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droppin’ knowledge

Mark Michaelsen put this article together in response to this thread… Definitely worth your time

There are vast differences in the quality and value of today’s technical shirts. To really understand the differences, let’s start at the filament level. These are the fibers that make up the threads that are loomed into fabric. Polyester is by nature a moderately durable hydrophobic material.

Hydrophobic material does not want to absorb water. It also means that if it is snagged or abraded vigorously, there is a pretty good chance the fibers are going to pill and deteriorate. There are many other options when it comes to wicking fabrics. Nylon is far more durable and is a hydrophilic. Hydrophilic fabrics drink water and give a you much drier feel even if there is more water in the fibers. The main problem with premium Nylon is that it is more than twice the price of polyester and many consumers simply don’t think it is worth the cost increase.

Bamboo fabrics have some great advantages, especially if you are in the military or firefighting business. Bamboo when properly manufactured can give you a great, soft feel while removing the issue for forward deployment troops where flash explosions can melt Polyester and Nylon to your skin. Obviously, this is a major consideration for those who may be exposed to flames. The downside is that properly manufactured bamboo is expensive and cannot be decorated with dye sublimation and must be screen printed or embroidered.

Merino Wool is another popular material for those who want a wicking fabric that naturally fights off microbe infestation which is the usual cause of bad odors in apparel. In moderate to cool environments, wool is indeed a great way to go. Polypropylene fabrics have similar wicking and insulation properties like wool, but often develops unpleasant odors rather quickly unless they have been infused with silver nanoparticles which are very helpful at killing odor. Opinions vary, but in my experience the silver washes out pretty quickly regardless of the type of fabric they have been attached to.

Material weight also plays into the breathability and often the UPF sun protection rating for fabrics. The lighter polyester fabrics (3.5-3.8oz) are fantastic at keeping you cool and somewhat protected from the sun depending on the weave in the fabric. Beginning at around 4.0oz you can get a great shirt fabric that has achieved the full UPF 50 “Excellent” rating from Solar Labs.

There are a lot of products out on the market today that claim UPF ratings but have never actually been tested. Worse, there are companies touting “SPF” ratings for their sun protection apparel. Fabrics are NEVER* rated in terms of “SPF” which is strictly reserved for applied lotions and topical treatments like zinc oxide. Until now, most UPF 50 products were relatively expensive but we just came out with a UPF 50 certified shirt in short and long sleeve that is debuting at under $12ea for small through X-Large. XXL-4XL also available for a bit more money.

Venting adds to breathability. Whether you strategically place a highly breathable material in the armpit area and down the side of the shirt or you add a zipper to the front, a mix of fabrics and mechanical vents will assist in the maintaining sun protection while not encumbering the breathability factor.  No matter how breathable or how sophisticated a shirt design may be, if the relative humidity is 80%+ and it is a warm/hot day, the sweat is going to have a near impossible job evaporating off the outside of the garment. Have realistic expectations of your apparel based on the atmosphere’s ability to absorb any more moisture.

Microfibre versus Macro Pique.  Several people have noted that some of the tech fabrics feel like “Saran-Wrap” stuck their skin in hot and very humid conditions. There is s solution to this which I don’t love in salt water environments but several of our customers swear by them. The “Macro Waffle Pique” fabrics are a box weave with what appear to be dimples in the fabric. This provides fewer contact points with your skin. In fresh water this is awesome but in high salinity areas like Florida, this make my skin itchy.  It really is a case of personal preference.

Layering to improve moisture transport. In today’s sophisticated textile market, you can achieve some fantastic results if you combine the right fabrics in the right order in a layered system. Having a light weight, moisture wicking fabric (Under 4.oz) as your base layer will help mechanically and chemically wick away sweat from your body and move it to the mid-layer where it can be moved to the outside of the mid-layer and return to vapor form on the outside of the mid-layer.

A semi porous fabric like Gore-Tex or similar (Patent expired) takes that sweat to it final exit port through the jacket and allow you to stay mostly dry on and off watch. With the full line of Helly Hansen, Gill and Zhik at our disposal we can create a complete foul weather gear system to keep your crew comfortable head to toe. E-MAIL us at [email protected] or call TOLL FREE 1 (888) 379-7447 ext 2 to get your customized apparel quote for your team.

Decoration- If you are trying to produce quality team or event gear then the decoration system you choose may dramatically reduce the performance properties of your gear. Using a standard plastisol screen print ink covering large areas of the material will render the previously moisture wicking material about as breathable as a trash bag (Not at all).

End users often report this feels like a big “sweaty patch” wherever the ink is placed. For darker fabrics made with synthetic fibers like Nylon and Polyester, the material requires two things that many decorators do not use because they are fairly expensive. #1 -Polyester inks that resist dye migration from the fabric and #2 A white flash base under the print to help seal off any rogue dyes that may try to permeate the screen print ink.

You can solve this problem with a process called dye sublimation. This literally uses inks on paper to transfer your design into the fabric with high heat and pressure from a dye sublimation press. This provides bright, long lasting graphics but leaves the fabric completely breathable. Absolutely ideal but there is a catch. Dye sublimation inks interact with polyester fabrics the best. Polyester blends with no more than 9% Spandex™ (Or Elastane) also dye sublimate well. Nylon and Rayon can be dye sublimated, but the print will fade over time. Polyester/cotton blend shirt prints also wash out given enough time.

The other potential problem is that dye sublimation inks are as the name implies a “dye”. This means that you cannot print a color onto the shirts that is lighter than the fabric color itself. This makes white or titanium fabric colors the best for spot printing shirts with the desired logos. We have had a lot of luck with other color fabrics but only when the graphic design is quite a bit darker than the fabric color like a black graphic on a yellow or light green or light blue shirt.

Solving the need for dye sublimation prints on dark color shirts. Our factory has invested heavily into the business of all over dye sublimated technical apparel. This requires a large roll press and a high-end dye sublimation printer. It also requires the ability to engineer the desired graphics that are capable of crossing the natural seam lines. No easy task over a large variation of shirt sizes.

This system of decoration is known as flood sublimation. Dye sublimation inks are expensive, so all over prints get a bit more pricey than traditional spot prints but the net result Is a dynamic graphic in a shirt that remains 100% breathable and can be any color you desire. Dye sublimation also has no limitation on the number of colors in your design and the number of colors does not affect the price unlike screen printing where every color requires another screen and film set. That can get pricey for small runs (Under 24 pieces) with 3+ colors in the design.

Embroidery is also a great way to give your apparel a clean, professional look. The weight of the fabric should be at least 4.5oz. If it is lighter than that the material will “scrunch” around the embroidery once it has been washed and dried. The cost of embroidery typically comes down to how many stitches or in the design. Larger logos can get quite expensive to embroider and they also create a less breathable spot that some other types of decoration.

DTG RULES on natural fibers…The latest in high resolution prints on cotton or other natural fabric shirts is Direct To Garment (DTG) printing.  We just did a set for the amazing “SHOCKWAVE” team now racing the Caribbean circuit and the print registration was ridiculous. The smallest details came out in a way screen printing could never have achieved. Pricey. Worth it.

  No matter what your budget, we can help keep your team comfortable and performing better in a wide variety of conditions. Call us toll free (1-888-379-7447 ext 2) or email us to get some fresh ideas on getting your team or event a new look in 2020.

Best regards,
Mark Michaelsen
TOLL FREE 1(888)379-7447 ext 2
Cell: +1 562 773-0552