Fitness apparel continues to gain commercial popularity as American fashion standards relax and demand more options for comfort over rigid structure. Plenty of people wear fitness apparel even if they are not avid athletes. It’s fashionable to be seen as athletic and competitive. Another attraction to this type of apparel are the properties that can actually help in terms of comfort when physically exercising or working an outdoor job such as construction.
Fitness apparel is not just about how form fitting it is. Many examples of sportswear are marketed as such because the materials used in the construction have been altered with specialized treatments to have a desirable impact. Examples are moisture wicking, water-proofing, or even higher tech innovations like membranes that transport water through electroosmotic pumping of moisture, the concept from Hydro_Bot.
Fitness apparel is most commonly made from man-made fibers like Spandex, polyester, and rayon instead of organic materials like cotton, linen, silk, and wool. Synthetic fibers must go through a battery of syntheses to compile into the cloth’s final form while organic fibers require far less processing before being woven into cloth.
The processing of synthetic fibers is where it gets tricky, the composition is likely to consist of multiple types of fibers and this amalgamation can be a nightmare for printing. When accepting an order requested to be printed upon a material we’re not familiar with, we’ll do a series of test prints to assess if it’s feasible to fulfill the job.
While this operation is laborious and sometimes costly, it’s necessary to ensure the final print will look as the client is expecting and stand up over time without material colors bleeding into the print, peeling, or otherwise resulting in a subpar completed product.
Synthetic garments are particularly subject to frailties exposed by the application of heat which is necessary to cure ink in the application of the garment’s decoration. Heat can cause all types of problems as it impacts the structural integrity of the fabric. This can include turning stitching brittle, warping the fabric, color bleeding, and even melting if the heat isn’t carefully controlled.
Fitness apparel would hardly be called such if it wasn’t form fitting. To be form fitting, stretchiness is critical. Stretchiness causes issues in printing because expansion and contraction of a printed design can cause the decoration to crack. To combat this there are two schools of thought in the print industry. Print the garment in a stretched state or print with application of ink that’s been mixed with an additive to modify the ink’s composition.
Heat pressed vinyl is a prevalent solution since the vinyl itself offers stretch, but the complexity of the customer’s design also dictates whether this is a viable alternative. It’s typically fine for names and numbers which is quite common for custom fitness apparel orders but becomes problematic if it’s a 4 color intricate design with lots of detail.
The trend for custom team sports apparel frequently demands multiple placements of art around the garment beyond the traditional chest placement. These placements can include the back, sleeves, side, left chest, nape, and even the lower back or hem area. These alternative placements can be achieved in a variety of ways like heat transfers, traditional screen printing with customized platens specific to the job, and customized equipment. Since multiple placements require varying methods of decoration application, the costs associated are more than your typical screen print order.
Some specialty fitness apparel will feature unusual placements for stitching the garment together. Printing over seams is never an easy task because the seams interrupt the smooth application of ink to the fabric. There are a variety of ways to approach this. If you’re looking for a side print, a performance product constructed in a tubular fashion will be ideal since it has no seams other than the sleeves, collar, and hem. If your fitness apparel of choice has side seams, there is the possibility of imperfection in the print. We try to counterbalance this unevenness through the use of specially constructed trenches for the seams that lift up the fabric on both sides of the seam as much as possible to create an even surface. Some seams are tougher than others by virtue of how they are sewn. For example, a collar is constructed using more material than the bottom hem.
The best custom fitness apparel printers will require a test period and test products before committing to an unusual custom screen print job. As a customer, be aware that these tests can be costly and require a longer turnaround time than our customary 10-days. The product has to be shipped, analyzed, printed, and heat cured to conclude on the best print method for the product and the design requested.
As a society, we’re just starting to explore how science can influence textile production. At the University of California San Diego, they’ve created the basis for a material that not only allows heat to pass through the textile but actually passes the secondary source of heat from skin, infrared radiation. The invention could keep the wearer 4 degrees cooler than they normally would be cutting down on the consumption of electricity for air condition.
Material scientists at the the University of Massachusetts at Amherst are working on the application of electricity to textiles. Their hope is that one day they will be able to harness friction from movement into electricity that powers light or other electronics. Imagine going jogging at night and your performance jogging jacket is lighting the way for you!
With these types of discoveries and application of technology to clothing, the printed apparel industry will have to keep pace developing methods to further customize apparel in the future.