Sublimation sportswear has become more and more accessible over recent years, and is now available for the majority of individual and team sports.
First up, a quick history lesson.
Early sublimation sportswear was limited to cycle clothing in Italy and Europe, as well as rugby league kit in Australia.
Originally, sublimation prints were created using giant hand or mechanised screen print machines, however, in recent years these methods of sublimation printing have been replaced by digital printing. Digital printers from Japan, Italy and China are much less labour intensive and work in a far quicker, efficient and error free way.
Modern machines can churn out between 150 and 3000 prints per day, ensuring an economical workflow and quick manufacturing times. Italian & Japanese machines are renowned for their consistent quality of print production whilst water-based Japanese, Swiss and Italian inks are known throughout the industry to produce the most vibrant and beautiful prints.
Today’s sublimated sports kits are manufactured using specific polyester-based wicking fabrics. These are engineered in different weights and with different levels of elasticity to ensure suitability for the sport they are to be used for.
The fabrics can be treated to increase their wicking quality and to make them both waterproof and UV resistant. These technical fabrics are sports functional, lightweight and performance enhancing. The prevalence of sublimation sportswear was increasingly evident during the 2016 Rio Olympics, where the majority of sports had an element of sublimation sportswear within their teams.
The popular choice
The range of sublimation sportswear is now exhaustive, and includes both performance clothing and leisurewear. Sports such as cycling exclusively use sublimation print for their shirts (whilst using dyed fabric for the leg-wear).
Rugby League team kits are exclusively produced using sublimation print, whilst almost all Rugby Union kits are now sublimation printed, sometimes with the combination of embroidered badges for the supporters versions of the shirt. When it comes to the performance apparel, sublimation is extremely prominent.
In recent years, running teams have started to move towards sublimation, as dyed fabrics require uncomfortable sewing lines and require embroidery or heat/screen prints to apply design. As well as being uncomfortable, it can cause the rugby kit to be heavy and create sweat patches which do not wick moisture effectively from the skin.
There are two major global sports left for sublimation print to conquer.
Soccer and American football are almost exclusively manufactured using cut and sew fabrics (albeit some of the fabrics have sublimation print design applied using drum print techniques). In due course, we would duly expect more and more football teams to use placement print digital sublimation print techniques.
Commercially, it makes sense as it is cheaper to add multiple sponsor logos, names and numbers than traditional cut and sew garments with added heat transfers and embroidered badges.
Continuing a fine tradition, the Australians are leading the way in sublimation print football kit. Companies like Kappa are taking the league by storm, with A-League teams including Adelaide opting for the more durable sublimation kit, as they have done for the last few seasons.