Stay up to date with these special effects trends and decoration styles

Julia Schroeder   September 22, 2022

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As the heat-applied graphics industry evolves, so do the unique decoration applications that a shop can offer its customers. Heat-applied graphics can allow a shop to offer a variety of special effects.

Adam McCauley of Sandlot Sports says there are several advantages for a shop to offer special effects. “From a customer perspective, they have a decoration partner that is staying up to date on current trends and decoration styles,” he explains. This allows a shop to build a reputation as a company that doesn’t stick to one thing.

Our industry experts say you should keep your eyes peeled for these trending special effects heat-applied graphics:

Sandlot Flex Style
Flex Style Patch, Sandlot Sports

UV-reactive vinyl

One of the most popular new special effects trends this year is color-changing heat transfer vinyl. Josh Ellsworth of STAHLS’ explains that UV-reactive vinyl is a sun-changing heat transfer vinyl material that looks white when indoors and changes color when exposed to UV light.


The fastest growing trend, particularly in the sports world, is heat-applied patches and flex-style patches. “They are detailed, textured, holographic, flat, or 3D,” says McCauley. Hats are the most popular products that Jeremy Picker of AMB3R Creative sees utilizing this style of heat-applied graphics.

“These flex style patches allow some shops to keep lower inventory while allowing for quick turn times for production,” explains Picker. “These patches also lend a diverse product mix of hat styles, and it can be applied to multiple locations on the hat.”

A puff special effect has seen an increase in popularity. (Image courtesy Transfer Express)


A puff special effect has seen an increase in popularity, according to Michael Romano of Transfer Express. Designs using puff ink or vinyl have a raised 3D area in the design, so it pops off the apparel more, with a more defined edge. Decorators can also combine this puff special effect with dyed garments.

Full color

While one- or two-color designs are still the main trend, full-color designs are being seen more, according to Romano. Even if the design is not “full color,” with shading and gradients, designs with many spot colors are increasing in popularity.

Neon colors are also back again. Ellsworth predicts you will see a lot of neon in garment decoration in the coming months.

Other timeless options

While it is not new by any means, distressed images are still a staple, making designs look vintage, Romano says.

While rhinestones are not a current hot trend, Romano says you can still offer a faux rhinestone look with metallic dots of ink. This can be done using a screen-printed transfer and a glitter, pearl, or metallic ink type. Animal prints also remain strong contenders, Ellsworth adds.

Learn more about special effect transfers in Achieving Special Effects with Heat-Applied Graphics.