By Geoff Thorne, managing director, Jester Prints
Congratulations to Printwear & Promotion magazine on its 30th anniversary year!
As part of their nostalgic look back over the past 30 years of textile printing, I’m flattered that they asked for an older gentleman’s recollection of his journey of making transfers with Jester Prints from its inception to date.
Some of my recollections may be slightly incorrect in one way or another, because it was a long time ago and memories often play tricks on one’s mind!
Newcomers finding their feet in transfer production today would almost certainly come into it via digital technology and may never have to coat a screen or pick up a squeegee for their whole career.
So completely the opposite to how I, and any old timers like me, came into it.
When I started Jester Prints as a one-man band in 1976, I had no idea that almost 50 years later it would still be the way I make my living. In 1976 heat applied transfers for T shirts were relatively new and all made by screen printing plastisol ink onto a release coated paper, often siliconised parchment paper.
In England the first company I became aware of which manufactured heat applied transfers was Imagine in Braintree.
There were others dotted around the world including several in America such as Roach which seemed to be ahead of the game when compared to the British, but the subject matter of the company’s standard designs was geared for the American market and subsequently didn’t sell as well as domestically produced transfers with a typically British sense of humour subject matter.
The early days
In the early days I regarded transfer production almost as a craft. I originally hand printed the designs on a vacuum table and gelled the prints in an oven. It was amazing that anything worked.
Coming up-to-date, although around half the transfers we make are still screen printed, digital printing technology has really made its presence felt and an increasing number of the transfers we now make include at least an element of digital printing technology.
And there are now so many diverse means of transfer production that I’m sure that I’m not aware of every production method being used.
Additionally, I’ve probably forgotten about some of the transfer types and their production methods that have come and gone over the years.
But what it comes down to is that every new method of printing garments has nibbled away at the traditional transfer market and made it increasingly difficult to maintain the turnover built up over the years.
The first transfer type I remember that could be home produced was the photo copier/ printer that could be fitted with special toners in order to make sublimation transfers. I didn’t ever use one of these machines but they could have been good to make football shirt sponsor transfers. The major limitation was that the prints would only work on light coloured high polyester content garments and that the coloured had no opacity so for instance a yellow design couldn’t be printed onto a red garment.
That led onto the range of image transfer papers for use with toner-based photocopiers and printers which permitted full colour printing onto white cotton T shirts. This type of print has been the basis for many small printers supplying one off or short run T-Shirts for clubs and events etc.
Opening the door
More recently was the introduction of the white toner printer which opened the door to printing onto dark coloured T shirts.
The other major development was that of cut vinyl transfers which most people in the business will be familiar with.
The design shape is cut into a heat transfer vinyl and then the excess is weeded to leave the required design in vinyl ready for application onto the garment.
From experience from talking to people at exhibitions the cut vinyl type of transfer has been the most popular method for producing transfers, especially in small quantities.
The simple single colour cut vinyl concept led onto the print and cut type where heat transfer vinyl material is fed through an ink jet printer where the transfer design is printed and then the shape of the design is cut on the same machine. When printed and cut the design is weeded to leave it on the vinyl sheet where it is picked up by application tape for application to the garment.
Cut vinyl transfers are great for short run designs without a great deal of detail.
Conversely traditional screen printed transfers can produce far greater detail than can be cut and weeded, and are usually the preferred choice for school leavers transfers or neck label transfers where detail is of paramount importance.
Litho printed transfers have been used for years to produce photographic or tonal designs by litho printing the actual design onto a release paper and backing up with screen printed adhesive in order to heat transfer the design into the fabric. The same concept of printing a multi-colour design, with or without a photographic element, and backing up with adhesive is now being used for digitally produced transfers.
The Jester transfer type using this concept is the Digital Tuftrans and by using a water-based adhesive an easy to apply eco-friendly transfer with great wash resistance can be produced.
The latest development in transfer technology appears to be the direct to film systems but that’s a whole new ball game which doesn’t use a screen printed ink at all.
It’s really taxed an old man’s memory to think back on all the above, and I’m sure other types that I could have mentioned will occur to me but I’m going to call a halt to the exercise here.
Congratulations once again to Printwear & Promotion on their 30th anniversary, I wonder what techniques and materials will be used in the next 30 years?
I’m kind of glad I worked in the industry at the time I did, I think my grandson knows more about computers than I ever will. Although the challenge of building a business using all the new technologies kind of appeals too. If only I was 30 or 40 years younger!