Digital Decorating:

Up In Arms

By Chris Bernat, Contributing Writer

James Island Youth Club Soccer team offered players and parents a host of customized products. The armbands and ski caps were popular.

March 20, 2015

If you paid attention to 2014 trends, then you saw the dramatic increase in sublimation activity. It was everywhere.

Cut-and-sew uniforms, allover prints on pre-made garments and SPF solar-protection shirts all made substantial gains in the marketplace. Some of these applications require significant equipment investments, but others can be done with lower entry-level cost.

Sublimation as a decorating discipline has seen a dramatic increase in use by screen printers. What once was considered a promotional technology quickly is becoming a competitive advantage. The armband, an accessory item, is just one example of how sublimation is changing customer expectations in the marketplace.

Armbands have become part of a larger customization trend that is impacting consumers on and off the field. The never-ending world of sports/promotional products is going “all in” on customization. Armbands started as a means to prevent skin abrasions and to protect pre-existing injuries while on the field or court. Many wearers also say they enhance circulation and provide another layer against the elements.

The first armbands were by no means pretty, but they were functional. Over time — and with the benefit of full-color sublimation — they have become part of a uniform for many teams and outdoor enthusiasts.

One of the key ways sublimated accessories can win over an account is by bundling them with other accessories and tops to build a comprehensive look for a team or group. Also, good artwork and the right substrates can be a difference maker in the marketplace.

Sure, you can spot-hit the armband when decorating it, but why? Armbands — and socks, for that matter — are best decorated when they are fully covered with ink. Just remember to use an art template (most substrate providers should offer this). Most templates will have a bleed to ensure you get total coverage.

It always is important to have a clean production environment. Many shops will lint roll the armband or other substrate prior to pressing to prevent any issues with contamination. Also, check with your manufacturer for recommended time and temperature settings to be ahead of the game.

Team sports of all kinds are ideal for armbands. Lacrosse, football, baseball, basketball and soccer are team sports on which you can focus. This is a great way to get your first order from the team you have been dying to build a relationship with for years.

Armbands also can hold their own in the stands. Parents and fans are likely to want a pair, too, creating a larger revenue opportunity. Bundling it with other gear with the same patterns or designs will keep the school spirit store fresh and allow fans to buy into the team concept. Following are some other markets that are ideally suited for sublimated armbands:

Running: Triathlons, marathons, fun runs. Participants in such events always are ready for another equipment option. Armbands make it easy for a runner to wipe his brow and stay focused. They also can feature inspirational or cause-based artwork.

Promotional: Whether it is “Allstate” on the nets behind college football goal posts or “Mayhem” signs in the stands of college basketball games, promotions and athletic events go hand in hand.

Hunting/Outdoor: This is another vertical market you can target. Camo is king here, so show your customers in this area something new.

Try adding something new to your decorating arsenal by introducing sublimated armbands to your product line. It can open new markets and attract new customers with little investment on your end.

Chris Bernat is chief revenue officer of Vapor Apparel. He is a current SGIA member and speaks on sublimation and customization for the Imprinted Sportswear Shows (ISS), SGIA, FESPA and Dig South. For more information or to comment on this article, email Chris at

Hear Chris speak on sublimation at the 2015 Imprinted Sportswear Shows (ISS). Individual seminars are just $25 if you pre-register:

Suggested Reading

Like this article? Read these and other digital decorating articles at
• “Extremely Intelligent Sublimation
• “Accessories for Sublimation
• “Would You Like a Plaque With That?