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Special Report: New for 2024 at Impressions Expo

A look at some of the screen-printing, embroidery, DTG, DTF, blank apparel and heat pressing trends as seen at the first two Impressions Expo industry trade shows of the year

By Adam Cort, Content Director

The 2024 Impressions Expo in Long Beach, California, was one for the record books, with a 7 percent increase in attendance over the previous year. Photo courtesy of Impressions Expo

May 9, 2024

If there was ever any doubt the decorated-apparel industry was back following the trials and tribulations of the past few years, those doubts were put to rest by the first two Impressions Expos of 2024, in Long Beach, California, and Atlantic City, New Jersey.

613 Originals Impressions Expo decorated apparel trade show

Kudos to 613 Originals’ “food truck” concept! Photo courtesy of Impressions Expo

The number of exhibitors and attendees at the Long Beach show, in particular, was one for the record

books, with the event’s main floor space selling out months in advance and a whopping 7 percent increase in the number of participants overall.

Equally impressive was the energy at both events, with equipment suppliers, blank apparel manufacturers and decorators not only saying business was good, but that they continued to expect good things to come.

As for the equipment, materials and apparel these same exhibitors had on offer, the industry continues to fire on all cylinders. Innovation remains the word of the day, with the rate of change, if anything, only increasing with respect to everything from heat-transfer options, automation and digital decorating to sustainability.

The Ninja Transfers ninja mascot makes the round at Impressions Expo Long Beach

The Ninja Transfers ninja mascot makes the rounds at Impressions Expo Long Beach. Photo courtesy of Impressions Expo

Finally, attendees and the industry as a whole seem to be having a lot of fun, making money by doing what they do best, the reason most decorators get into this game in the first place! Creative new displays like 613 Originals’ “food truck” concept (which included the company’s popular Varsity 1 Color formula transfers among its many offerings), the Ninja Transfer’s ninja mascot making the rounds, yet another get ROQ party and more great T-shirt giveaways than you can shake a stick at, clearly this is an industry that works hard but enjoys itself as well. If all work and no play make Jack a dull boy, there’s plenty to keep Jack (and Jill) from becoming bored at Impressions Expo these days!

Advances in Apparel Screen-Printing

Despite the increased role of heat pressing and continued advances in the areas of direct-to-garment (DTG) and direct-to-film (DTF), screen printing continues to serve as one of the true mainstays of today’s decorated-apparel industry. As such, it also continues to see more innovation than ever in terms of everything from press configurations to cleanup stations.

Case in point, ROQ’s new ROQ E self-contained screen-printing press: what the company describes as the industry’s first self-contained automatic press thanks to its coming equipped with its own fully integrated

ROQ E screen printing press, Impression Expo trade show

Not dead yet! Innovations such as the ROQ E confirm the fact screen printing is alive and well. Photo courtesy of Impressions Expo

air compressor, thereby eliminating the need for an external third-party air supply.

Similarly, it feels like the computer-to-screen (CTS), direct-to-screen (DTS) or laser-to-screen (LTS) systems that eliminate the need for films (among other things) have gone from cutting edge to commonplace, with various different options on offer seemingly everywhere. Examples at this year’s Impressions Expos included Exile Technologies’ Spyder series CTS systems, featuring the wax-based Spyder II and Spyder III (which among their many pluses boast a space-saving vertical orientation); M&R’s i-Image STE I Computer-to-Screen Imaging-Exposure System and large-format i-Image K and KX Computer-to-Screen Imaging and Imaging-Exposure Systems; and laser-based systems (which do away with the need for exposure units as well as film) like the LTS8012 Direct Laser Image Exposure Unit system from Saati.

As for those still burning, exposing and rinsing out their screens the old-fashioned way, so to speak, there was something for you, too: specifically, a nifty little new Return-Belt dryer conveyor from Pennsylvania-based Vastex International, which makes it possible to both load and unload whatever types of garments

Vastex screen printing conveyor dryer

The new Vastex return-belt conveyor dryer. Photo courtesy of Impressions Expo

you may be curing without having to go from one side of the unit dryer to the other.

Similarly, there were multiple examples of the growing number of automatic screen washout and reclaiming systems on offer these days: a development that is an especially encouraging one, because of the way it helps reduce the industry’s environmental impact by making it that much easier to remove solvents, coatings and other chemicals from the waste stream. In addition to their increased efficiency, they also relieve the screen printers of the world of the drudgery of spraying down screens in a manual washout booth—not a bad idea given today’s tight labor market!

By way of example, front and center at Impressions Expo Long Beach was M&R’s Eco-Tex LITE automatic screen cleaning and reclaiming system, which also made its debut there. The newest member of the company’s Eco-Tex the Lite it is described as providing “the ideal solution for small to mid-size screen printing companies that want to automate the screen cleaning and reclaiming process while increasing productivity and save on labor and chemicals.”

Also on offer at the Long Beach show was Bluewater Labs series of InLine Reclaim Machines features the company’s proprietary b-Wave technology, configured for the express purpose of reclaiming screens from start to finish.

Let’s Get Digital with Apparel Decorating

Pivoting back to the purely digital side of things, when it comes to DTF and DTG, the current setting remains “full speed ahead.”

Epson DTG T-shirt printer

Epson’s SureColor F-1070 DTG printer. Photo courtesy of Impressions Expo

Leading the charge, in many ways, was industry veteran Epson with its brand-new SureColor F-1070 DTG printer, a simple-to-use desktop machine designed to make it that much easier for, say, an existing embroidery or heat-press specialist looking to make an initial foray into digital decorating. For years now, digital equipment manufacturers have been challenged by the reluctance on the part of smaller shops, in particular, to make the leap due to both the real and perceived difficulties involved. Suffice it to say it doesn’t get much easier than with the SureColor F-1070. The systems are fully DTF capable as well.

Also breaking new ground on the digital front were screen-printing stalwarts M&R and ROQ, as the two companies continue to diversify their product offerings.

In M&R’s case, its latest moves include the M&R Quatro, an all-in-one, fully automatic high-capacity DTF printer, that in addition to printing the design itself, adds the necessary adhesive as well.

M&R Quatro direct-to-transfer printer Impressions Expo

M&R’s Quatro, an all-in-one, fully automatic high-capacity DTF printer. Photo courtesy of Impressions Expo

Equally impressive was the new ROQ READY Automatic Pre-Treatment Machine, offering no fewer than eight separate stations for pre-treating, heat pressing and flash-curing garments for DTG decorating, all in one fell swoop—a technology that will undoubtedly serve as a tremendous boost to larger-capacity decorators, in particular. Also making its debut at the Long Beach show was the ROQ GO DTG printer, a system capable of decorating as many as 150 pieces per hour on white fabrics, 55 pieces per hour on darks.

Finally, there was the PTF-100 Powder-To-Film system from Vastex, the same folks debuting the aforementioned Return-Belt dryer conveyor. Small enough to place on a tabletop, in addition to ensuring the requisite adhesive powder is evenly and efficiently spread on each and every one of your DTF transfers, it protects workers from the airborne dust typically generated as a part of the process.

Embroidery, Heat Pressing and Design, Online Sales Software

Pivoting to the heat-pressing, custom transfer and embroidery side of things, the developments in play here include everything from decorating equipment to the latest ordering and shipping options.

Stahls' ProPlace IQ heat pressing system

STAHLS’ ProPlace IQ makes heat-pressing that much more precise. Photo courtesy of Impressions Expo

Leading the charge on the equipment side of things was veteran heat-press and transfer specialist STAHLS’ with the latest in the long list of devices it offers to improve the precision and efficiency of the heat-pressing process: the Hotronix ProPlace IQ.

Available for retrofitting to an existing Hotronix Dual Air Fusion IQ heat press or fully integrated as a part of the new Hotronix Dual Air Fusion ProPlace IQ press, ProPlace works by projecting an image of the design being pressed onto the platen/garment being decorated making accurate placement a snap. Per STAHLS’, “Simply upload your artwork into the Hotronix Cloud system and at the touch of a button watch your design project onto the lower platen.” Amazing!

Interestingly, over on the embroidery side, Germany’s ZSK Stickmaschinen GmbH was exhibiting a similar projector-based fixturing system it calls its EPS Project to make precision hooping similarly error-free in a fascinating confluence of technologies (this in addition to the company’s super-fast, super-smooth Racer R, which made its U.S. debut at Long Beach).

Also new from STAHLS’ were a line of heat-applied chenille patches and the company’s Easy View LTE Designer online platform: the latter a free online design service offering a variety of fonts, clip art, layouts and more, making it possible for decorators with little to no design experience to create unique, personalized, professional-quality logos for their customers.

Melco embroidery Impressions Expo industry trade show

These days Melco’s online offerings are as impressive as its embroidery machines. Photo courtesy of Impressions Expo

As for the aforementioned Philadelphia-based custom-transfer specialists Ninja Transfers, the company is now offering something it calls Ninja Printhouse: a brand-new service that makes it possible for promotional product distributors, custom-apparel shops and other custom-apparel specialists to streamline their businesses by rushing any size custom-apparel order, blind shipped, directly to their customers. Not only that, but integral to this effort is a dedicated design studio offering literally thousands of different product types and styles for decorating. Also new at Ninja Transfers, significant changes in its shipping options, including guaranteed next-day air and rush delivery.

Brother GTX

The cutting-edge Brother GTX direct-to-embroidery machine. Photo courtesy of Impressions Expo

Similarly, over on the embroidery side of the business, Melco continues to promote something it calls “DesignShop 12,” what the company describes as a “completely fresh digitizing ecosystem…with advanced design capabilities, intuitive user-friendly features, and a fresh customizable workspace.” Complementing this effort is something called Melco Fusion, a “cloud-based web service hosted by Melco that generates product previews and embroidery-ready files using data submitted by users on your e-commerce website.”

Speaking of embroidery, it was interesting to see the way the Coloreel system, a direct-to-embroidery thread-dyeing system introduced and marketed by Hirsh Solutions in 2023 could now be found in booths across the show floor.

Meanwhile, brand-new over at the Hirsch booth this year was the Brother GTX pro direct-to-embroidery machine, which prints inks/dye colors on top of an existing embroidery design and the surrounding base fabric. If there was a single piece of equipment that exemplified the ways technology is 1) making all things possible and 2) blurring the lines between the various different decorating techs currently available—in this case, embroidery and DTG—this was it.

Blank Apparel, Hats and Sustainability in the Blank Apparel Industry

Finally, over on the blank apparel side of things, it’s no exaggeration to say the industry has never before seen the quality or variety of T-shirts, hoodies, caps, totes, etc. currently available. Nor has the apparel side ever exhibited a greater emphasis on the industry’s environmental impact: a great thing to see given the fact the fashion industry remains one of the major polluters of the world in terms of everything from plastics to carbon-dioxide emissions and water usage.

Biodegradable CICLO fibers and Delta Apparel

Biodegradable CICLO fiber stands to possibly transform the apparel industry. Photo by Adam Cort

With the respect to plastic, an especially promising development is the use of CICLO textiles now being touted by the likes of Hanes/Champion and Delta Apparel. Described by its creators as a “solution that mimics nature,” the CICLO process can be implement during the polyester or nylon melt-extrusion process creating countless biodegradable spots (also known as “nucleation spots”) that are permanently embedded throughout the matrix of the plastic. In layman’s terms, results mean fibers that degrade in a similar fashion to naturally occurring materials, like cotton or wool, as opposed to lasting, essentially, forever, as is the case with conventional plastics. Fingers crossed the process proves to be a real game changer. Kudos to companies like Hanes/Champion and Delta for taking the plunge.

In terms of new styles and colors, among the standouts were an updated heavyweight pullover hoodie (with a truly great hand) and some great new colors with the Garment Dye sleeve pocket T-shirt from Cottage Heritage; some new Botanical tee dyes and a fun polo shirt style from Hanes/Champion; some new additions to the curvy collection and Vintage Wash series at LAT Apparel; and a series of boonie hats, Flexbill styles and recycled-material hats from Otto International.

On the subject of hats, congratulations to Flexfit/Yupoong, currently marking its 50th anniversary. Not only did the company bring a great looking both, but it also boasted an outstanding activation highlighting its Flexfit NU line—a recently released baseball cap style with a front panel specifically designed for easy embroidery decorating, especially.

Flexfit exhibit Impressions Expo decorated apparel trade show

Flexfit, currently celebrating its 50th year, pulled out all the stops at Impressions Expo Long Beach. Photo courtesy of Impressions Expo

Last but not least, a shout out to the many companies large and small making the effort to incorporate materials and/or introduce entire product lines specifically configured for sustainability.

Among these were Flexfit and its LYOCELL tech, a botanic textile sourced from an award-winning closed-loop production plant; Allmade’s use of responsibly sourced cotton and/or recycled plastic bottles throughout its many T-shirt and hoodie offerings; Gildan’s Comfort Colors’ proprietary dyeing process, Pigment Pure, on offer at Impressions Expo Long Beach and expressly designed to reduce water and energy usage during the manufacturing process; Augusta Sportwear’s use of ecoRevive technology (featuring 50-percent recycled polyester) in its Pacific Headwear and Ventura Collections product lines, including the new Ladies Ventura Cardigan and eco-Revive beanie; and Los Angeles Apparel, which in addition to consistently developing new products using leftover and scrap fabric, continues to ensure nearly 100 percent of its production and shipping byproducts are recycled, including scrap paper, boxes, plastic and pretty much everything else that goes into manufacturing its garments.

The list goes on and on, a fact of which the entire decorated-apparel industry should be proud. Let’s keep it up!

For more on all three Impressions Expos, including the upcoming Impressions Expo in Fort Worth, Texas, Oct. 24-26, go to