June '15

For the Business of Apparel Decorating

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62 || P R I N T W E A R J U N E 2 0 1 5 EMBROIDERY BUSINESS When only etching, Kevin Silva, owner of Image Imprints in Modesto, California, and his three-person crew output as many as 1,000 left-chest logos on placket shirts in a day. He estimates that one person can do between 500 and 600 etched pieces in an average eight-hour shift. This estimate is based on 18 etching stations. "The bigger the logo, the longer it takes," Silva says. "Some logos can be done in a minute. I would estimate that the aver- age logo on a left chest takes two minutes. Some logos may take longer because they have more stops and starts, or it requires multiple passes of the laser to get the depth and exposure needed. So some jobs have several segments. This slows down the pro- cess but creates a high-end, unique look." WHAT CAN YOU ETCH? For fabrics, laser etching is ideal for mois- ture-wicking apparel because it doesn't affect performance characteristics. Other suitable fabrics include polyester fleece, denim, polyester twill, cotton twill, velvet, and suede. Laser etching can also decorate hard substrates. These range from ceramics to plastics, wood, and leather, which opens the door to new products and markets. Ex- amples include baseball mitts, baseball bats, and even headstones. Etching requires a certain degree of pow- er and is limited to specific types of lasers. For the decorated apparel industry, the two types of lasers that offer this capability are a laser bridge and a galvanometric standalone laser. Silva, who purchased his laser bridge ma- chine seven years ago, finds that although he bought his machine primarily for appliqué, when labor and consumables are factored in, etching is more profitable. Capitalizing on this discovery, Silva purposely promot- ed his etching capabilities to the point that it now constitutes 60 percent of his busi- ness. Some of his most popular laser-etched products include performance wear, bags, koozies, headwear, and suede appliqués and emblems. Laser etching can also decorate items that cannot be embroidered or screen printed, such as slippers and the soles and heels of shoes. "We were just doing screen printing and embroidery, but we've been pushing the etching, and it's where we're seeing the most growth—particularly on the corporate side," Silva says. "It took us to the next level. We're creating products that you can't do without the laser, and the bridge has been what's given us the edge. A competitor was taking 15 minutes to etch a jacket with a standalone laser. With the laser bridge, we are doing it in three minutes and 50 sec- onds." Silva has since converted half the heads on his 36-head embroidery laser bridge ma- chine to 18 exclusive etching workstations. Since the 18-head embroidery machine was too old to do as good a job as it once did in embroidery and was not worth much on the used machine market, he opted to maintain its physical presence under the bridge. Instead, he now uses it as a multi- station etching apparatus, where he doesn't have to hoop garments to etch them. "We have a laser alignment system we attached to each head of the embroidery machine," Silva says. "All we do is register it, put tape down, laser etch the logo onto the tape, and this shows the operator where the logo should go. Not all fabrics can be etched, but polyester fleece in medi- um colors typically produces a subtle tone-on-tone look that is favored by corporate and resort markets. (Image cour- tesy Charles River Apparel)

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