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  Value-Added Services: Heat Transfers
Heat Transfers | Screen Printing | Dyeing | Washing | Embroidery

Heat transfers are not what they used to be. Today's technologies have improved heat transfer quality and processes to the point that they can rival screen printing. Are heat transfers for you? The following may help you decide.

Getting Started
As with all manufacturing processes, the quality of your final product is only as good as the sum of its raw materials. In heat transfer printing the most critical raw material is the prepared-for-printing (PFP) or prepared-for-garment dyeing (PFGD) garment. Both preparation processes will give you a suitable substrate (base). Proper fabric preparation is essential, as the heat transfer printing process can cause "yellowing" on improperly finished fabric. Prior to any printing, your transfer printer should run tests on the product you plan to use and alert you to any possible fabric issues.

If you are printing on dyed garments, the amount of coverage and "grin through" may vary. Make sure to supply your transfer manufacturer with garments in all colors to be printed. The printer will then formulate inks for the best possible all-around coverage.

Heat transfer manufacturers all have different minimums. Make sure you understand the minimums and how many dozens they represent. Initially there are "setup" and "art" charges for developing the transfers. Make sure you understand these charges and factor them into your costs and pricing. Heat transfer manufacturers can develop your artwork from many different starting points. The method that leaves the smallest margin for error is for you to provide "camera-ready" artwork to the transfer manufacturer. Many types of "camera-ready" artwork are not appropriate for heat transfer printing. Your transfer manufacturer can tell you the specifics (i.e., dots/inch, separation types, etc.) of what is needed.

The success your transfer manufacturer has in matching your color standards is directly related to the difficulty in formulating and processing your colors. The more "custom" your colors are, the greater the likelihood of difficulty in continually matching those colors. The simplest way to avoid these problems is to pick "process colors." These are standard color formulates with a proven track record. Your transfer manufacturer can supply you with a chart of available process colors. Whether using process or custom colors, be sure to ask for samples, on your product. Check not only for correct color match, but also for even coverage and suitable hand (feel of the product).

Once you have approved the color standard from the heat transfer manufacturer it is imperative that you and the supplier agree on how much variation from standard you will accept. Many heat transfer manufacturers (like garment dyers) use the term "commercially acceptable match" to describe what you may see as unacceptable. Make sure that you understand what your transfer manufacturer means by "commercially acceptable," and make sure the transfer manufacturer understands what is and is not acceptable to you. Always keep samples of "approved colors and artwork" for future reference. They can be of immense value if and when a dispute occurs. The heat transfer process does not generally allow for color blending and/or fading from one color to another. Color separation tends to be very distinct.

If the application of your transfers is going to be done by your transfer supplier or a contract transfer shop, make sure to provide them with a detailed sketch of the garment to be printed and the correct print placement. Agree as to your tolerances concerning placement. Make sure your print size is appropriate to the garment sizes you are printing (most transfer suppliers can enlarge and reduce your artwork as needed). Make sure to see samples of the resized artwork on the corresponding garments.

If your transfers will be applied by an outside contractor and/or your print run involves more than one design or design size, you can expedite the process and increase accuracy by "pre-lotting" your shipment to the contractor. Talk to your contractor and find out if packing garments by color, size, or print to be applied will be helpful.

Many times there can be discrepancies in the final "count" of your garments. Be certain that all garments shipped to the contractor are counted and documented. Explain to your contractor that you expect inventories to be kept accurate and that shortages must be reported in a timely fashion. If your print is trademarked or copyright-protected, will the transfer manufacturer and/or contractor comply with the required rules and procedures? Check for licensing agreement and be sure you understand the "legalese." Communicate the specifics to your supplier and obtain any required signatures prior to turning over the artwork. Ask your contractor what garments they will use for setting up the equipment. Do they have scrap fabric or shirts to use or do they use your stock? How many will they need? How will this affect your inventory?

Dimensional Change
When using fabrics that are not "preshrunk" some shrinkage may occur due to handling and heat. Check your printed samples' dimensions to be sure they comply with your specifications. Printing on stripes and other horizontal repeating patterns requires extra planning and handling. Misapplication of the print or improper positioning of the garment may cause negative results such as curving or bowing, causing the print to seem misaligned.

As with any manufacturing process, there will always be some substandard merchandise produced. Find out what the transfer manufacturer's and contractor's average print reject rate is. Agree on a rate above which the manufacturer or contractor will be financially responsible for ruined product. Remember to cost rejects into your product's price. Many heat transfer contractors handle garment inspection and classification differently. Some inspect for print quality and placement only. Some also inspect for gross garment defects. Make sure you understand how your production will be inspected and sorted. If you are asking for extra or special services, there will probably be an added fee. Know your costs up front.

If you have specific inspection classifications, supply that information, in writing, to the contractor. Give them photos or samples of the different defects you want identified. Check the first few lots of printed product to verify the contractor's compliance. Give specific written instructions on the disposition of irregular and substandard merchandise. You may want it held for future shipment or shipped to a different location than the first quality garments. There are other services related to finishing that some heat transfer printers will provide. These may include sorting (by size, color, etc.), special packaging, pressing, steam tunneling, hanging, and tagging. Your contractor may provide other services that may be of value to you. Ask your contractor for what you need and remember to settle on price prior to commencing production.

Other Thoughts
When choosing a transfer manufacturer here are some other considerations that may be helpful:
  • Will the transfer supplier provide samples prior to production? How many samples will they provide and what are the costs?
  • How far do the transfer manufacturer's art development capabilities go? Does the transfer manufacturer send art out to independent services? How long does it take to get the art processed and a sample produced?
  • What is the transfer supplier's range of colors? Can the transfer supplier match anything or are you limited to certain specific color ranges?
  • What does the transfer manufacturer's shop look like? Is it the kind of place that instills confidence in the transfer manufacturer's capabilities? What is the transfer manufacturer's average production cycle time? Is there a slow and busy time of year?
  • Is there one individual at the transfer manufacturer who will be responsible for communication regarding your account? Who should you talk to if your primary contact is unavailable?
Many people buy transfers and apply them themselves. Basic heat transfer presses are reasonably priced and easy to operate. There are many benefits to applying the transfers yourself:
  • You can apply only what you need when you need it.
  • You can control quality and placement with more ease.
  • No production minimums to worry about.
  • You have better control over scheduling.
  • No waiting in line for a contract shop to "fit you in."
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