Give me five!

Alistair Travis and Marcus Hack form the new garment printing division at Papergraphics

With nearly four decades of experience in the large format sector, Papergraphics has used the last 12 months to get to grips with, and expand into, the lucrative garment decoration market. P&P editor Melanie Attlesey finds out more.

Like many businesses in the UK, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 proved pivotal for Papergraphics. It was very much a case of do or die for many.

Many print service providers turned to other markets to maintain their profits and to stay afloat, most notably turning their hand to garment decoration as an extra revenue stream.

Many of Papergraphics’ large format customers were already pretty handy with a heat press and so expanding into the garment decoration market, along with their customers, made perfect sense.

When the pandemic hit, it was Alistair Travis who was tasked with finding out how viable this new and exciting market was for Papergraphics, and if his findings proved fruitful to form the new garment print division.

Thankfully, Alistair had a starting point in this market, for he had kept in touch with Andrea Sottana, now the sales director of Italian manufacturer of heat transfer vinyls B-Flex, from when Andrea had previously worked in the large format sector.

“B-Flex is a great company and manufactures great heat transfer vinyl films for the personalisation of garments, but for some reason had never made it into the UK. I asked Andrea about the possibility of Papergraphics becoming their UK distributor and the rest is history,” explains Alistair.

The team at B-Flex recommended before even considering to sell any vinyl or building a customer base that Alistair invest in a conversion machine so the imported rolls of vinyl could be cut down into metre lengths – the perfect size for customers. So, after taking their advice, a £35,000 Nepata film converting machine was installed at the beginning of 2021.

Off the back of this investment, Alistair was put in touch with Nepata’s sister company Secabo, a German manufacturer of heat presses. The team at Secabo were more than happy for Papergraphics to become a distributor in the UK, so coupled with B-Flex’s range of heat transfer vinyls, Alistair was now armed with a respectable offering to present to potential customers. And with the help of Marcus Hack, who joined the garment division last year, Alistair now has just over 12 months of sales under his belt.

What’s in the range?

At any one time, Papergraphics has around £30,000 worth of vinyl rolls in stock in the Crawley warehouse. Products arrive from Italy in around four to five days and if ordered by 5.15pm can be with customers the very next day.

B-Flex’s heat transfer vinyl films are available in a range of colours

The most popular product in the range is Gimme5. This all-rounder product was created to provide garment decorators a heat transfer vinyl that guarantees a long-lasting result alongside ease of use. It applies in just four seconds at 140°C, and with a wide colour selection there is sure to be a film to suit any design. It is fully opaque even on dark garments, and has an elegant matt finish. Thanks to its thickness of only 80 microns, Gimme5 is pleasant and soft on any garment. It has been product tested to last over 100 wash cycles at 90°C.

“This is the most popular product in the range for a reason,” says Alistair. “It comes in a huge 65+ colours and has a nice soft feel. It really does tick all the boxes.”

B-Flex has other more niche products in its range, such as BF Windstop, a polyurethane heat transfer vinyl created specifically for application onto softshells at only 115°C, but from Alistair’s experience he says that customers prefer to work with an all-rounder HTV on the products they decorate.

The Nepata film converting machine which is used to cut the rolls down

Following the initial success of introducing B-Flex into the UK market, Papergraphics is currently in discussion with well-known OEMs to offer hardware solutions such as white toner printers and eco solvent print and cut machines to their customers.

Alistair hopes that the consultative relationship that Papergraphics’ fosters with its customers, will result in the continued growth and development of the garment printing division. “Once our relationship with other manufacturers gets up and running, we will be able to provide our customers with a smarter, more complete offering.”

At the moment Papergraphics is looking to help its current large format customer base make the move into garment decoration. “Garment decoration is a great-add for print service providers and sign makers. They’ve already got the customers, the equipment and the know-how so why not make the move?” says Alistair.

The ultimate plan

But the ultimate plan is to target larger embroiderers and screen printers and help these types of garment decorators explore other viable application methods.

During my visit to Papergraphics’ showroom in March, I spotted an engineer tinkering away with an interesting looking machine in the corner. Alistair explained that Papergraphics is currently in the R&D stage of manufacturing its very own direct to film printer – a product that will sit nicely in Papergraphics’ product portfolio and offering to garment decorators.

Papergraphics’ garment printing demo room features some of Secabo’s heat presses

“We have no firm release date for the DTF printer. It’s a case of it will be ready when it’s ready. We see DTF printing as the future of garment decoration,” says Alistair. When asked if Papergraphics will consider adding direct to garment printing to its portfolio in the future, Alistair says it’s not an area that they will explore any time soon. “It’s limiting, it’s not flexible and it’s expensive,” he adds. Papergraphics will very much maintain its focus on transfer printing for now.

For now, Alistair is focusing on building the customer base and adding relevant products to the garment printing division. A dedicated personalisation webshop and website for this market is currently in development, which Alistair hopes will be live by the end of the year.

Concluding, Alistair says, “It’s been an interesting journey so far and I’m very intrigued for the future.”

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