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Equipment is Key to Applying Conductive Inks to Apparel

Visitors to the wearable technology pavilion at the Sourcing at Magic show in Las Vegas this week might have been a little confused to see a heat press machine showcased alongside conductive inks and 3-D printers. But as Terre Barbin of Insta explained, if wearable electronics aren’t applied to apparel properly, they’re not going to do the job they’re designed to do.

California-based Insta, a 57-year-old manufacturer of heat presses and custom heat transfers, was invited to exhibit at the show as a guest of DuPont, which was also on hand to discuss its stretchable electronic ink materials, suitable for use in smart clothing applications.

“We are actually applying their conductive heat transfers with our heat press,” Barbin explained, noting that Insta’s heat presses are particularly useful to apparel companies when applying logos, tagless labels and graphic embellishments with specialized heat transfer inks that allow for performance, comfort, washability, stretchablity and aesthetics.

DuPont, for instance, offers a suite of inks that can be used to create thin, form-fitting and flexible circuits that can be seamlessly bonded with standard fabrics. But as Barbin pointed out, “If you’ve got a heat transfer, that’s got to be applied properly or you have issues like peeling and cracking.”

Insta’s equipment can apply heat transfers to a plethora of fabrics, from synthetics and neoprene to heat-sensitive ones like poly-lycra, nylon-lycra and spandex, she noted, adding, “It can also fuse fabrics. A lot of the activewear is trying to get away from stitching so we fuse seamless materials.”

One of the company’s latest developments is a large format heat press that’s designed for the sublimation market. “It’s become so prominent in the industry with allover sublimation, allover bodies, we’ve had to design and cater to large format,” she said. A manual heat press measuring 20-inches by 25-inches is also in the works. Prices range from $725 to $20,000, with the average heat press costing around $2,000.

But while Insta’s equipment is distributed in more than 130 countries around the world, it’s also a one-stop shop for U.S. brands. “If they want to keep it in the United States or do western hemisphere manufacturing we will take on programs where the brand will send their garment into us, we will make the transfer, apply the transfer, do the finishing services, hangtags, fold, polybag, pre-pack, apply tagless labels, take out the woven label and put in an iron-on label,” she said. “We offer the whole bundled package.”