Curious about how a Custom Cycling Jersey is made? Let me explain the step by step process.
Everyone is probably familiar with custom screened or embroidered t-shirts and caps. Nearly every Coffee Shop, Micro-Brewery, or Restaurant on the planet offers a selection of "custom branded" logo wear. The quality of these items can range from dodgy (at best) to very good. Almost without exception, these items are standard blank items (ready made t-shirts, caps, etc.) that are purchased from a distributor and then customized with a silk-screened or embroidered logo.
Custom Cycling Apparel is made with a completely different process. Almost exclusively, custom bike jersey graphics are made using a process call SUBLIMATION. According to Wikipedia, Sublimation is described like this: Sublimation is the phase transition of a substance directly from the solid to the gas phase without passing through the intermediate liquid phase.
So the way it works (in the context of producing cycling and other sublimated apparel) is this: The individual pieces of fabric (i.e. the sleeve panels, collar panel, etc.) are printed BEFORE the garment is sewn together. So there aren't any "blank" jerseys lying around waiting to be printed with custom graphics.
Here's a more detailed description of how a design on a computer screen becomes a colorful bike jersey on your local MS 150 Charity Ride:
1) The design is made in a digital graphics program (usually, Adobe Illustrator). The design is called a VECTOR file (but I won't go into that here).
2) The graphics are in reverse, and inside shapes that exactly match the shape of the fabric panels that the jersey is made from (sleeves, collar, etc.). Sublimation works best on white Polyester fabric.
3) These graphics are printed out with special inks and on special paper on a large computer printer.
4) The individual fabric panels and paper graphic papers are lined up precisely and put into a heat press. The heat sublimates the special ink into the fabric, and Presto! You've got fabric panels with graphics on them.
5) The panels are then sewn together with elastic, zippers, etc., and you've got a custom sublimated bike jersey.
Sublimated clothing is a huge industry (it's also used in many other industries besides cycling).
The factors that impact the quality and durability of a cycling jersey are: the pattern (how it fits), the fabric (how it feels and functions), the construction (how it will last), and how it looks (the quality and resolution of the printed graphics and their sewing alignment).
So you can see that it's a bit more complicated than screening a t-shirt (although doing anything well takes attention to detail).
A well made custom cycling jersey (with proper care) should last through many seasons of use.
Choose your supplier wisely!
Henrik Nejezchleb is the founder/owner of Curve Inc. Curve produces Curve Custom Cycling Clothing and Pandana Multiplex Headwear. He's a former Cat 1 Road Racing Cyclist and Collegiate Cycling National Champion. He's been working in the technical sports apparel industry for more than 20 years and currently participates in vintage cycling events worldwide.