‘Fashion is comfortability’ is no longer a myth but a 100 per cent grammatically correct buzzword of today, as it is a perfect concoction of comfort, fashion essence and performance.
Fitting seamlessly into consumers’ fast paced lifestyle, athleisure apparel brings on board qualities like quick drying, odour resistance, moisture wicking and durability. Apart from this, prints are an essential process for such apparels and the demand of different prints from the consumers is certainly rising. Since T-shirts have always remained at the centre of sportswear as well as they can be worn in daily routine as well, it’s not an exaggeration to say that the trend of athleisure is inspired from T-shirts. However, not just digital or screen printing which are the key applications on T-shirts, the various heat transfer and sublimation applications are also shaping up the athleisure apparels which have gone beyond just T-shirts to yoga pants, track pants, tops and more. It is also believed that the US market is the largest market in the world for athleisure apparels with US $ 48 billion revenues in 2018. We got in touch with Katherine Schildmeyer, Founder, KS Apparel Design and Consulting, USA to find the newest trends in heat transfer and sublimation for this.
AR: What are the new trends in sublimation and heat transfer applications particularly for athleisure?
Katy: Poly clear gloss sublimation printing is an emerging application. Heat setting with this method can add texture to the item, or change its dimensions. Metallic and foils are also big trends going forward into F/W 2021. Foiling can be applied via the sublimation heat setting process. There are also new foil inks that can be used and applied to heat set papers. Fusing the foil to fabric is the process. Apart from this, gradients are also becoming popular. The Terez balayage legging sold at Carbon 38 (a high-fashion activewear and ready-to-wear brand) is a perfect example of two of the processes being used.
AR: What technologies are available in the market which are strengthening these trends and making them sustainable for the long term?
Katy: The DTG or direct-to-fabric is allowing companies like KORNIT to expand in colour ranges that designers have struggled to reach in dye sub-paper process. The colour gamut and flesh tones are even greater than before. The advantage of a direct-to-fabric or garment print is better saturation into fibres. The direct-to-garment can also have a white feature added. A company that uses a dark background or fabric can still achieve white. The process of direct-to-fabric or garment is expensive. The dye sublimation is still a great option especially for adding dimensional qualities, as well as speed to the process. However, if the customer is in need of colour values that are brighter or have flesh tones, the DTG is better. Direct-to-garment or fabric process may be more sustainable in the long term as the paper factor is removed from the process. It is also friendlier in the workplace as the machines do not run as hot as the older dye sub-presses. They also consume less energy.
AR: What are the challenges these applications have and what impact they make on the garments if not performed correctly?
Katy: The direct-to-garment print has to be aligned to specs; if the fabric has a slight torque or angle is wrong when fed into the machine, the outcome will be skewed. The materials also should be prepped to retain ink as you would in dye sublimation. The fabric pre-prep is always the biggest concern for both dye sub and DTG. When the pre-treat is not added, the colour can wash away quicker than anticipated, colour value can be skewed, and lastly consistency of colour can be poor.
AR: How important temperature and pressure are for heat transfer or sublimation?
Katy: Heating conditions are always essential for both dye sublimation and DTG process. The pre-treat stations are being made more user-friendly and mobile for both small and large operations. For the DTG, the pressure is controlled by the printer. The pressure is either controlled by the operator or the machine specs in a dye sub-press. It just depends on how old the press is or on the specs of the fabric put into the machine for both heat and pressure.