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Special Show Report: The Latest from the Decorating Industry

A look at some of the apparel and equipment that’s been debuting at the first couple of Impressions Expos in 2023

By Adam Cort, Content Director

Along with its many offerings, the ROQ exhibit in Long Beach was as much a party as anything else!

May 2, 2023

In keeping with the state of the decorated apparel industry these days—healthy and growing fast—the apparel and equipment suppliers exhibiting at the first two Impressions Expos of 2023 presented a wealth of new products. Examples, include everything from the latest in high-tech to an assortment of fun new garments.

In terms of trends, there were three especially noticeable ones, every one of which speaks highly of the industry as a whole.

First and foremost, there’s the continued diversity of the industry. Whether it’s entry-level, commercial-grade heat presses for those looking to take their side hustle full-time or big-ticket industrial printers for companies with revenues in the millions, everything—and I mean everything—is selling. Clearly, in contrast to much of the U.S. economy—in which consolidation is slowly but surely choking the lifeblood out of all too many industries—the decorated apparel sector remains one in which opportunities abound.

automated direct to garment apparel decorating machine

The cutting-edge M&R Polaris sets a new standard in automated decorating. Photo by 2023 PWP Studio Corporate Event Photographers

Complementing this robust diversity is the continued strength of the decorated apparel industry domestically. Granted, many blanks and raw materials continue to come from abroad. But a combination of the latest tech, which allows even the smallest operators to compete with the best of them (think e-commerce and increasingly efficient, high-quality decorating tech at an affordable price point), and continued awareness of the vulnerability inherent in global supply chains is convincing operators of all kinds to keep production here at home.

Finally, there’s the continued emphasis on social justice and sustainability. It seems there isn’t an issue of Impressions magazine that doesn’t include some mention of these kinds of efforts, and for good reason. The industry as a whole has not just embraced the idea of doing what it can to help the world as a whole, it’s putting it into practice and getting results—no mean feat.

Truth is, running a business that doesn’t recklessly exploit workers or the environment takes work. The fact the industry continues to try and do business the right way, as opposed to simply chasing profits, speaks volumes not only about today’s decorators, but their suppliers and customers as well.

What follows is an overview of some of the highlights of the first two Impressions Expos of 2023, in Long Beach, California, and Atlantic City, New Jersey. Sad to say, we only have room here to cover the tip of the iceberg in terms of all there was to see. The good news is the next Impressions Expo, is scheduled to take place in Fort Worth, Texas, Sept. 14-16 and will provide ample opportunity to catch up on anything we may have missed!

Apparel Decorating Equipment

In recent years, digital decorating technologies in the form of direct-to-garment (DTG) and direct-to-transfer (DTF) have tended to grab the lion’s share of the headlines. But while progress continues to be made in these areas, they are hardly alone in pushing the envelope in terms of quality, capacity and efficiency.

At the Long Beach expo, for example, screen-printing stalwart M&R debuted its Cobra TSE 20 Station/18 Color high-performance automatic carousel screen-printing press. The latest from the company’s Cobra line, the system includes M&R’s Tri-Sync precision screen pre-registration protocol for fast screen set-up and full system integration with M&R’s DS-4000 Digital Squeegee Hybrid Screen-Printing/DTG Printing Systems.

Also debuting was M&R’s Polaris industrial high-speed DTG printing system, incorporating a dozen different subsystems, with an eye toward combing top-end print quality with production speed.

ROQ apparel finishing equipment

A closeup of the ROQ finishing and fulfillment suite. Photo by 2023 PWP Studio Corporate Event Photographers

Similarly, ROQ.US which once again pulled out all that stops in Long Beach in what can only be described as a party as much as a trade-show exhibit, had a raft of cutting-edge automated systems on display. Featuring the company’s entire suite of premier digital and screen-printing machines, ROQ’s efforts afforded attendees an opportunity to get an up-close look at everything from its NOW digital printing machine to its ROQ Fold & Pack automatic fulfillment machines. With ROQ’s fully automatic digital fulfillment solution, decorators can produce as many as 200 unique photo-quality prints per hour. In this same vein, the ROQ Fold & Pack, in addition to being absolutely mesmerizing to watch, automatically folds and packs up to 600 garments per hour, ready for shipment—an outstanding possible addition for any high-volume decorator.

Meanwhile, at the lower end of the price and production-volume spectrum, Vastex International had a number of smart ancillary systems on display in addition to its full-on industrial screen presses. Among these were an exhaust option for its smaller D-100 and D-1000 dryers; its low-energy-use Lo-E3D heating system; and its Conveyor Air Bar, which speeds up the cooling of screen-printed and inkjet-printed garments and caps exiting a dryer’s heating chamber.

Coloreel embroidery machine apparel decorating

Among the many pieces of gear featured by Hirsh Solutions was the revolutionary Coloreel thread-coloring system.

Moving on to embroidery, one of the truly fascinating pieces of equipment making an appearance at the Atlantic City expo was the Coloreel system on display over at the Hirsh Solutions booth. An instant thread coloring technology compatible with all modern embroidery machines and brands, the Coloreel allows decorators to create a wide range of unique designs in staggering array of colors—Incredible!

Also introducing some impressive new equipment were Texmac Direct and Germany’s ZSK: with Texmac touting the HCU-1501 HappyJapan singlehead system, capable of 1,500 stitches per minute, and HappyJapan’s servo-driven full-sized HCD3; and ZSK showing off its KX-1501 and offering a preview of what the company is calling its ZSK Racer “R,” purportedly capable of 2,000 stitches per minutes.

As for embroidery industry leaders Melco and Barudan, both companies had some newly released, cutting-edge software to talk about.

In the case of Melco, the company is now offering what it calls its “Fusion” platform, a cloud-based web service that generates product previews and embroidery-ready files using data submitted by users on decorators’ e-commerce sites.

Similarly, at Barudan, the “latest thing” on display was the company’s web-based “BNET” system, an online platform that allows digitized embroidery programs and other data to be transferred literally from one side of the world to the other via laptop or tablet—what looks to be a huge plus for larger companies with widely dispersed design and production facilities, in particular.

Epson DTG and DTG apparel decorating printer

The Brother GTX can now be used for DTF decorating in addition to DTG.. Photo by 2023 PWP Studio Corporate Event Photographers

Getting back to DTF and DTG, a number of brand-new systems and existing systems with newly enhanced capabilities were also on display, including the Brother GTX Pro, on offer as part of the Hirsh Solutions exhibit, which is now capable of DTF printing in addition to DTG, thanks to a software update; the revamped Brother GTX600, now available with an orange and green ink add-on for brighter colors than ever; and the Ricoma Revel DTF-2402 DTF printer, configured for a combination of speed and high-volume production for use on the full range of fabrics.

Other digital-decorating offerings included an imposing-looking Dopsing Poseidon SR series high-efficiency DTG printer in Long Beach; and a range of hybrid DTG and DTF printers from Epson, including the SureColor F2100, and the 4-color SureColor F6470 and 6-color SureColor F6470H 44-inch dye-sublimation systems.

Finally, in the area of heat-pressing, there was the Insta Graphic Systems 780 Dual Shuttle automatic heat press, complete with dual quick-change platens, touch-screen technology and optional foot-pedal operation.

Complementing today’s state-of-the art heat-pressing equipment was an announcement made by STAHLS’-Hotronix that the company is now offering no minimum orders and next-day shipping with its DTF Ultra Color Max line of transfers, providing decorators yet more flexibility in meeting customer demand.

Eco-Apparel and Sustainability

Of course, it wouldn’t be an Impressions Expo without a seemingly infinite number of garment debuts taking place, and the two expos we’ve had thus far in 2023 have been no exception. Again, as has been the case for a few expos now, sustainability and social justice were the name of the game, with a number of new products expressly designed to make life easier for decorators as well.

Flexfit blank apparel hats for decorating

A sampling of Flexfit’s new models, including the Unipanel cap line. Photo by 2023 PWP Studio Corporate Event Photographers

Among the latter was the Unipanel 5511UP from Flexfit, featuring a “fused front panel” providing an “uninterrupted canvas” for decorators while also eliminating the front seam that is so often the bane of embroiderers, in particular. Other new Flexfit models on display included the sharp-looking 6100NU and the 110 MT stretchy trucker.

Another company looking to smooth the way for decorators while at the same time offering a raft of fun decorating options was San Diego, California-based Pocket Me Inc. As the name suggests, the company specializes in creating customized pocket designs via screen-printing, sublimation or embroidery, thereby opening up a whole new world of decorating possibilities. Think a pocket that looks like a packet of fries with puff-transferred fries coming out of it. Very cool!

As for the fashion, comfort and sustainability side of the equation, the three have now become integrated to the point where it feels like this is just the way the industry does business these days.

Gildan blank t-shirt apparel display Impressions Expo

Gildan had a lot to talk about in terms of both its latest new products and sustainability. Photo by 2023 PWP Studio Corporate Event Photographers

Case in point, Gildan, which in addition to launching a new position and marketing campaign for its Gildan, American and Comfort colors brands, also had a number of new blank garments on display—among them a very sharp looking Gildan 85800 Hammer Adult Pique 100 percent cotton classic-fit polo and an equally sharp 65000 midweight adult T-shirt. All the while, the company was also proudly displaying its latest initiatives in the areas of environmental awareness and social justice.

In this same vein, in addition to publicizing how it is now offering its HD cotton T-shirts in no less than 84 colors, including a newly released “Blush Pink,” Fruit of the Loom was more than happy to discuss its continuing efforts at reducing the climate footprint of its supply chains, among other initiatives.

Similarly, at the same time it is moving ahead with its efforts to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote its in-house recycling practices, Delta Apparel

was busily promoting its top-end Callaway, Perry Ellis and Dri-Duck brands—a trio of recent partnerships that are looking to continue making big gains in the wake of the recent pandemic.

Delta blank apparel display Impressions Expo

Some of the latest offerings from Delta Apparel. Photo by 2023 PWP Studio Corporate Event Photographers

Other noteworthy efforts include Lane Seven’s Future Fleece line, created entirely out of 100 percent regenerated yarn; Jerzees Eco Premium Blend Fleece made from 100 percent recycled polyester and U.S.-grown cotton; Hanes, which was presenting its new PrintNOW pretreated T-shirts for DTG in concert with the recent progress it has made in the area of recycled polyester tech and sourcing organic cotton; and Next Level Apparel’s oh-so-comfortable pre-shrunk Soft Wash Vintage collection, which employs the company’s proprietary “Soft Wash” process, an approach using less water and fewer chemicals than many processes; and the Allmade

line of eco-friendly T-shirts, including a 100 percent recycled tee composed of 50 percent recycled cotton and 50 percent recycled polyester—the equivalent of six recycled water bottles.

Finally, there was first-time exhibitor Toasty Hemp,

with its all-new line of T-shirts and hoodies composed of 55 percent recycled polyester and 45 percent hemp. Far from being a gimmick, the shirts are environmentally, but as soft as any other garment out there—a far cry from the hemp tees of old!  