Athletic Wear Printing The content of this article is an excerpt from the ASPA training course The Secrets of Printing T-Shirts and How to Make Big Money!
ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO SELL “TEAM” WEAR?
If you are one of the many people who enjoy sports and think that getting into the screen printing business to print athletic apparel will be a great way to make money, let's discuss some of the realities first. Sure, there is money to be made printing team wear and athletic jerseys, but you are usually going to be dealing with a type of customer who is usually less than ideal.
You will find that most team shirt orders are usually small and complicated involving personalized names and numbers with each shirt having to be a specific size for each player. Printing team wear for leagues, school teams, and other organized sports groups often involves a certain amount of politics often making it difficult to land orders if you are an outsider.
There are specially formulated plastisol inks that are made for the purpose of athletic printing. You will find these inks are typically very thick and will require two things: a thorough mixing before use and storage at a temperature of 72 degrees or above. If your shop is located in a cold weather zone, be sure to keep your inks in a location where they will be warm the day before the job is to be printed.
For most “t-shirt-based team wear,” it has been our experience that using general purpose and/or super opaque plastisol inks work just fine. It is our recommendation that you purchase a few quarts of athletic plastisol ink to see if it is even needed for your “team wear” applications.
LETTERING AND NUMBERING
You have a couple options for applying custom names and numbers to athletic wear. The options available to you are discussed below.
PURCHASING CUSTOM NAMES & NUMBERS FROM A VENDOR
The easiest solution of garment personalization is to outsource your custom names and numbers needs to one of many vendors who specialize in that service. All you need to do is send them a list of the names and numbers and they will send you back custom transfers that are ready to apply with a heat press. The cost is very reasonable.
If you are operating a small shop, you will find that this is the most cost effective and time efficient way to go. Most vendors that offer custom names and numbers usually create the names with a computer cad cutter using special heat applied vinyl that is durable and will adhere to the garment very well. Player numbers can either be vinyl or most often cold peel plastisol transfers coated with a powdered crystal adhesive so they will transfer and adhere properly.
Also consider purchasing ready made stock numbers. They are available in many colors and fonts. They make numbering shirts easy and very cost effective. Ready made numbers are available in single or multi color.
CAD-CUT VINYL LETTERS AND NUMBERS
If you are the “do it yourself type,” consider buying your own cad-cutting machine and you can cut the names and numbers as needed. You will need to keep in stock a certain amount of vinyl for this purpose. However you will find that in the long run, you will save money by doing it yourself. One advantage of doing it yourself is you can turn the order around very quickly and this is important for landing highly profitable rush orders. Having your own cad cutter can also open up new opportunities for your shop, as you will also be able to create custom signs and banners with your machine.
Although they are getting harder to find, there are still a few manufacturers who make paper stencils that will allow you to direct screen print numbers on apparel. The better quality paper stencils are usually made of a heavy gauge “parchment” paper that can be used over and over again if you handle them carefully. Using paper stencils is easy. All you need is a screen that has been taped off around the edges leaving a large open area.
Place the paper stencil on the garment and with the screen filed with ink, lower the screen, pull the squeegee and you have a custom printed number. Once the number has been printed, simply peel the paper stencil from the bottom of the screen send it through the dryer and it is ready for reuse. Paper stencils are a viable solution only if you anticipate doing a decent volume of custom shirt numbering.
One advantage to using paper stencils is that the ink that you use for the numbering will match the color that you printed for the team's name or logo. The ink used in the numbering system is the same plastisol ink that you would use on the front of the shirts. Moreover, because the numbers have been directly printing onto the garment there is no chance that the ink will come off when laundered.
MAKING YOUR OWN HOT SPLIT AND COLD PEEL NAMES & NUMBERS
A cost effective, but not exactly a time saving solution is to custom print your own cold peel or hot split transfers for names and numbers. The method for producing hot split and cold peel transfers is covered in another tutorial, however we will go over the basic concept here.
Cold peel transfers are typically applied to dark garments where you want a complete ink deposit to achieve an complete opacity.
Hot split transfers are usually applied to light and pastel colored garments and are peeled hot to produce a soft handed, direct screen printed look. Printing custom team names is easy, but time consuming. All you need is a bunch of coated screens with the players names all ganged together so you can burn as many names as possible on one screen. Simply print the transfers and apply with a heat press and you're done.
If you want to create custom transfers for player numbers, be prepared to burn at least (10) screens to cover all of the number combinations. As you can imagine, you will have many ink color changes if your intention is to create a stock pile for future use. It is this authors recommendation that for numbering, there are better solutions. Namely, purchasing ready made stock numbers from a specialist–they are very low in cost.
If you anticipate doing a large volume of custom athletic jerseys you may want to consider purchasing special equipment just for that purpose. There are screen printing frames and presses made just to print numbers. You will find that these machines can be a cost effective and time saving solution if you are doing a large volume of custom numbered jerseys.
PRINTING ON SPECIAL MATERIAL SPORTS GARMENTS
Not only will you be asked to print the usual softball, volleyball, baseball t-shirts and more, but your customer may come to you and ask if you are able to print mesh jerseys, hockey shirts, nylon, spandex and other types of special material. This author's recommendation is never take on a print job on material that you are unfamiliar with. Many types of apparel including nylon, require specially formulated inks. It is recommended that you experiment and test before committing to any job.
Many times, customers may bring you shirts that they have purchased elsewhere and ask you to print them. They may be expensive athletic jerseys that will be very costly for you to replace if you ruin them because they were printed improperly. It is tempting to take on what you think may be “easy print job,” but think carefully before delving into uncharted waters.
Because of the numerous types of ink formulations that are available for printing special material, we recommend that you always consult with a knowledgeable ink vendor to obtain as much information as possible before committing to any print job that will require special inks.