Velflex & UltraColour: Riding the digital heat transfer wave

You need a lot of energy and insight to launch a digital screen-printing business and upend the way this type of manufacturing has been done for decades. Luckily for Ben Carroll he has both in spades.

Fifteen years ago, Carroll was in his early 20s and together with his printing industry stalwart great uncle Noel Wighton took a major professional gamble by launching Velflex, a B2B supplier of digital heat transfer technology. The move came after the pair saw how technological advancements were increasingly lending themselves to producing highly detailed digitally produced garment transfers.

Now, 15 years later Velflex supplies a range of heat transfer technology and consumables to a wide range of national clients.

The popular Hotronix Heat Press range is among the offering.

Starting at around $1,400, these presses allow print shop owners to easily add a heat transfer capability as customers increasingly ask for printed apparel. The top model in the range, the Hotronix Dual Air Fusion, features two platens which mean one operator can double their output – one side of the plate is dedicated for pre-treatment with the other providing the heat for transfer application. Also on offer is the Mimaki range of printers and cutters.

Velflex operations manager, Amy Vernon, and managing director, Ben Carroll, at PacPrint 2022

Five years after taking the big step and launching Velflex, Carroll identified another opportunity and launched UltraColour Transfers – a trade only operation which produces around 20,000 vibrant and variable digital heat transfers for thousands of Australian printers every day. Order quantities are as low as 10 units but go up to tens of thousands for the larger customers.

Since launching UltraColour Transfers, Carroll made another big decision and moved the business from NSW to Brendale, a suburb in the Moreton Bay region north of Brisbane. He also invested over $1 million in printing equipment to keep up with booming demand.

UltraColour Transfers is built upon a technology known as “UltraColour” which Carroll invented.

This dedication to technological innovation has also now seen UltraColour Transfers become the Official Licensee for all apparel related to the A-League, including member kits and team apparel. UltraColour is also the go-to transfer choice for some AFL teams and Cricket Australia.

What is UltraColour?

UltraColour transfer technology involves pairing two innovative print production technologies – a recently acquired HP Indigo 7600 Digital Press and three new Polish-made INO screen printing lines which utilise the latest in laser and optical registration technology for optimal results.

This production method is designed to produce tens of thousands of different transfers a day – each bearing high levels of graphic detail whilst also being stretchable, durable and washable.
Each of the INO lines has a specific job when it comes to treating the transfer sheets once they have been digitally printed by the HP Indigo.

UltraColour Transfers’ Mandy Olivier and Ben Carroll at FESPA Berlin

One INO line is used purely for laying down a layer of white screen print ink on the back of the transfer. It is this layer of white ink which creates the trademark vibrancy of the final product. The second line spreads an adhesive powder over the back of the sheet and the third line is dedicated to sports number production.

“Innovation has always been my major driver,” Carroll said.

“The INO takes the printed digital sheets from the HP Indigo and runs a white ink over the back of them, so the final product is bright against any colour of clothing. It then drops a power glue over the back, goes through a drying process and is ready for guillotining and despatch.

“Using a system like this, where they have innovated the technology in this way, allows us to use screen print for short run custom work in a much more efficient and effective way. Screen printing traditionally was good for long runs where the set-up time takes a long time.

“This sort of technology minimises that set up time down to a smaller possible moment and allows maximum uptime which matches against the market’s demand for short, customised runs.

“The magic for us is creating a transfer that is both digital print CMYK but also has the benefits of the traditional screen print process which gives you the opacity of the white vinyl and the strength on the shirt that you couldn’t get through a digital print.

“We are merging the best of both worlds – the best of digital print with the HP Indigo and the INO. This is very exciting. It is a massive investment into Australian manufacturing.”

Direct-to-Film technology is a new frontier for the apparel industry and one that Carroll is preparing for through thorough machinery testing.

“We are currently exploring the new direct-to-film technology and trialling the best consumable and hardware outcomes to help our customers avoid the pitfalls of a fledgling technology,” he said.
In further developments, UltraColour will later this year install a new management information system
through eProductivity Software.

This installation will further streamline UltraColour’s operations and bring enhanced efficiencies as print customers will be able to more easily seek quotes and place orders for jobs.

It’s a numbers game

Producing sports numbers is integral to the story of Velflex. Carroll’s Uncle Noel owned Sports Numbers on the Gold Coast and prior to that established Albury’s Flexiprint.

A growing demand for high quality sports numbers – which could withstand the rigours of contact sport and multiple washes – provided the key plank for launching Velflex. The goal was to ensure the industry was supplied with reliable equipment and consumables which would safeguard the industry and importantly keep manufacturing onshore.

Heat transfer masterclasses

In addition to supplying equipment and consumables through Velflex and producing UltraColour Transfers for the trade, Carroll is also passionate about ensuring all of his customers – from either business – have best practice knowledge for applying transfers.

As he says in one of his many YouTube videos – some of which have attracted 250,000 views, “There is nothing worse than a customer coming back with a garment that has the transfers half falling off.”
To ensure his customers achieve optimum results and high-quality products, Carroll regularly runs masterclasses at the company’s headquarters in Brendale.

“Both my businesses are B2B supplying and supporting printers, we support not compete,” he said.
“As well as constantly testing and looking for solutions to support our customers last year we launched our ‘Heat Press Workshops’ an intensive 2-day course where I educate attendees on everything I know about heat press printing, troubleshooting and improving production turnaround.”

It has been a big 12 months for Carroll and his team.

“In the last 12 months after some major investments in infrastructure I was proud to see my company’s revenue grow by more than double and our staff grow from 10 to 45 employees,” he said.
“I was also excited to see us gain recognition in the industry through a number of articles, a Power 50 recognition for myself and a HP Award for Excellence for the UltraColour product. We were also excited to see the return of trade shows, we attended the APPA Roadshow and had our biggest stand
ever at the recent PacPrint show
in Melbourne.”

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