Digital Decorating:

Transfer Trends in Womenswear

By James Ortolani, Contributing Writer

March 15, 2016

Decorating T-shirts with heat transfers isn’t a new endeavor by any means, but the fashionable garments worn by women today are comprised of a wide range of fabrics.

These include poly/cotton blends, tri-blends, performancewear, burnout materials and more. Ladies’ fashion wear has become a sophisticated market where designers decide on the styles and colors for the current season a year in advance, reminding us that a lot has changed since the early years of T-shirt decoration.

Many heat-transfer media are available for decorating ladies’ apparel, including CAD-CUT materials, heat transfers, appliqué, rhinestones and digital transfers. Knowing what’s popular can help decorators decide which of the numerous options they should choose when embellishing these lightweight, stretchy garments.

Womenswear still includes T-shirts, but fashion trends have changed ladies’ tees to incorporate scoop necks, V-necks and pleated detail. So it’s important to choose the right heat-applied media to work with these garment styles. For heat printing women’s garments, it’s best to use a heat press that has interchangeable lower platens that can accommodate smaller, fashion-fit garments.

Common interchangeable lower platen sizes include 6″ x 10″, 8″ x 10″ and 11″ x 15″, and having them in your shop helps avoid overstretching smaller garments. Equipment upgrades like laser alignment systems are available as add-ons for today’s heat presses. These assist in positioning heat-applied graphics in challenging locations on the garment, such as around hems, zippers and cuffs.

Use Teflon-coated pad protectors that cover the press’s lower platen to make it easier to thread (split) a garment when heat printing lightweight fabrics. Threading the garment on the lower platen keeps the transfer inks and adhesives from penetrating through the garment to the back layer and sticking the fabric together.

“[We have] heat-transfer materials that are perfect for decorating ladieswear because they’re thin, stretchy and lightweight like the garment itself,” says Josh Ellsworth, general manager of Stahls’ CAD-CUT Direct. “Products like this are easy to cut and weed, and provide the detail needed for today’s trendy designs on ladies’ apparel.”

Speaking of Style
Women’s shirts with contrasting-color raglan sleeves are in style and it’s important to pick designs that won’t contrast with the sleeve colors. A raglan sleeve extends in one piece all the way to the collar, leaving a diagonal seam from the underarm to the collarbone. It is a popular look in ladies’ sportswear and performancewear.

Decorating heat-sensitive fabrics like moisture-wicking and polyester performancewear requires a heat transfer that is stretchy and has a low-melt application temperature in the 275˚F-300˚F range.

(Editor’s Note: Always follow your transfer supplier’s application instructions for heat printing performancewear.)

“Ladies’ styles have evolved over the years to feature more feminine and flattering cuts that still coordinate with men’s styles for a cohesive team look,” says Holly Rox, SanMar University trainer. “It’s not just about ‘shrinking and pinking’ styles to offer a ladies’ look, but about adding things like open plackets with decorative buttons and styling details.

“As for decoration options, the sky is the limit,” she adds. “Left-chest [designs] always are a popular option, and we’re also seeing more creativity where logos and designs are added along the wrist and back, on the shoulder and along the cuff.”

Glitter and bling transfers have exploded in popularity in recent years, especially in the teen market for cheerleading, dance and everyday fashion — and there’s no sign of a slowdown. Custom rhinestone designs are available from many manufacturers, or they can be made by using bulk rhinestones and design templates. There also are nail heads, studs and rhinestuds available for that unique look.

General application guidelines for rhinestones include a 325˚F heat press setting, firm pressure and a carrier sheet peeled cold.

Fashion Apparel

Ladies’ interlock polos made with pima cotton are top-of-the-line garments that are ideal for casual dress and corporate wear. Combed ring-spun cotton results from a process where the cotton yarn’s irregular pieces are combed away before it is spun into fabric, creating a super-soft feel in ladies’ apparel. It can be heat printed with all of the aforementioned transfer types.

Modal fabrics are commonly used in women’s apparel. Derived from a rayon synthetic fiber that is made by spinning cellulose, modal has an ultra-soft feel and is used in pajamas, towels and underwear. Flock and hot-split transfers are great for decorating this type of material.

Flock transfers are manufactured by the screen-printing process and can be heat applied to ladies’ apparel for an upscale look. CAD-CUT flock materials also are widely used to add a velvety feel to heat-printed designs.

Digital Transfer Details
Digital heat transfer options include sublimation and color laser copier (CLC) transfers, CAD-CUT materials and combination screen-printed/digital heat transfers.

There are many manufacturers of women’s apparel that sell 100% polyester garments specifically made for sublimation decoration, including T-shirts, jackets, socks and more. A general application for sublimating garments requires a 385˚F-400˚F heat press setting with firm pressure for 40 seconds.

CLC transfers are easy to make with a desktop laser printer and work on a variety of fashion fabrics, from 100% cotton to cotton/poly blends. The main advantage for using CLC heat transfers is with quick-turnaround jobs and short print runs.

Cover sheets are important to use when applying digital transfers. They act as a barrier between the heat element and garment during the heat-printing process. Cover sheets also can be used to keep the heat element clean when heat pressing colored polyester garments that can release dye.

Successful heat printing on today’s ladies’ apparel also requires a reliable heat press that accurately controls time, temperature and pressure. So if you’re laboring with an older heat press, maybe it’s time to upgrade.

Break your customers’ routine of ordering standard tees and introduce them to the wide variety of women’s apparel available in today’s marketplace to take your garment decoration business to new heights in 2016.

James Ortolani has more than 30 years’ of experience in the decorated apparel industry, specializing in hands-on direct screen-printing and heat-transfer production. He currently is research and development manager for Stahls’ Screen Print Group. For more information or to comment on this article, email James at