Stain Imaging is an exciting new concept in decorating promotional tee shirts, and is available on quantities as low as 144 pieces priced at less than $11 each.  The entire shirt can become a customizable texture of logos, icons and slogans with an ultra soft, natural feel.  It can allow for the entire shirt, front and back, to be dyed, or for graphics to be wrapped around the garment at any angle.  This technique is not like sublimation or discharge printing that cause a chemical reaction with the fabric, and it is not like screen printing which leaves a residue of ink on the surface of the fabric.  Stain Imaging is a gentle hybrid technique that results in a faded or distressed look to the garment, but does not break down the fibers or result in any physical weathering of the fabric.


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The Stain is a very gentle, eco-friendly, water-based pigment that is almost completely colorfast with little or no fading on the first wash.  Because it is somewhat translucent the resulting image will be influenced to varying degrees by the substrate (fabric) color.  Standard 100% jersey knit cotton tee shirts are the best choice for use with the Stain Imaging technique, and produce the highest image quality and the most predictable results.  The heavier weights of these shirts (5 to 6 oz) will perform better than their lighter weight counterparts (4 to 4.5 oz).  Extremely lightweight and “burn out” styles do not work well for this decoration method.  Combed cotton, ring spun cotton, and polyester blends perform consistently, but will result in a softer, “more absorbed” appearance.  Pique knits will work somewhat, but sizing agents and stain resistant finishes will inhibit imaging.  The garment must be able to lie flat, so items such as hats, totes, shorts, pants, jackets, hoodies and long sleeve shirts are not able to be processed.  Woven garments will accept the imaging, but do not work well because of their inherent structure.

Tonal depiction of custom graphics is the most popular application.  This can be achieved by using soft stain colors on white shirts, neutral to white stain on medium to dark shirts, or stains which are in the same color family as the garment.  If light stain colors are used on dark garments, then the resulting image will be more dependent on the substrate or fabric color.  Higher contrast is possible, but can produce varying degrees of pleasing results.  If using neutral or white stain, one can vary the garment colors throughout the production run for a variety of finished goods without the added cost of additional set-ups required for multiple stain colors.  Pigments can be added to the stains to achieve a tinted or shaded effect.  Image size and detail are more limited than with screen printing, as is the ability to use halftones, shading or gradients.  And, registered multi-color images are not possible.

Actual placement of the design will vary throughout production run resulting in each garment being unique and no two garments exactly the same.  Because of this, the design must include several instances of the most importation elements/logos to ensure placement on any given piece.  Large, open areas within the design should be avoided.  These “dead areas” should be filled with smaller elements, background textures or flourishes.  Image quality and legibility work best when elements are nested together and are visually flowing.  The most common and production friendly designs are those with unstructured, multi angles and flowing layouts.  Garments which have been decorated with the Stain Imaging technique can later be embroidered or screen-printed for further customization.

Background and production details for Stain Imaging were provided by Kim Meyers of Bodek and Rhodes, our preferred supplier of imprintable corporate apparel.

Please contact TheMarketPro when you are considering promotional products and decorated apparel so that we can provide the information you need to make the best possible purchasing decisions.  TheMarketPro can be reached at 800-905-0073 or .  Additional articles can be found at in our “Going Green with Promotional Products” and “Coffee Break Reading” sections.

Author:         Connie King

Published:    July 2012

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