Digital Decorating:

Heat Transfers and Various Fabrics

Setting the scene for successful decorating with these versatile embellishments.

By Christopher Pluck, Contributing Writer

Shown are silver and multicolor transfers printed on top of stitched seams and indented fabric surfaces.

August 26, 2019

The apparel market is packed with a diverse range of products for every function of fashion, sports and leisurewear activity. Because of the vast array of fabrics available, it can be challenging to combine fabric and garment embellishment so that the apparel and embellishment, once applied, connect to form a natural, integral finish.

The combination of the fabric and embellishment should be such that both enhance the overall visual appearance and ensure the greatest possible appeal.

The Heat-Transfer Trend
Because of an increase in fabrics and apparel with performance properties, the personalization and customization of the decorative embellishment should mimic the specific garment’s quality and performance characteristics. By using heat transfers as a means to increase efficiencies for multifunctional, decorative embellishment, the trend by decorated-apparel customers continues to increase as transfers are seen as an efficient solution — especially when used with finished, ready-to-wear apparel.

All fabric types have differences that relate to their functions and wearable attributes. It is important to evaluate the fabric in advance when making an embellishment choice. Pay particular attention to garment structure and finish, and select the heat-transfer product type that will collaborate with the fabric and garment nuances.

These include garment finishes, such as stitching, seams, panels, zippers, buttons and pockets, all of which can be obtrusive problems when applying an embellishment to a finished garment. Taking proper time to understand how each fabric and heat-transfer characteristic will come together can make a positive difference in the finished garment’s overall visual aspects, as well as its integral wearable qualities.

Fabric Science
Some of the most popular synthetic fabrics, such as polyester, spandex, Lycra, rayon, nylon, acrylic and viscose, are designed to outperform natural ones in certain cases and have become adept at imitating their natural counterparts. Natural-fabric clothing is produced from fibers taken from cotton, bamboo, leather, linen, hemp, wool and silk.

As the name implies, such fabrics are produced from plants and animals. They can be used as a component blend with other material to create fabric strength, softness and durability. The fibers are extracted from a natural source and then, through a woven or threaded process, manufactured into a textile.

Cotton is extensively used in sportswear and leisure apparel. Garments made of 100% cotton or a cotton/polyester blend have reigned supreme for a long time, especially for the indestructible T-shirt and sweat shirt. Thicker fleece and jersey fiber materials tend to absorb more ink and require added pressure during heat-transfer application to gain best possible adhesion through ink penetration. The fabric surface’s imperfections can penetrate though the ink film; therefore, close attention is needed to ensure the fabric and heat-press adjustment methods are aligned to produce the best possible result.

Synthetic fabrics such as polyester, spandex, Lycra, nylon and neoprene now are very much part of fashion performancewear and sportswear. They continue to be in the spotlight in an ever-changing textile world where fabrics are specifically selected for their breathability, stretch, softness and lightweight characteristics, which complement performancewear and are essential for wearers when moving or exercising.

When printing on activewear fabrics, such as polyester and spandex, take care with the transfer application, as the adhesion characteristics inherent in the transfer ink needs to be aligned with the sheer surface and stretch characteristics.

With active lifestyle and activewear fabrics becoming a predominant market trend, the ultra-efficient and versatile heat transfer and its application to lifestyle apparel will continue to advance.

Christopher Pluck, business development director for Insta Graphic Systems, has been in the imprinted textile industry for more than 30 years. He has a background in screen printing and offset lithography technologies, and was instrumental in establishing inventive heat-fusible printing products and print-application methods. For more information, visit

On the Move

Heat transfers can be used to embellish a diverse range of sports, athletic and performancewear products in both the apparel and hard goods business markets. They provide an easy and versatile decorating method due to the transfer’s ability to be applied to an extensive variety of garments in multiple off-site locations.

This can be done with reduced labor and supervision, and the transfers can be kept in stock and stored for immediate customer requirement. Because of its ability to satisfy the “quick-turn” demand for apparel embellishment, the heat transfer is an ideal choice because the application to apparel requires just three steps.

Due to the effortless process to embellish multiple garments, heat transfers offer a fast and efficient way to embellish apparel without having to stockpile expensive garments.