Decoration Techniques for Tough Fabrics

April 2, 2019

“How am I supposed to do that?

You might not ask a question like this out loud when you’re faced with a decoration dilemma, but be honest — you’ve probably had the thought. You know how it goes: the moment you think you’ve got it all down pat, you discover a new trend or are asked to work with a fabric that challenges you.

When we run into these challenges, we know where to go – the Decorator Relations team here at SanMar has nearly 100 years of combined experience in the promotional apparel industry, and they’re always happy to share what they know about decoration and embellishment. We recently asked Jason Murphy about tough fabrics and the best ways to decorate them, and here’s what he shared.

Duck Fabric and Canvas

The excitement of SanMar bringing on Carhartt apparel earlier this year was quickly followed by many questions about how best to approach decorating it, especially the notoriously tough, thick duck fabric of their jackets and overalls.

Jason told us that embroidery is the most popular decoration technique for duck fabric, and using strong magnetic embroidery hoops, such as those found at Mighty Hoops, helps keep the decoration placement steady. Other decoration techniques that work for duck fabric are sewn-on patches, applique, and heat-applied reflective materials for enhanced safety applications.

High-Denier Bags

Many bags have a similar issue as duck fabric – a bag with a high denier is meant to be strong and durable, but that can present a real challenge when decorating.

Jason said that for bags, the approach is a little different. Heat transfer tends to be the most popular technique when decorating a bag, especially for those with a lot of color. Embroidery can also work for these heavy fabrics.

Embroidering Outerwear

Finally, we were wondering about outerwear, and what happens if you embroider a decoration on it. How do you maintain the garment’s water resistant features if you’re punching tiny holes into its surface?

The trick, Jason shared, is taking the time to reseal the back of a piece of outerwear with a piece of laminate after you’re done decorating it. E-Zee Heat Lamination, a Madeira product, is an example of the type of treatment you can use to restore a garment’s water resistant features.

Have you faced a tricky decoration situation, or have you recently uncovered a new trend you’re wondering about? The SanMar Decorator Relations team prides itself on staying up-to-date on the most current decoration solutions, and works with decorators, screen printers, embroiderers and other embellishers from across the industry. You can contact them directly at

We work in an exciting industry, one that constantly changes and grows as creative people like you discover new trends and new ways to accomplish what seemed impossible only yesterday. We love this stuff!