Adding Lasers to Your Decoration Toolbox

June 23, 2020

Smoke! Fire! Flashing laser beams! It sounds like the first scene in a new Terminator movie, but today’s subject is actually a growing trend in apparel decoration techniques.

Laser cutting and etching isn’t new to the world of promotional apparel. It’s been around for a while, and the ways lasers are used in apparel decoration just keep getting more interesting. Laser-cut garments are also making a big splash in the world of big retail brands and fashion designers, which makes lasers even hotter than ever.

If you’re not already familiar with how you can use laser etching to create some unique decorations for your customer, SanMar decoration guru Jason Murphy is here to help with a few videos to help get you started.

Laser Etching Overview

Lasers are often used to burn away shallow layers of fabric, creating a single-color tone-on-tone look for your decorations. They can also etch patterns in leather or twill patches, or cut designs into appliqué or heat transfer vinyl.

This video will introduce you to the basics you need to know as you explore using lasers in your decorations, from the three different types of laser etching machines to the fabrics and colors that work best when using this technique.

Cutting Applique, Leather and Mixed Media

Lasers can cut patterns and designs directly into fabric with more precision than just cutting it by hand, or create a reverse appliqué by revealing a second layer of fabric underneath the first with a unique three-dimensional effect. Etching patterns and logos into leather is another option, reflecting a big trend in retail right now and adding a vintage detail to headwear, bags, jackets, fleece or high-end t-shirts.

Laser-etched decorations can also be combined with other techniques for bold mixed media embellishment and a textured hand feel, such as stitching an embroidered pattern over the top of a laser-etched piece.

This video goes into more detail about each of these techniques, with tips and pointers for each one.

Troubleshooting Wattage vs. Speed

The key factors to consider when working with lasers are the power of the laser beam and the speed at which the program runs. Getting the balance of these two elements right will make sure decorations look sharp while not damaging the apparel.

Spending some time testing a new design or fabric before going into production to dial in your speed and wattage settings is always recommended, and a good practice to have in general. This video walks you through some of the things to watch for that indicate your settings might need an adjustment.

SanMar’s Decorator and Digital Solutions Team is always happy to answer your questions about decorations and the promotional apparel industry. You can email them directly at