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  1. #1
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    Attempting a Pair of Sublimation Printed Neoprene Tails

    Hey guys! About a month ago I took my first dive into actually mermaiding (instead of just following a bunch of mermaid things) when one of my friends I used to cosplay with asked me to come with her. I fell in love a lot but I'm Canadian and damn.... exchange rate, shipping, and customs sure add up and I uh.. really want a tail x.x

    Since I'm a graphic designer and my friend makes her own cosplay, we decided to work together to attempt our own fabric tails. We're part way through designing now, so I thought it was a good time to start documenting this process in case it helps someone else out down the line. (And so that if this goes very wrong I can figure out where it went wrong easier.) And sorry in advance for how scattered this is.

    Disclaimer: We have not done this before, I've worked with sublimation printing designs on shirts and mouse pads but nothing like this. Since I’m writing this out as we go, you probably will want to wait to make sure our tails like… turn out before following them as actual instructions… Because uh… yeahh… But anyways.

    Estimated Materials list:

    - 11 yards of 1.5mm neoprene (~ 3x tale + enough to make a test tail)$120
    - A wide scale Sublimation Printer roughly $150-$250/tail
    -Misc sewing supplies (thread, zippers, pins) $40
    -Fabric paint for detail work $40
    -Vinyl plastic sheets for tail casing $40

    So we're hoping the grand total comes out to around $370 each.

    Research/Design phase

    First we did a lot of research, on fabrics and printing. This part was difficult because you can do a lot of research, but you can't really get any answers without other answers. In the end we had to just go ahead and choose which part we wanted to actually set in stone. But do your research first! You'll need to find a printer to figure out fabric and colours and confirm fabric before you can confirm the printer and just… yeahhh



    Design

    I’ll post photos when I finish both of them, but we basically started looking at fish a lot. I wanted something that was very colourful with pinks and purples whereas my friend wanted something red with a sort of sunsety/ elegant looking vibe. I actually downloaded a fish breeding app in order to come up with ideas for designs.

    My tail is going to be sort of based on a rainbow mandrain fish, but the base colour is purple a light purple that fades into a pink fluke with a green and blue band at the bottom to match my luna monofin (shout out to my AMAZING friend for giving me her practically new luna so we could make these sooner) I’m going to tryyy to make a fluke that looks similar to a mandrain fish, who knows how that’ll turn out though…

    Friend’s tail is going to sort of look like it’s wearing a cape, and underneath the cape it’ll have a sunset gradient with a koi pattern overlaid, and have stars around the edges of the “cape” (I promise it looks better so far than it sounds) she’s using a mahina monofin for hers.

    I do hyper-realistic digital paintings, so we’re going to try to get a semi realistic look with these tails. My files are about 40x70 inches and 300dpi so uh… photoshop is dying already… there’s a chance they won’t be as realistic as I want.

    Printing
    We knew we were doing sublimation printing, but since you can only use certain materials with it (polyester/polymer fabrics) a lot of printers don't let you send in your own fabric. Not only that but uh, it sure is hard to find someone that can sublimation print as wide as a mermaid tail requires (tip: ask your area’s subreddit if you can't find one easily on google)

    Unless you live in a city, most of the places around you are only going to sublimation print small items. I emailed 5 printers and they all but one had a maximum print width over 15" If their website says sublimation printing but only shows examples of mousepads and tote bags, save yourself an email, they probably can't do it.

    Our last local lead pulled through though, which I'm super grateful for (unrelated but their website looked like it had been dead for multiple years) If you're an artist and thats what's stopping you from printing your own tail, email them!! You'll need to find a printer before you start designing, get a swatch test so you can see how the colours would look on your fabric. (Your printer may also determine if you're buying fabric and all that jazz)

    Fabric

    If we were painting these we may have gone with lycra, but we ultimately decided that we wanted 1.5mm neoprene. The printer is going to be expensive either way, and we didn't want to risk pilling after the first swim. My friend has sewed with leather before and we were told by my bf’s mom that it’s not much different than sewing with leather? I don’t know though, we haven’t started the sewing part yet xD

    1.5 mm is apparently the max thickness that most non industrial machines can handle, it’s also the thinnest neoprene I could find. Our printer also needs us to provide white fabric (which tbh I’m glad about, I’ve sublimation printed on black mouse pads but the colours look very bad)


    Unfortunately, but not surprising/uncommon for printers, I tried asking a few questions and because I haven’t paid the down payment yet we haven’t heard back (but also the email asked about the estimated cost… so…) We ended up biting the bullet and ordering the fabric the other day because based on research it SHOULD work, but I gave him like 2 weeks before buying it.

    While we were waiting, we did the measurements which I’m not going to go into because we got Courtney Mermaid’s books and the measurements section was by far the most helpful section for me. (Disclaimer: Any parts of Courtney’s books I use information from I won’t be writing about)

    And that basically leads us into the design phase, which I’ll post updates about just before I send the designs to the printer ^.^

  2. #2
    I'm getting ready to do the same thing! We should compare notes. I'm at about the same stage, been talking with a printing company in town, and have fabric on the way. My printer almost makes it sound TOO easy, the point where I'm a little skeptical that we're on the same page, but we'll see - I've made sure to use the words 'scuba knit' and '58 inches wide' a couple times, and so far there have been no objections! My printers page (dyehard.world) says they do large-format fabric though, so that's promising.

    Definitely looking forward to seeing how the neoprene turns out. Part of the endgame for me here is printing the orca tail I've always wanted, which is neoprene. The other part of course is 'selling custom-printed mermaid tails' and 'establishing a tail design marketplace' for designers who want to sell tails without having to make tails, but that's for another show :P

    Good luck with your project!
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  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by OrcaMatt View Post
    I'm getting ready to do the same thing! We should compare notes. I'm at about the same stage, been talking with a printing company in town, and have fabric on the way. My printer almost makes it sound TOO easy, the point where I'm a little skeptical that we're on the same page, but we'll see - I've made sure to use the words 'scuba knit' and '58 inches wide' a couple times, and so far there have been no objections! My printers page (dyehard.world) says they do large-format fabric though, so that's promising.

    Definitely looking forward to seeing how the neoprene turns out. Part of the endgame for me here is printing the orca tail I've always wanted, which is neoprene. The other part of course is 'selling custom-printed mermaid tails' and 'establishing a tail design marketplace' for designers who want to sell tails without having to make tails, but that's for another show :P

    Good luck with your project!
    Good luck with yours!! Its super rad to know that someone else is trying this too!! I would love to compare notes/ in general hear how yours is going ^.^ What do you mean by your printers making it sound too easy??

    You should be fine with scuba knit/neoprene! Personally, I've avoided calling it scuba knit with printers because neoprene is what mouse pads tend to be made of and that's a pretty common sublimation printing thing. Like, I haven't heard back that it'll for sure for sure be okaay, but realistically I know thats just my anxiety getting to me and it'll be fine x.x

    I feel that 'wanting to make custom tails' thing though. My friend and I already have 3 other people asking us to make them a tail when we're done 😂 Although if that ever takes off we'd wanna sell pre-made designs... I've already spent 30 hrs designing one of the tails and it's no where close to done.... I'm too much of a perfectionist to sell custom tails lmaooo

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by PaperStars View Post
    What do you mean by your printers making it sound too easy??
    Guess I was expecting more obstacles or something. Not that this is a bad thing, I'm just a pessimist by nature :P Would have felt better about there being potential issues and then solving them ahead of time. But no, it all sounded relatively straightforward so naturally that makes me nervous.

    I'm going over to the printer's maybe Wednesday to drop off the fabric.

    Quote Originally Posted by PaperStars View Post
    I feel that 'wanting to make custom tails' thing though. My friend and I already have 3 other people asking us to make them a tail when we're done �� Although if that ever takes off we'd wanna sell pre-made designs... I've already spent 30 hrs designing one of the tails and it's no where close to done.... I'm too much of a perfectionist to sell custom tails lmaooo
    Oh by 'custom' I definitely mean 'somebody else designs the tails and then I print and assemble them'. That's the part of the business model that I think people are having trouble grasping, so maybe I'm not bringing the info across on the website well enough lol. Part of it is the 'tail design marketplace' where designers can post their tails then I print them, and the artist gets a cut of the sale. I can't art but I can have things printed and then sew them, and I figure there are artists and designers who want to make tails but don't want to have to figure out printing, so the two kind of meet there.
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  5. #5
    Hope it all works out for you

  6. #6
    Senior Member Euro Pod Echidna's Avatar
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    exciting!
    neoprene sewing can be a pain, even if you have the right tools. Leather needles and stuff should do the job, though.

    Did you find any white neoprene then (since your printer requires white fabric)?

    I would have done something similar already if I could have found any, but no luck.
    All neoprene these days is super dark, black, dark blue, etc, painting (or printing) on that doesn't look good most of the time.

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Echidna View Post
    Did you find any white neoprene then (since your printer requires white fabric)?
    The neoprene I got for my orca tail is black on one side, white on the other (which is handy for an orca tail!), so it's out there. Looks like Stretch House has white neoprene, but it's thin.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Echidna View Post
    Did you find any white neoprene then (since your printer requires white fabric)?

    I would have done something similar already if I could have found any, but no luck.
    All neoprene these days is super dark, black, dark blue, etc, painting (or printing) on that doesn't look good most of the time.

    It's funny that you ask that because I'm currently ripping my hair out over potentially ordering the wrong fabric x.x I thought I found some on fabricwholesaledirect but turns out that's scuba neoprene and idk if that's like ACTUALLY going to be good for the water. Sooo I may be spending as much to ship the fabric here and back to them as we spent on fabric to begin with x.x Tbhhhh I'm at a major loss as to what to do rn about this ahaha :////

    Quote Originally Posted by OrcaMatt View Post
    Guess I was expecting more obstacles or something. Not that this is a bad thing, I'm just a pessimist by nature :P Would have felt better about there being potential issues and then solving them ahead of time. But no, it all sounded relatively straightforward so naturally that makes me nervous.

    I'm going over to the printer's maybe Wednesday to drop off the fabric.

    Oh by 'custom' I definitely mean 'somebody else designs the tails and then I print and assemble them'. That's the part of the business model that I think people are having trouble grasping, so maybe I'm not bringing the info across on the website well enough lol. Part of it is the 'tail design marketplace' where designers can post their tails then I print them, and the artist gets a cut of the sale. I can't art but I can have things printed and then sew them, and I figure there are artists and designers who want to make tails but don't want to have to figure out printing, so the two kind of meet there.
    Ahaha In my experience with other types of printers always get a test print because they're always very confident and without a doubt every time I haven't gotten a test print something goes wrong (and that sure has been an $800 mistake I dont wish to repeat x.x)

    I'm SO excited that you're dropping your fabric off!!!! That's super amazing please show photos once you have it printed!!!

    And that plan to print and sew people's tail designs is honestly really good. I know personally I wouldn't be trying to sew this if I didn't have a friend who could help, but as an artist, it made me a little sad that most companies who do custom tails require you to go through their designer instead of being able to actually draw and create your own (although, as a graphic designer I 100% understand it, if something wasnt set up correctly its an expensive mistake in the printing process)

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by PaperStars View Post
    I'm currently ripping my hair out over potentially ordering the wrong fabric x.x I thought I found some on fabricwholesaledirect but turns out that's scuba neoprene and idk if that's like ACTUALLY going to be good for the water.
    Hold up, what'd you get from fabric wholesaler direct? Because that's where I got my fabric too: https://www.fabricwholesaledirect.co...ant=1679915523 . Don't think that's the correct stuff?

    but as an artist, it made me a little sad that most companies who do custom tails require you to go through their designer instead of being able to actually draw and create your own (although, as a graphic designer I 100% understand it, if something wasnt set up correctly its an expensive mistake in the printing process)
    That's exactly what I'm going for Letting people just put their designs in for printing, and letting independent designers reach an audience.
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    Quote Originally Posted by OrcaMatt View Post
    Hold up, what'd you get from fabric wholesaler direct? Because that's where I got my fabric too: https://www.fabricwholesaledirect.co...ant=1679915523 . Don't think that's the correct stuff?
    Wait does that work for you?? Have you taken a swatch of it in the water yet?? That's the same stuff I have coming too, there's a part in the description that says it doesnt have waterproof qualities though. Full disclosure, I can't understand how any company has been talking about fabric at all so like it just may be my lack of experience. But, what I was finding was that neoprene itself is partially a rubber or something like that? (my bf explained it to me better but he's still asleep so I cant ask ahaha) Apparently the reason you cant really find it in white is because it's coloured with carbon the same way they do for tires and hockey pucks. But since some people were like "hey sewing clothing with neoprene looks pretty neat, but it sure is hard to sew with" companies decided to make scuba knit, which, from what I can tell, is more of a fabric but its made to mimic the way neoprene drapes. I also ended up seeing that either finfolk or mertailor, I cant remember which right now, switched from neoprene to scuba knit because it didnt drain as well.

    Although that being said, I like, cant find any scuba knit that looks like it has any thickness to it either, like there's this https://www.fabricwholesaledirect.co...29182279385203 but it looks so see through I'm not sure....

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by PaperStars View Post
    Wait does that work for you?? Have you taken a swatch of it in the water yet?? That's the same stuff I have coming too, there's a part in the description that says it doesnt have waterproof qualities though. Full disclosure, I can't understand how any company has been talking about fabric at all so like it just may be my lack of experience. But, what I was finding was that neoprene itself is partially a rubber or something like that? (my bf explained it to me better but he's still asleep so I cant ask ahaha) Apparently the reason you cant really find it in white is because it's coloured with carbon the same way they do for tires and hockey pucks. But since some people were like "hey sewing clothing with neoprene looks pretty neat, but it sure is hard to sew with" companies decided to make scuba knit, which, from what I can tell, is more of a fabric but its made to mimic the way neoprene drapes. I also ended up seeing that either finfolk or mertailor, I cant remember which right now, switched from neoprene to scuba knit because it didnt drain as well.

    Although that being said, I like, cant find any scuba knit that looks like it has any thickness to it either, like there's this https://www.fabricwholesaledirect.co...29182279385203 but it looks so see through I'm not sure....
    I haven't taken any into the water yet but I'm reasonably certain this is the correct stuff. Wasn't expecting it to be waterproof or anything, though, and it doesn't become transparent when wet. I think we're fine

    Now I just need to hear back from my printer confirming when I can go over there....was hoping for 'today' but he never got back to me.
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  12. #12
    Senior Member Pod of Cali Merman Storm's Avatar
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    Seattle fabrics has 2 mm white.
    Are you a Frozen fan? Frozen fanfiction:
    https://www.fanfiction.net/s/10952902/1/Rain-of-a-Child-s-Tear

    Let the storm rage on!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Merman Storm View Post
    Seattle fabrics has 2 mm white.
    sadly, you won't find any white neoprene in Europe, not the fabric, and not any ready-made suit.

    I tried to order in the States, but the shipping would have cost more than the items (and then they would have added the import tax on top here, I'm not that rich anymore).

    That probably won't change, for some reasons, Europeans hate anything that's mostly white (they have a lot of stuff with a tiny bit of white on the straps somewhere, the rest being usually black), heck, they even hate on white cats and dogs (legit heard some people saying all of those, including their owners, should be put down. Go figure.)

  14. #14
    Printing update: Printer called because he wanted to make sure I was aware that the the printing process would squash the fabric a bit and it might lose its sponginess (which may or may not spring back), so that's good to know
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    Hi! I'm thinking of embarking on a similar project so I'm super happy I found this thread. So by the sounds of it you're buying the fabric and then sending it off to be printed on else where? So far I've only been looking at companies that send the fabric ready printed. Is there any reason you chose to have a seperate place print on it (price / durability etc)? Also, do you have any idea how well the ink will 'stick' to the fabric and whether chlorine / salt water will fade it / chip it?

  16. #16
    Quote Originally Posted by MerDragon View Post
    Hi! I'm thinking of embarking on a similar project so I'm super happy I found this thread. So by the sounds of it you're buying the fabric and then sending it off to be printed on else where? So far I've only been looking at companies that send the fabric ready printed. Is there any reason you chose to have a seperate place print on it (price / durability etc)? Also, do you have any idea how well the ink will 'stick' to the fabric and whether chlorine / salt water will fade it / chip it?
    I'm starting a fabric tail printing company and I'm doing it that way, ordering fabric from one place and having it printed at a dedicated dye sublimation printing shop (local to me).

    Contrado is a lot more expensive than what I'm paying. It's not that bad if you're just doing one tail, though. I've heard ok things about the quality too.

    Update on mine: I've done two test batches since last post and they've turned out pretty well. Exposed some issues with my templates that I've hopefully corrected and have a third batch ready to go. Print quality has been great. Fabric place sent me a roll of scuba knit but in two pieces, which is really annoying (Apparently I was supposed to have asked for one single piece if it was a big deal) so I have to redo my print layout and hope my printing guy isn't too grumpy about it.
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    I had a look, but sadly I don't have anywhere to print nearby (I live in quite a rural area). Is there anything you're doing to protect the print from fading in chlorine / salt water, or is that not an issue with sublimation printing?

  18. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by MerDragon View Post
    I had a look, but sadly I don't have anywhere to print nearby (I live in quite a rural area). Is there anything you're doing to protect the print from fading in chlorine / salt water, or is that not an issue with sublimation printing?
    No, I don't....BELIEVE.....it's an issue, but I guess time will tell

    Like, it shouldn't be a problem with dye-sub printing, in general
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  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by MerDragon View Post
    Hi! I'm thinking of embarking on a similar project so I'm super happy I found this thread. So by the sounds of it you're buying the fabric and then sending it off to be printed on else where? So far I've only been looking at companies that send the fabric ready printed. Is there any reason you chose to have a seperate place print on it (price / durability etc)? Also, do you have any idea how well the ink will 'stick' to the fabric and whether chlorine / salt water will fade it / chip it?
    By using sublimation printing you should be pretty good on the fading/chipping front!! Sublimation printing isn't using a dye, it's basically melting plastic on top of something else, so it doesn't fade but it can crack if it's been rubbed against the side of the pool or rocks or something. Chlorine won't affect it as much either, but depending on the fabric it can cause pilling if you don't wash it immediately (I don't know about salt water, I don't live very close to the ocean so I didn't look into that)

    The reason I personally didn't want to go with any pre-printed fabric is because I've had to deal with quite a few bad experiences with printers most recently I cost my work $800 because I didn't get a test print and the colour was off on shirt decals 🙃🙃🙃. I didnt want to order the fabric with the print on only to find out I messed up somehow and now I need to pay to get it done again. My friend and I also wanted to be sure we got the sizing right (especially for her fin, the measurements for the mahina scare me lmaoo) so by ordering the fabric ourselves we could get a larger bulk order and make a test tail before we send the fabric to be printed on. Oh, and I wanted to be able to get a swatch test done. A lot of my bad experience with printers is the colours don't turn out as nice, and especially because colours change when they get wet, I wanted to be able to see what the colours look like wet before I paid for something that didn't look too great.

    Plus, since I'm Canadian the cost of this project is crazy regardless. There's not many direct fabric print companies in Canada and the ones that do had something that meant I couldn't use them (usually fabric selection) so it basically came down to the cost being the same regardless, at least this way I know it's going to come out well

    Quote Originally Posted by OrcaMatt View Post
    I'm starting a fabric tail printing company and I'm doing it that way, ordering fabric from one place and having it printed at a dedicated dye sublimation printing shop (local to me).

    Contrado is a lot more expensive than what I'm paying. It's not that bad if you're just doing one tail, though. I've heard ok things about the quality too.

    Update on mine: I've done two test batches since last post and they've turned out pretty well. Exposed some issues with my templates that I've hopefully corrected and have a third batch ready to go. Print quality has been great. Fabric place sent me a roll of scuba knit but in two pieces, which is really annoying (Apparently I was supposed to have asked for one single piece if it was a big deal) so I have to redo my print layout and hope my printing guy isn't too grumpy about it.
    Omg I'm sooo glad so hear that yours have been turning out well!!! I was waay too stressed about the fabric not working so I haven't done anything with it yet. But hearing that yours turned out well, I'm a lot less stressed about bringing it in

    My update: I think I went a bit too intense on the details... neither tail is done yet but one is 6gb and the other is 8gb. I crash my bf's computer everytime I try to do anything with them (help) BUT they're very pretty, I designed 4 different scales, and the scale sheet has a variety of sizes of each scale. All I have left on them is to design the fluke, but my bf decided to use his engineer software to make the size outline for my fin and I need to get my friend to leave hers at my place so we can do hers as well. Work ended up getting crazy this last month though so I doubt the ability to have my tail by the end of summer 😭

  20. #20
    Go for it! I've posted some pictures of the first run in my post Hey! Let's Start A Tail-Making Company!

    Those are definitely massive files! I can't imagine how detailed they must be!
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