Creating core fashion basics that can be sublimated was the brief set by the Xpres team when developing its brand new, polyester-rich Vanilla range

“There is an acceptance and understanding from the consumer at large that polyester garments are now actually very good quality – they’re no longer these shiny, horrible things from the ‘70s,” laughs Ryan Hornbuckle, marketing director at Xpres, as he holds a garment from Vanilla, a new, polyester-rich range of fashion styles created by Xpres for the dye sublimation market. “Certainly retailers have grasped that to get a really vivid, detailed transfer, sublimation is a very good tool to use.”

Xpres has offered a sublimation T-shirt for a number of years now alongside all the dye sublimation equipment and consumables a decorator could need – there isn’t much the Xpres team doesn’t know about this market. “Looking around, we realised there was a gap for a set of fashion basics that have been designed for sublimation, so that’s what we set out to do,” explains Ryan. The teamcreated a list of themost popular fashion basics in cotton and set about adapting them for polyester-rich fabrics that have been optimised for sublimation printing.

“The garments are either 100% polyester or poly-rich, so 65% polyester/35% cotton, to get a really decent transfer,” he says. “If youwant to do a one-off, it’s so cheap to do it with dye sublimation, and now with the Vanilla range you can get a great retail-look.” A large, top-to-bottom front panel print costs around 65p (using the Epson F6200) in ink and paper, while small, pocketsize prints produced on an A4 sheet are around 10p (also using the Epson).

One of the hero products of the range is the Men’s Subli Pocket Tee (VAN105). “If you go on any of the big retailer websites, the number of pocket tees is staggering,” says Ryan. The Vanilla Pocket team has been cleverly designed so that while the T-shirt itself is 100% cotton, the pocket is 100% polyester. This allows decorators to either roughly mask round the pocket with the Vanilla app tape then dye sublimate, or they can simply put an A4 sub transfer over the pocket and surrounding area, print it and then wash it. Because the T-shirt is 100% cotton, the design won’t stick to the cotton, only the polyester pocket, creating a clean, crisp edged print.

The yoke is also polyester, which allows brands to print their own logo or design on the inside back neck. “It adds really nice value that will help brands command a premium when selling online or to retailers – it’s just a small touch that I think they’ll really appreciate,” says Ryan. “I think this T-shirt and the rest of the range is going to be huge; we’ve not seen anything else like it. If we’ve heard it once since launching, we’ve heard it a hundred times: ‘We’ve been waiting for something like this for years.’”

Another key product is the White Panel Tee (VAN103), which Ryan believes is also set to be a standout style. It has a 100% polyester panel at the front with the rest of the tee constructed from a 65% polyester/35% cotton. “It’s essentially a blank T-shirt that you can print full colour from top to bottom, and again is big in retail.” It also helps to get round the problem where dye sublimation prints are used across an entire polyester T-shirt – this approach often leaves white marks where the material creases, particularly in areas such as where the sleeves join the main body of the T-shirt.

Vanilla’s baseball tees have a raglan design and are offered in two different styles: the men’s (VAN104) is made from 180gsm, 100% polyester and is slim-fit with long sleeves, while the women’s style (VAN503) has 3/4 length sleeves, a wider neckline and curved hem, and is made from 160gsm 65% polyester/35% cotton. “We felt the drape and shape of the ladies’ style with the curved hem was better with some cotton in it,” Ryan explains.

The 65/35 Tee (VAN102 for men, VAN502 for women) is, as the name suggests, a 65% polyester/35% cotton style that comes in white, silver melange and light blue, with pink melange available in the women’s style only. “65% polyester/35% cotton is as low as we’re comfortable with and gives a terrific, muted look that is great for vintage logos and music merchandise, that sort of thing,” Ryan says.

The Raglan Hoodie (VAN201) is made from 250gsm 65% polyester/35% cotton and comes in a choice of white and silver melange colours. The new hoodie, along with the brand’s 65/35 Raglan Sweatshirts (VAN200, women’s style VAN600), offers decorators and their customers the flexibility in styles that is required when creating a comprehensive fashion brand. The sweats can be teamed with the Men’s Jogger (VAN300) and Women’s Short (VAN701), which are both made from the same 250gsm polycotton fabric.

The range is rounded off with the Subli Vest (VAN100, women’s VAN500) and the Subli Tee (VAN101, women’s VAN501), both made from a 180gsm, white 100% polyester and perfect for all-over prints. And, like all the Vanilla garments, they come with a sticker on the back neck rather than a label of any sort, making them quick and easy to personalise.

Dye sublimation not only produces sharp, detailed images, it also provides a relatively cheap introduction to the decoration market. A sublimation printer costs a few hundred pounds, explains Ryan, as does a heat press – add in a computer and some inks and papers and you’re ready to go. And now, with the launch of Vanilla, there are even more markets to target. “Decorators are no longer constrained by their system. Whereas in the past it was just white polyester, that’s no longer true. There is a full range of products you can personalise with dye sublimation, including, now, a complete range of premium fashion basics.”


The Men’s Subli Pocket Tee (VAN105) from Vanilla is a 100% cotton tee with a 100% polyester pocket and yoke. George Burrows, sales development executive from Xpres, runs through how to dye sublimation print this popular retail style in a few simple steps.

Step 1 – Cut out the transfer application tape to fit round the pocket and the yoke. Vanilla Application Tape comes in 15cm or 30cm widths for use with the fashion styles

Step 2 – Print the designs on to Xpres SubliPrint Premium paper using the Sawgrass SG800 Virtuoso A3 printer

Step 3 – Lay the transfer over the pocket

Step 4 – Cover the dye-sub transfer and T-shirt with a Silicone Application Sheet, and press at 200°C for 50 seconds on the Adkins Beta Swing 20’’ x 15’’ press

Step 5 – Remove the transfer paper to reveal the perfectly executed back neck print

Step 6 – Next, turn the T-shirt inside out and lay the transfer over the yoke

Step 7 – Again, cover the transfer and T-shirt with a Silicone Application Sheet then heat press at 200°C for 50 seconds

Step 8 – Remove the transfer paper to reveal the perfectly executed back neck print

Step 9 – The final decorated garment with vibrant chest pocket and back neck sublimation prints

Good looks – and good values

The Bangladesh factory where the new Vanilla range is manufactured is an extraordinary place, reports product manager Clare Dwyer. “As brands, we have a responsibility to seek out factories that share our social and environmental ethics, and be prepared to pay a fair price for garments. In my 20 years in the industry, it is the best factory I have ever seen. It sets the standard of what can be achieved in terms of social and environmental responsibility.

“The directors are committed to fair and ethical trading, be that in the progressive management of their workforce or the sustainable production of its garments. They understand that committed, trained staff are key to producing quality product therefore only employ educated adults, insisting on a skilled workforce, and provide an intensive training programme – this allows the operatives to command a higher wage in the industry.

“Staff can take advantage of free medical care with the onsite doctor and nursing team, and hot meals. On-site childcare is also provided.

“They are relentless in their pursuit of enriching ethical and sustainable production and are building their future projects with a goal of setting the standard for socially and environmentally responsible manufacturing worldwide.”