Decorated Apparel 101: What You Need to Know

online-t-shirt-brands-totally-worth-your-money-652x400-1-1469787466Apparel is one of the most popular promotional product verticals. In fact, wearables made up the single largest category in total spend for Promotional Products in 2015. Wearables accounted for 32% of total spend. To put that in comparison, the next largest category accounted for just 8%.

Marketers, that should tell you something! Decorated apparel like branded t-shirts, hats, hoodies, beanies, shoes, and basically anything wearable, is a big deal. People love decorated apparel.

Employees love sporting their company apparel, customers love getting free t-shirts (just think about how exciting crowds get during t-shirt tosses), and brands love using wearables to build brand impressions, recognition, and loyalty.

Today’s post explores everything YOU need to know about decorated apparel. From decoration types to which methods work best for specific uses to cost comparisons, we’ve broken down the top decoration methods into an easy-to-use guide. You can thank us later. Check it out.


What is it? Embroidery is one of the most popular, tried-and-true decoration methods. The embroidery process uses a machine to stitch designs into fabric. The stitches are placed closely together to create a cohesive design image. Pricing for embroidery is usually based on stitch count. Typically price categories fall between 0 to 8,000, 8,001 to 12,000 stitches and 12,001 stitches and up. Embroidery decoration produces a long lasting design. However, it lacks the ability to execute highly detailed imprints with clarity due to stitching limitations.

How many colors can be used? Logos with single or multiple colors can be used for this type of decoration

When is it useful? Embroidery is a great tool to create a lasting design image that won’t rub off between washes. It’s relatively inexpensive compared to other decoration methods. Great for company merchandise, corporate apparel and uniforms, employee reward programs, smaller scale consumer giveaways and trade show events. It’s typically used for logo-sized imprints and is not suitable for larger scale images.

Cost: $-$$


Sequin Embroidery

What is it? Like it’s big sis, Sequin Embroidery utilizes machine stitching to sew designs into the fabric. The key difference here from sequin embroidery and standard embroidery is the sequins. Sort of obvious, right? Sequin embroidery applies plastic colored sequin pieces during the stitching process to create a more ornate design option than standard embroidery.

How many colors can be used? One color designs are highly advised for this type of decoration.

When is it useful? Sequin embroidery is great for smaller, single color designs. The use of the sequins and the added complication of the application process makes this imprint type more expensive than standard embroidery. Great for personalizing corporate uniforms, team wear, award wearables, special occasion runs.

Cost: $-$$


Laser Etch

What is it? Laser Etching is a relatively new imprint method compared to the staple methods of say embroidery or screenprinting. This type of decoration uses a laser to burn the decoration design right into the fabric of a garment. This process permanently alters the fabric which means the decoration won’t rub off or lose clarity with washes. The result is a tonal difference between the untreated fabric and the treated fabric to display the image. This is a very precise type of decoration imprint that leaves a clean mark.

How many colors can be used? One color logos  are only available with this type of decoration.

When is it useful? Laser Etching is a great choice for mid-to-upper scale projects like company merchandise stores, corporate clothing and uniforms, resale options, and as employee gifts.

Cost: $$


What is it? Tech Patches and Appliques create a foam-like patch as decoration to any type of garment. The process involves using a laser machine to burn an image into the patch and then using embroidery methods to stitch the patch onto the garment. Once the patch is secured onto the garment, the patch will flex and move with the user. This decoration method creates a high-end, high quality imprint that will not wear off with washes. This is a very clean, precise type of decoration method.

How many colors can be used? Similar to the Laser Etch option above, only one color logos are available with this type of decoration. Ending product will be a tonal distinction between the untreated fabric and the treated fabric to reveal the design.

When is it useful? High end corporate wear, company merchandise stores, sponsorship gifts, employee rewards, collegiate and university team wear.

Cost: $$


What is it? Similar to Laser Applique above, the Reverse Applique technique uses a laser machine to burn a top layer of a fabric to reveal the underneath fabric to create a cutaway image. Typically the exposed fabric is a different color or pattern to highlight the design. The process is a trendy and new-ish decoration method. The burned top layer can either be clean cut or a jagged cut to give the garment a vintage, worn feel to it.

How many colors can be used? Typically two distinct colors are used for laser reverse applique.

When is it useful? Great for university and college wear, sports teams, company merchandise, employee rewards.

Cost: $$$


Screen Print

What is it? Along with Embroidery, Screen Printing is one of the most popular and well-known types of imprint methods. Screen printing uses screens and heat to press color into fabrics. The resulting imprint transfers the color to the top layer of the fabric. Within this type of imprint method there are three different colorway options: spot color, four-color process and sublimation.


  • Spot color: matches exact colors to Pantone number and can be used for both light and dark fabrics. Dark fabrics require an underlay color process to ensure vibrancy of colors.
  • Four-color process: uses Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black (CMYK) to produce a rainbow of color options for your garment. This is particularly useful when there are many colors or gradients in the design and only works with light colored fabrics.
  • Sublimation or simulated-process color: This type of decoration methods is used to produce photo-realistic images onto fabrics. The process uses spot colors which makes it suitable for both light and dark fabrics.


It’s important to note that both heat transfer and screen print designs will fade during washing.

How many colors can be used? The great thing about screen printing is you can use as many colors as you want! The cost for imprint will vary based on imprint size and number of colors.

When is it useful? Great for giveaways and premiums, low-cost employee and corporate wear, team wear, collegiate and university team wear, one-off events, trade shows.

Cost: $-$$

Brand+Aid_SCREENPRINTHeat Transfer

What is it? Heat transfer uses a machine to first print the design that will be applied to the garment and then uses a combination of heat and pressure to transfer the design onto fabric. Unlike screen printing, heat transfer allows the design to transfer into the fibers of the fabric. The image does not lay on top of the fabric like screen printing. Both heat transfer and screen print designs will fade during washing.

How many colors can be used? Good news! With heat transfer you can use as many colors as you want! The cost for imprint will vary based on imprint size and number of colors.

When is it useful?
Great for giveaways and premiums, low-cost employee and corporate wear, team wear, collegiate and university team wear, one-off events, tradeshows.

Cost: $


Ready to create decorated apparel for your company? Our team is always ready to help you source, create, and brand the coolest promotional products. Shoot us an email at or give us a call at 323-800-2241 and we’ll start working on free mock ups for your apparel.

Brand+Aid is a promotional marketing agency based in Salt Lake City, Utah and Los Angeles, California. We turn ideas into tangible, fun experiences through experiential advertising. Have an idea you’d like to make happen? Contact our rescue team for a free consultation today at 323-800-2241 or shoot us an email at For more information, check out our website:


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