Summer is just around the corner. You know what that means? Summer sports. Team sports offer screen printers a unique opportunity to develop a real niche in athletic printing. Landing repeat business means getting a consistent print that players and fans feel great about wearing.
How do you do it? Printing expert Colin Huggins explains three methods to apply numbers to a jersey.
METHOD 1: NUMBER STENCILS
Stencils are made of die-cut paper, placed directly on the garment. To use them, first burn a screen with a square space to fit the sizing of the number stencils. Place whichever stencil you want to use in the space, and you’re good to go. This allows the stencil to create the number on the garment.
It’s the most economical method. You don’t need to burn a bunch of screens with numbers on them. The stencils are easy to switch out, and you can place them anywhere you need.
Placing each stencil on the garment can slow you down and hamper consistency. If you don’t place the stencil in exactly the same spot every time, your numbers will look off. You’re limited to your own speed and consistency.
Take the extra time to align the stencil carefully for a precise print. It’s better to take a spend more time and do it right than to rush through it and ruin some garments.
METHOD 2: TRANSFERS
Transfers are a straightforward process using a heat press and pre-created numbers. They are very common. There are two main types: vinyl and plastisol transfers. You can custom make your own, or buy them from somewhere else.
Place the transfer on the garment, line it up, and heat press it. Follow manufacturers’ recommendations. If you don’t have a heat press, you should definitely consider investing in one. It’s a versatile piece of equipment.
THREE WAYS OF DOING TRANSFER NUMBERS:
Since transfers are so popular, there are many ways to create a crisp, clean look. Colin outlines three.
1: VINYL CUTTER/PLOTTER
You can create vinyl stencils on your own with a vinyl cutter like a Cricut or the Roland Vinyl Cutter. This is a straightforward process, but it’s limited to relatively simple designs. You can buy a starter kit for creating your own vinyl transfers. If you’re not feeling up to the task, consider buying pre-made numbers from a manufacturer like Stahls.
2: PLASTISOL TRANSFER
Plastisol transfers are created by printing plastisol ink onto transfer paper, gelling the ink, and heat pressing it onto a garment. These are pretty easy to create, as long as you have a conveyor dryer to evenly distribute heat. You can also purchase pre-made plastisol transfers.
3: SOLVENT PRINTER AND VINYL PLOTTER/CUTTER
This method is the most complicated, but allows you to be very creative. With a solvent printer, you can create designs on top of the letters you cut. Want the American flag or a picture of Grandma on top of your jersey numbers? You can do that. Your creativity is the limit. And, you guessed it, these types of numbers can also be purchased.
Transfer numbers are so popular because of their versatility and convenience. Though they can be more time consuming to produce if you’re making them yourself, transfer numbers are quick to apply to a garment. They are also highly customizable. Your creativity and equipment are the only factors that may curb the possibilities.
Photo by Salt & Pine Co.
If you plan to use transfers, you’ll need to get your hands on a heat press. A heat press is a good investment anyway. It’s a versatile piece of equipment that you won’t regret having in your shop. Transfers can also be time consuming to produce. Depending on your setup, ordering pre-made transfers might be a better option for you.
Remember when the numbers fell off your favorite jersey? That’s another drawback to using vinyl transfers. Do your research and test your product before applying it to high-contact sports apparel.
It’s extremely important to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.You'll get the best results if you use the correct products and follow the instructions. Also, you should peel the transfer paper carefully. If you pull it too fast, you’ll pull the ink off the garment with the paper.
METHOD 3: SCREEN PRINTING NUMBER SYSTEM
If athletic printing comprises the bulk of your orders, a registered number system is the best choice for you. It allows you to consecutively print 1-2 color numbers in registration while in screen printing format. There are many different types of lettering systems.
Using a screen printing number system gives you the best quality numbers. If you’re making a lot of athletic garments, this system will be more cost-effective per print than a heat transfer or number stencil. Because the number system is already created and registered, production time is faster.
Purchasing a screen printing number system is an investment. If you don’t plan to make athletic printing part of your shop routine, it might not be worth the money. If athletic printing is your lifeblood, this investment will soon pay for itself.
Registered number systems are more accurate and consistent than transfers or stencils, but you can still have alignment issues. If something is a little off, your whole print can get ruined. Make sure you dial in the system before use.
Printing numbers for athletic wear doesn’t have to be a hassle. With a little precision, patience, and creativity, you can create amazing jerseys that last the whole season.