Want to ignite some sales for your apparel company? Marshall Atkinson suggests that one tried and true method is to go beyond using a single production method

Stuck in a design rut? It’s time to get your special effects creative brain churning. When you stop and think about all the fantastic decoration methods that we have available to use, why stop at just one? Combining different decoration techniques is straightforward and will set you apart from your competitors.

First, take stock. What are you currently handling in your shop? For most decorators they may have one or two methods: Maybe embroidery with a digital print application, or a screen printing press with a heat press.

Got more than that? Awesome! But if you don’t that’s okay. Let’s say you want to do some embroidery as part of a mixed media piece, but don’t have that equipment. There are contract shops out there that can help. Use your social media connections, or simply just look up a company close by. Maybe you can partner with them and trade services to get a lower rate? It never hurts to ask.
There are some considerations to review before getting too deep into design mode. With a mixed media piece the garment will have to be produced one step at a time. When you are designing, be sure to take that into consideration.

X marks the spot

How will the different production applications line-up so they fit with good registration? For example, if you were to screen print a background texture or design and then embroider something on top, how will the embroiderer know to hoop the image so it lines up correctly with the screen print? In this example, embroidery uses a centre mark to denote a home position to start the work. To figure that out, you may need to print some paper copies of the design and show them to the embroiderer to work out a plan.

Make it easy. If you are embroidering on top of the print you could simply print a small “x” that denotes that centre point for the needle to start.

Similarly, if you are applying a small heat-applied transfer, or even a patch, print a circle, square or other shape a bit smaller than the real item. It will make it simpler for the next person in the production process to know where to place their work and get going on their task. The print is going to be covered up, so the end user will never know.

This is a mixed media piece produced by Graphic Elephants. It features FX screen print, registered foil and rhinestone transfer processes © www.graphicelephants.com


Going for bling? One popular retail trick is to apply rhinestones to a garment to add some Wow! factor. And it’s not just crystal rhinestones: you can use rhinestuds, nailheads and metallic shapes to spice up your apparel line for girls and guys. These can be sourced as heat transfers and come on a carrier sheet. Just apply over your decorated garment, press, peel off the sheet and voila! Instant mixed media awesomeness.

Another great trick to use is to print your own fabric panels for appliqué. These can have simple patterns, textures or full-fledged designs printed on them. Use a digital printer or screen printing. These panels can then be sewn onto other garments just like traditional appliqué fabrics, but now they are incredibly customised or even personalised.

Imagine the fun and new ideas you can generate just with this idea alone. Got a brand? Tonal print a pattern of the logo onto some scrap fabric. Sew it onto another garment in a shape, or cut it out into a word.

Appliqué will always reduce the overall stitch count, and allows the special effect graphic to be more cost-effective. Usually there are three steps involved when producing an appliqué design: the appliqué fabric is sprayed or coated with some adhesive to keep it in place during the run; a running stitch sews down an outline for material positioning; then the machine is stopped, the appliqué is hooped and the border stitch is sewn around the circumference of the appliqué shape. This technique takes some practice, but it’s worthwhile when you get the hang of it.

Embroidery adds pizazz

Special effects embroidery, when combined with other decoration methods, adds some distinctive flair for corporate, retail, streetwear or fashion brands.

Doing something different gives the customer an alternative to just basic prints or placements. For embroidery, the uniqueness is added when texture or dimension is worked into the design scheme.
Puff foam embroidery is common on hats, it’s the 3D look you see everywhere. What about if you added a reflective ink pattern or textural design to the hat before the embroidery is run? That could set up interplay between the hat and the dimensional 3D foam embroidery.

You could also think about what type of stitches might make an impact, or the density of the stitch count. Even the direction of the stitches can have a marked effect, as the light will hit them differently from multiple angles.

Eye Kandy Designs created this with black sparkle vinyl on the bottom and white sparkle vinyl on top. The white vinyl was printed on using a Roland VersaCamm printer and Eco-Sol Max 2 ink before the appliqué pieces were cut out and embroidered on to the jacket with a Melco Amaya XTS embroidery machine © www.eyekandydesigns.com


Can the additional decoration type work itself into that thinking? Imagine if the stitch direction was mirrored by a screen-print underneath with a texture that radiated out along the same lines. There are endless possibilities to be creative and raise the perceived value of your decorated products.

While sometimes relegated to second class production citizen, your heat press is a great ally in the mixed media process. For example, you can print with all water-based inks, except for one spot colour. By using metallic foil and your heat press you can apply the foil to the spot colour areas. You could also add a textural pattern by simply crinkling up some aluminium foil or using a non-heat sensitive rubber sheet. Bumps, holes and any distinctive pattern will magically appear in the foil when subjected to heat and pressure. Experiment with different things you have around the shop and see what works best. Here’s where experimentation can pay off.

Pro tip: You are going to fail. Give yourself permission to screw it up; that’s how you’ll learn. Maybe you did one thing perfectly, but the registration was off when you added the second decoration element. Take stock and determine what you could do to tweak the production steps to align things properly for the next try.

Make sure you keep careful notes, and plan. One of the best quotes for production, believe it or not, was from Abraham Lincoln: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

Bring your team in and collaborate. What will make it better? What will make it easier to produce? How you are solving the problem matters, but if something doesn’t work, don’t start the finger-pointing game. Learn from it. Adjust. Move on.

Tell everyone about it

The final step in the mixed media craze is going to be to shout from the mountain tops that you have mastered the technique. Other shops aren’t doing what you are doing, so it is a market differentiator. It shouldn’t be a secret.

Create a video showing it in production. Blow up your Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest feeds with images. Write a blog article or share it in your newsletter. For more targeted customer marketing, prepare a sample and ship it to them.

Remember, the worst thing you can do with a creative idea is never to act on it. Do something wild! Do something weird! If someone says “You can’t do that”, that’s your ticket to prove them wrong. Just start. Get mixing!

Marshall Atkinson is the Professional Services director for InkSoft (www.InkSoft.com), and program owner for the new InkSoft Production Manager software. In his Professional Services capacity, Marshall provides coaching to shops on operational efficiency, continuous improvement and workflow strategy, business planning and strategy, employee motivation and management and sustainability.