Rhinestone Garment Decoration 1
To start selling rhinestone decorated apparel, you'll need 7 items.

Our most recent Beginners Guide covered the basics of CAD digital garment decoration, otherwise known as T-shirt vinyl.

If you’ve looked into this field of opportunity, you’ve no doubt noticed that there are lots of people wearing rhinestones these days. The popularity of rhinestone decorated garments presents an excellent source of new business for sign makers and digital decorators.

Let’s explore this fancy fashion and find out what it takes to turn this T-shirt trend into more business.

To start selling rhinestone decorated apparel, you’ll need seven items.

  1. A robust vinyl cutter. You’ll need one that can handle material 15 to 30 mils thick. Tracking is not a major consideration since most of these items are fairly small. A Vinyl EXPRESS Qe6000 would be a very cost effective choice
  2. Vector software: Rhinestone specific software can convert graphics to rhinestone patterns for your plotter: There are a few products on the market that can do this. Graphtec’s I-DesignR is a great product with nifty features, but only supports Graphtec Silhouette, Craft ROBO Pro, CE5000, CE600, and FC8000 series cutters. And there are three levels with different drivers for each one. If you’re purchasing I-DesignR, please call us first to make sure your cutter is compatible. LXI Rhinestone Wizard, which is now standard in LXI Master Plus 12, supports most Graphtec, Roland, and Vinyl EXPRESS plotter and offers handy features including pattern fills.
  3. Stencil film for holding the rhinestone pattern: The best stencil film for this applications are Graphtec’s 15mil stencil and Hartco 930 Equalizer.
  4. Of course you’ll need some hot-fix rhinestones. The best and most expensive are the Czechoslovakian Swarovski crystals. The worst are the cheap Chinese imports. The Korean hot-fix stones are the popular, reliable alternative.
  5. Backer boards for supporting and storing the stencils. These are readily available from SignWarehouse. You can also use acrylic engraving stock if you have some on hand.
  6. Weeding tools and a paint brush: A foam rubber brush works best.
  7. Hot-fix acrylic thermal transfer tape: Accept no substitutes! Standard sign industry application tape doesn’t work. Neither does clear tape or Siser Color Mask. Graphtec hot-fix better than most and has drawn rave reviews from customers.
  8. A heat press. A small format press is sufficient, but if you’re going to do high volume, you’ll want to buy something rugged. See our Beginners Guide to heat press for more direction on this decision.
Weed the film. Your stencil should look something like this.
(Fig 2) Rather than weeding out the holes, you can pull the positive space up from the release liner, leaving the holes on the liner. Then position the stencil on the backer board.

Now that you know what you need, you need to know how to use it. What’s the process for turning a design on your computer screen into a dazzling custom garment? Actually, it’s fairly simple.

    1. Design your image in your sign or vector software. Remember to select the correct stone size for the stones you’re going to apply to the shirt. Good rhinestone software will allow you to select either standard rhinestone sizes or their metric equivalent (i.e. 16SS stones are 4mm in diameter).
    2. Convert the shapes to an engraving or rhinestone pattern. Be sure to check for “collisions” places where the software places two stones that overlap. Remove these or adjust placement as necessary before sending the job to the vinyl cutter.
    3. Load your stencil film in your trusty cutting plotter and set the appropriate speed, force, and acceleration. Make sure you are using a 60° blade or the equivalent because the stencil films used for this application are all 15mil thick or more. A standard 45° blade won’t cut it. I suggest you start with 100 grams of force. If you’re using the 15mil Rhinestone stencil film available from SignWarehouse, Always perform a test cut and check it for ease of weeding before proceeding.
    4. Send the job to the cutter and cut out the rhinestone pattern.
    5. Weed the film. Rather than weeding out the holes, you can pull the positive space up from the release liner, leaving the holes on the liner. Then position the stencil on the backer board. Your stencil should look something like this. (FIG 2)
    6. Open a jar of hot-fix rhinestones and pour them onto the stencil. Flood the surface with stones and brush them across the surface (a foam rubber paint brush works very well for this step). As you do so, the stones will fall into the holes, mostly right side up. (That is, with the flat side down in the hole and the tops facing upward. You may have to flip a few manually, but it works quite well. Once your pattern is full, collect the extra stones and save them for later.
Rhinestone Garment Decoration 3
(FIG 3) Cover the stencil with a sheet of hot-fix acrylic transfer tape and rub with a soft squeegee.
  1. Cover the stencil with a sheet of hot-fix acrylic transfer tape and rub with a soft squeegee (FIG 3). Then remove the tape, lifting the stones from the stencil. At this point, you’re done with the stencil, but, unless this is a one of a kind garment, you can save the stencil for later use. Rhinestone stencils can be cut once and used many times.
  2. Set your heat press for medium pressure. Place the tape and stones on the garment and press for 15 seconds at 320°F. After the cycle is done, remove the shirt from the press and allow the tape to cool to room temperature. Remove the tape. Place the shirt back on the press, cover it with a Teflon sheet and re-press for five seconds to seal the adhesive. That’s all there is to it.

The last step in the process is to present the dazzling new custom decorated garment to the customer and complete the sale. That brings up the all important question. How much should you charge? It’s always wise to check the prevailing prices in your area, but here are some general guidelines as to the cost and profit of custom rhinestone apparel.

The average cost of Korean hot-fix rhinestones, tape, and stencil material to make one shirt is about $1.85. (Remember, the stencil can be reused, so the cost of the second shirt from the same stencil will be about 50¢ less.) An average long sleeved women’s shirt costs about $5.50, so the total material cost is $6.85 - $7.35 per shirt.

The finished Rhinestone T-Shirt
Viola! The finished Rhinestone T-Shirt

Depending on your local market and the number of shirts being sold, the average retail price for a rhinestone decorated shirt is about $25.00. You may get significantly more from a Sorority or a little less for a large order. But, according to one of our customers who specializes in rhinestone apparel, $25.00 per shirt is a good working average.

That leaves an average gross profit of $17.65 per shirt. At a production rate of about 10 shirts per hour, you can turn this fashion trend into over $800/day in profit and still have time for lunch and coffee breaks.

One of the nice things about this trend is that it doesn’t appear to be fading any time soon. Rhinestones are now being applied, not only to apparel, but to cell phones and car windows as well. So now is a great time to get yourself some rhinestone software, a good vinyl cutter and start creating and selling your own brand of dazzling, rhinestone T-shirts. And hoodies…and sweatpants…and scarves…and cell phones…and…