Erich Campbell explains how to combine photographic images with glitter film for an appliqué that shines out

We’ve all created designs using sequins, rhinestones and metallic threads, however glitter flake film creates show-stopping glamour with far less labour and equipment, especially when using the simple tear-away appliqué process. Add to this sublimation’s ability to reproduce full-colour photographic images, and it opens up a world of decorating opportunity.

Required tools: Embroidery machine, heat press, Teflon sheets, paper sheets, sublimation transfers and white glitter flake film.

In-house transfer production requires a sublimation-capable printer, but some vendors offer transfers made from your art, meaning that shops can try the process with just a minor investment in transfers and film. Working with distributors is a great way to produce samples before you can justify purchasing a printer.

Case Study: #ABQ

Design: To celebrate my hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico, I created a social media friendly #ABQ design. Since one sublimates the film rather than the garment, I could select any garment colour and fibre content, so I went for black, high-content cotton for one garment, and a metallic-infused knit on the other.

I selected a compressed sans-serif typeface to maximise the area of the glitter-flake material. This process can be done with stock border or appliqué designs – I just couldn’t resist creating a custom piece.

Digitising: I plotted a straight stitch placement line just inside the edge of the full design area, creating a frame-out position to allow me to place the glitter flake film easily. I then digitised my outlines in satin stitch, using a density just higher than standard coverage to ensure clean perforation.

Image preparation and printing: Next, I selected three photographs to sum up Albuquerque: The mass ascension of hot air balloons at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta; the Sandia Mountains that dominate our skyline; and red and green chillies. Chilli is our state vegetable and so many New Mexicans hear ‘Red or green?’ when ordering food several times a week, making it a frequent topic of debate.

Images with a resolution of 300 dpi at the finished size will do very well, but due to the slightly textured look of glitter flake, the image quality is less critical than with other substrates.

Glitter flake’s reflectiveness can make colours look faded. To ensure a vibrant print, I adjusted the levels on each image to slightly over-saturate the colours, deepen shadows and increase contrast. Ganging the images on a single sheet for efficiency, I printed my transfers using colour settings specified by my dye manufacturer.

On the press: After heating my press to the recommended settings for my dyes, I peeled the white glitter flake material from the carrier, laying it glitter-side-up on a Teflon sheet. The reason this process works is that the glitter is a polyester material that will accept the sublimation dyes. I placed it on the bottom platen, covering it with a protective sheet of paper. I pressed for one second, tacking the material to the Teflon which protects the film’s adhesive during the sublimation process.

I placed a fresh sheet of protective paper on the bottom platen, followed by one of my sublimation transfers, printed side up. I laid the film, glitter down, atop the sublimation transfer, completely covering the print area. I then placed another protective sheet of paper atop the back of the adhered Teflon. It seems like overkill, but sublimators know that these sheets prevent you accidentally transferring dye to your platen, and thus transferring it again to your next garment. I then pressed everything at the temperature and for the duration recommended for my sublimation inks, quickly removing the glitter flake from the transfer afterwards.

Erich with the finished garment, decorated using a combination of sublimation transfer printing, glitter flake film and embroidery. The design comprises 322.5 sq cm of glitter flake and 12,000 stitches

At the embroidery machine: I brought the cooled, sublimated sheet to the machine still tacked to the Teflon sheet. The film is hard to handle unsupported, so I waited to peel until ready for placement.

I hooped the sweatshirts, ran the placement line, peeled the film from the Teflon, and lightly misted the back with embroidery spray adhesive. After running the placement line, I laid the material carefully over the entire design area, making sure not to leave any rippling or bubbling, and proceeded to the colour change containing the top stitching.

With stitching completed, I tore away any excess material. Where access was tight, I used a fine-tipped tweezer. I then unhooped the design, leaving the stabiliser intact.

Final pressing: I set the press to the lower temperature and duration recommended for adhering the glitter flake to the garment, placed the garment on the platen with a small foam pad under the image area, covered with a paper sheet, and pressed the decoration for permanent adhesion.

This project surprised me: 50 sq. inches (332.5 sq cm) of glitter flake and 12,000 stitches of single-colour embroidery competed favourably with fully-embroidered front pieces from my portfolio. The benefits of sublimated images on cotton, digital customisation, and simple application have me seeing a sparkling future for sublimated glitter flake appliqué. Rarely has a combination of simple, low-effort techniques provided such an increase to a product’s perceived value.

The process at a glance

  • Separate the film from the carrier and tack it to a non-stick Teflon sheet
  • Press the sublimation transfer on the exposed glitter flake and let the material cool
  • Hoop your garment and run your placement line on the first colour change
  • Lay your printed glitter flake material over the design area, securing it with a light spritz of spray adhesive, entirely covering your placement line
  • Stitch any overlying design elements and the border of the design, perforating the material
  • Tear away excess material
  • Unhoop the garment and press the design to adhere the glitter flake material permanently

1. In these mock-ups, I clipped the source images for sublimation with the vector designs I created for digitizing. This is great for visualising the final prints, but don’t clip the images when creating your sublimation artwork – instead, make sure your eventual transfer size is larger than the outside border of your embroidery design to ensure full coverage inside the final borders. [Image courtesy of the author.]

2. Once your glitter flake is removed from the carrier, press the glitter flake to the protective Teflon sheet with the glitter side away from the sheet. This will tack it to the Teflon sheet protecting the adhesive so it can be used in the final step of adhering the glitter flake to the garment. [Photo courtesy of Celeste Schwartz.]

3. Sometimes the sublimated transfers can look washed out or weak, but the final colour can’t be seen until the transfer is pressed. In your first tests, be sure to have extra glitter flake material to test your own transfers if you’ve decided to create them in-house, and refer to your sublimation system documentation for more about colour control. [Photo courtesy of Celeste Schwartz.]

4. Place the material over the placement lines, checking the edges carefully to ensure coverage. I decided to flip the material from my original design so that the red chilli appears on the left to echo the order of the classic question heard by all New Mexican diners, ‘Red or green?’ [Photo courtesy of Celeste Schwartz.]

5. These shots are taken just before the inner elements of each letter were stitched to finish the embroidery portion of the design. As you can see with the balloon fiesta design, I wasn’t as careful to allow for a full bleed as I should have been, and I very nearly missed the coverage area; this should serve as a lesson to others – make sure you have plenty of bleed room. [Photo courtesy of Celeste Schwartz.]

6. The end result: A vibrant, impactful design [Photo courtesy of Celeste Schwartz.]

Erich Campbell is an award-winning digitiser, embroidery columnist and educator, with 18 years’ experience both in production and the management of e-commerce properties. He is the partner relationship manager for DecoNetwork in the USA.