with transfer papers for use with ink jet and laser printers, screen printed transfers have also made substantial leaps in technology, featuring water-based inks, stretchable inks and even full color litho-type transfers that can be quickly and easily applied onto anything that fits under a heat press. You will also see the trend of super-lightweight prints that are needed to complement the trend of more “draped” athletic uniforms. If you watch Premier League soccer you will notice that many of the uniforms are almost silky and flowing. It is extremely difficult to screen print on these lightweight fabrics and this is why so many soccer teams around the world already rely on heat printing. These markets are also being served by lightweight heat transfer films that are available for application on high tech fabrics.
Trends to Watch
Another major trend will be the demand for dimensional transfers or 3D transfers. As a result of fabrics becoming thinner and thinner, classic dimensional decoration treatments such as embroidery are no longer feasible. However, there is still a demand for crests and other logos to have some dimension and heft. One way to do this is with flocked heat transfer materials that you can cut and heat apply yourself. Printable flocks are also an option. Flock not only offers a textured, raised finish that says “high quality,” it is also light enough to be used on performance wear.
Reflective Bigger Than Ever
I have spoken about the need for more reflective for many years, with several blog posts reminding people not to “Go Naked at Night.” It’s not getting any easier to see people in the dark when they are out jogging pre-dawn or post-sunset. School kids, college kids, athletes of all ages shouldn’t be allowed out in the dark without a bit of reflective on their clothing. With more reflective heat transfer materials now available, this is one trend that we are so glad is continuing to grow.
Reflective heat transfer materials are also an ideal way to decorate hunting, fishing and all types of outdoor gear where helping to be seen can be a lifesaver.
Artwork is Key
No matter what type of decoration methods you are able to produce, you can’t even start the job, and in many cases you can’t even get the job, unless you have fantastic artwork. Our customers still tell us that creating artwork is one of their biggest challenges. Which is why we have spent millions of dollars developing ways for garment decorators to create the art they need. In fact, the programs that we make available to you are in use by large garment manufacturers and licensed sports leagues around the world. If you are struggling to create the professional artwork your customers demand, make sure you investigate the FREE, online programs that are available, designed specifically for garment printers. There is no longer any need to become an expert in a specific graphics program. All the tools you need to create professional art are available online.
Metallic Numbers Trend
You will also notice the continuing trend of metallic numbers. Again, this is a trend that is best served by heat printing. Metallic heat printing films are soft, flexible and can be applied quickly and easily. Screen printing numbers is not only time consuming, it is even more difficult when done with metallic inks.
On Demand Personalization
You have a number of huge personalization firms to thank when your customers demand next day turnaround or one-off production. Next day delivery on custom items is not something you had to compete with yesterday. Instead of getting angry, step up and say yes to those orders. Let people know you are a local company that can offer the same speedy service as the online giants. You will be surprised how many people still enjoy doing business locally, even though they want the speed they can find online. You can do it with a heat press and the long list of cutting edge heat transfers that are now available to you.
The Best Advice for 2017
The one piece of advice that anyone can follow when it comes to succeeding in 2017 doesn’t have to do with offering more services, offering faster services or buying new equipment. If there is one thing you should do better in 2017, it’s this—listen. Listen to your customers. Find out what they really need, and then do your best to make them happy. In the long run, that is what a successful business is all about.