Print or Embroidery, which is better?

(5 min read or 1 min Summary Read)

We often get asked, ‘what’s the difference between printing and embroidery?’ or ‘is it better to have printing or embroidery for my order?’ Hopefully this short article will tell you all you need to know.

Not got time to read the whole thing? Skip to the Quick Assessments below each section for the summaries.

Printing – the good & the not so good

Printing is decoration ‘bread & butter’. It’s essentially a thin film that is cut to the logo’s outlines and heat transferred onto a garment. Vinyl is what’s used the majority of the time on sports kits for sponsor logos and squad numbers. Most of the time club badges will be printed too. 

The benefits to print are vast. Nowadays, there’s so many variations of printing vinyl that there’s colours and textures for all types of garment. This includes extra stretchy vinyl which moves as the garment moves and is great for elastane (e.g. baselayers) or specific vinyl for nylon and rainwear that will stick to waterproofed material and have a basic aspect of water resistance itself. There’s also full colour print, which essentially duplicates the exact colours of a logo straight onto a vinyl sheet, much like an inkjet printer does on paper. 

One of the main benefits vinyl has, as well as its near all-inclusive use, is wearers don’t tend to feel it when it’s there. This is especially great for those hot and sticky days when your sports kits tend to cling a little more tightly!

There are drawbacks to vinyl, but not many. As long as you’re washing your kits correctly (see our Wash This Way! article) your prints should still look fresh and colour vibrant for years to come. However, like most things, the more you use it the quicker it may start to look a bit worn. Usually improper care such as drying on an intense tumble-dry setting may cause cracks or peels on the vinyl and reduce its lifespan, but generally speaking there’s no reason why you can’t keep it looking great for a long time.

Note: to give you an idea, most of our teams will wear their kits for two full seasons and by the end of those their printed decoration still looks great.

Printing Quick Assessment

Pros: Quicker & easier. Good level of detail. Exact colour matching to your own. Wearers don’t feel it as much.

Cons: Can peel, crack or discolour over time (especially when washed incorrectly!). 

Printing just might not make your badge ‘pop’ as you’d like it to though. It’s flat and might have a sheen (or matt dullness) you’re just not after. Let’s look at the alternatives…

Embroidery – the good & the not so good

As old as time, embroidery is the O.G of decoration on sportswear. Think of the first football kits (probably Sheffield FC’s – closely followed by Hallam FC’s!) displayed in museums with big, obvious club crests stitched proudly on. Embroidery has admittedly come a long way since, and today’s machines produce fantastic logos. Embroidery is great for giving a logo a lift – firstly because the threads give it that 3D effect and secondly there’s a more permanent, premium feel to it (unless it’s been done wrong, it’s not coming off!) But there are other things to consider.

Quality takes time and the more detailed your badge/logo is, the longer it’ll take the machine to run it off. Our machines churn out the average detailed logo in 10-20 minutes – compare that with instant printing and it’s a lot longer. Then think if you order a large number of kits to be embroidered and it adds significantly to the lead time. Another thing to consider, especially with younger children’s items, is how likely the underside of the stitching will be to irritate the wearer. Unlike a flat press, an embroidered logo on a t-shirt for example will have connecting threads on the inside of the shirt behind the badge, which can cause chafing to its wearers. There's also a risk of puckering the material around the badge, especially on thinner, more delicate items.

Final thing to consider – the detail! It’s easy to assume that a great looking eps. or png. file of your logo will look great on thread. The reality is that for a standard logo size on a chest, embroidery machines can only get to a certain level of fine detail before it gets lost in the overall pattern. Needles can only stitch so small! 

Embroidery Quick Assessment

Pros: Looks and feels premium. Permanent.   

Cons: Longer & more complex. More expensive. Can irritate the wearer. Risk of puckering. Limited detail.

But is there a way to get the detail of print and the look and feel of embroidery?..

Woven Patches - The Third Way!

We first came across woven patches or badges a few years ago, after thinking “surely someone’s thought of doing heat transfers for embroidery-type badges before!?” Turns out they had.

Woven badges look and feel brilliant. True, they don’t have quite the same texture to them as a fully embroidered badge - they tend to feel flatter, but they still have that great shiny finish of the embroidered threads to really make your logo pop.

The magic of them is they press flat onto garments (without any puckering!) just like heat transfer vinyl, and, because they’re applied the exact same way, they are instantly applied. Another huge plus is you get the look and feel of an embroidered badge/logo without the irritation of any backing. Because they’re made through a CAD-type design machine, the level of detail you can get on woven patches far outweighs that of standard embroidery.

As for robustness, we’ve tested these out with multiple junior league clubs and to our knowledge they’ve never been picked or peeled off by force and we’ve only had the odd one or two out of hundreds applied where they’ve come off in the wash - again read our washing care blog for info on this.

There are limitations. Woven badges don’t stick well to puffer or rain material, so we’d always recommend an embroidered badge on these garments. Unless however we can set up an Applique border, which allows for a woven badge to have an embroidered border (this only works well with set shapes though: circles, squares etc). Also the minimum order quantities are pretty high as you can expect for outsourcing these badges. We tend to work on MOQs of 300+ pieces with our customers, therefore woven badges are really only suitable for clubs with multiple teams or larger companies who will use lots of badges each year.

Woven Patch Quick Assessment

Pros: Look & feel of an embroidered badge. Instant application (heat press). No puckering. Enhanced level of detail than embroidery. Robust.

Cons: Can’t be used on all garments. High minimums means only a viable option for bigger orders or repeat use.

Summary – what’s best for you?    

The fastest way to decide is perhaps by weighing up what you’d like against this thorough but not exhaustive list of questions: 

  • What type of garments do you need? 
  • What’s the overall quantity (including quantities for future orders)?
  • When do you need it by? 
  • What level of detail does your logo(s) require?
  • How long do you want the garments to be used for?
  • What price are you happy to pay/ budget do you have set?

If you’re choosing us for your decoration, that's great news! We’ll be with you every step of the way. We’ve got many years experience in the industry and are more than happy to give advice on the best options for your order. 

We hope you find the answers to your questions here. Why not leave a comment if you feel your question still needs an answer and we’ll see how we can help.

twentytwo have specialised in sport teamwear for over 15 years from their shop on the high street in Sheffield. We aspire to offer friendly advice and the highest quality products and service to all who walk through our door.

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