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Embroidery vs Vinyl – What's The Difference?

Embroidery and vinyl are two ways of adding decoration to otherwise plain fabrics, but what's the difference between them is? Please read on to learn more.

Embroidery and vinyl are two ways of adding decoration to otherwise plain fabrics, but what's the difference between them is? Please read on to learn more.


What is Vinyl Printing?

Vinyl printing is otherwise known as Vinyl heat transfer printing, and you likely own clothing that has used this common process.

Vinyl heat transfer printing adds printed vinyl decorations to a garment using heat. This type of printing is excellent for personalising numbers and names onto clothing; a good example is the numbers on football shirts' backs.

Vinyl printing utilises computer technologies, vector drawing software and mechanical cutters to recreate a digital image onto sheet vinyl. This differs from methods like screen printing, which relies on laying inks to decorate plain fabrics. Screen printing is still used today but often offers limited design choices, and the prints can have short lifespans. As a result, many manufacturers lean towards vinyl printing, as the design can be achieved with a single layer of sheet vinyl.

Once the design is printed onto vinyl, the excess has to be removed, leaving just the design behind, and this is called weeding. The time this cleanup process can take can vary widely depending on the complexity of the design. This weeding stage is why most vinyl printing is mainly used for lettering or simple designs.

The heat transfer part of vinyl printing is done using an industrial heat press, although hobbyists can use a simple home iron. The backing paper on the vinyl is exposed to temperatures of 160oC whilst pressure is applied. This fuses the vinyl to the garment and completes the process. 


What Is Embroidery?

Embroidery involves stitching designs or decorations into the fabric rather than printing onto the textile. This method also benefits from digital software, allowing the design and required stitches to be planned out on a computer before the stitching process begins.

Once the digital design has been finalised and optimised for the type of fabric it will be stitched onto, the embroidery process can begin. Coloured thread is fed through the material of the fabric of the garment. This process is repeated several times with any number of threads colours to build up the design to completion.

This is an excellent solution for any number of designs. It can help with small logos like on a polo shirt breast and intricate designs. A gradual change in the threads can create a beautiful gradient of colour (hard to achieve with printing). Embroidery is also sturdy, hard-wearing, and able to survive many washes and heavy activities, great for coats or uniforms.


The Pros and Cons

In general, vinyl printing is favoured for simple text and designs and is often used for mass-produced promotional materials as a low-cost way of decorating garments. Whilst vinyl printing offers a low-cost way of transferring designs onto fabrics, it isn't as resilient as embroidery and will never last as long. If the garment sees continuous use, the vinyl elements will begin to peel away from the material as the glue loses its adhesiveness.

The heat transfer step involved in vinyl printing also means that fabrics sensitive to high temperatures are excluded from use with vinyl. The cost-effectiveness of vinyl printing is also vastly reduced if small batches of multiple designs are required.

With the correct setup, embroidery can be used on almost any material regardless of the texture or thickness. Whilst it may be more expensive, the additional production cost is matched by the increase in the quality and robustness of the finished product. Embroidered designs last longer than vinyl because the design is stitched into the fabric rather than sitting on top of it.  

Compared to printing, the downside of embroidery is the increased production time for bespoke work combined with a minor increase in costs. Printing may seem the cost-effective solution for small businesses, but investing in a Brother embroidery machine is an excellent choice for those seeking to produce high quality, durable designs., particularly those working with apparel.


The Right Method For The Right Garment

An easy way to remember the fundamental difference between embroidery and vinyl printing is to think of embroidery as being stitched into the fabric, whereas vinyl is printed on top. Both have their specialities, but they also have requirements.

Vinyl heat transfers are commonly used for t-shirts, singlets, and such. In addition, you'll often find vinyl printing used on health and safety clothing, hi-vis vests and mass-produced promotional items.

High-quality thicker garments are better for embroidery—items like hoodies, sweatshirts or premium t-shirts all are improved with embroidery over vinyl printing. In addition, most work uniforms employ embroidery over printing to take advantage of the inherent mix of quality and durability.

Remember, embroidery has the advantage of working with any garment, no matter the thickness. Additionally, using quality equipment like our ZSK embroidery machines make replicating high-quality designs en-mass much more efficient. These modernised industrial machines can pair up with various additional devices to assist in your production speed, making them the ideal choice for any embroidery business.

Nationwide Industrial Embroidery Equipment

Stocks Sewing Machines has spent the last 50 years growing into the UK's leading sewing and embroidery equipment supplier. We pride ourselves on providing high-quality customer service and after-sales care.

So whether you're new or an embroidery expert and you want to know more about our selection of industrial embroidery machines, please don't hesitate to contact us today to discuss your needs. A member of our expertly trained team will eagerly answer any of your questions.