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19th-annual Q&A Troubleshooting Guide

Welcome to another annual installment—our 19th—of one of Printwear’s most popular features. This year a talented team of authorities from every industry sector offer up one or more of their most frequently dealt-with troubles, then deftly shoot them down. If you experience any of these maladies—or any of the simple curiosities also addressed—you may expect a treat on the following pages.  As always, our most sincere thanks to all those who participated in this feature. . . .

Question: I’m Depressed! Business is bad. What should I do?

Answer: Let’s be realistic, we certainly are in a challenging economic season. Good clients are going out of business, many of the buyers you worked with are gone, and budgets for the items you sell are tighter. But know this! Business is still being done. Don’t get too caught up in the bad news. Consider the things you enjoy that brought you into this business. Get creative with design work. Come up with some killer imprints that will wow prospective clients. If you don’t have great graphic ability, imprint something that may open doors for new business. Everyone loves gifts. If business is slow, make use of the time by targeting companies you want to do business with. Print custom shirts with an imprint they may like. This will result in new sales opportunities and the cost is minimal. If you sell promotional products, take advantage of inexpensive supplier self-promotion offers. This is a cost-effective way to get something nice to give away that can stimulate sales. Most important, get out and see clients and prospects! You may not feel like doing it but, in these times, business isn’t going to drop from the sky. Start networking and get active in your local business groups. Remember, you control your own destiny!

— Jeff Solomon, All American Marketing Group

Q:  No matter what I do I cannot get good edges or halftones with my screens. I am using a coating method a screen printer told me about, a single thin coat on both sides with a sharp edge. I also see this is a popular method on the Internet, so do I need a new emulsion?

A: Most likely your problems stem from the thin coating of emulsion as, without a thicker coating, the threads of the mesh will not have as much effect on the image details. Emulsion-over-mesh ratio or EOM is how we refer to the thickness of the stencil past the woven knuckles of the mesh (it is measured as a percentage of the total thickness of mesh and emulsion). A thin EOM will allow the stencil to follow the threads of the mesh and this will distort dots and cause a rough edge; when the EOM is thicker it does not follow the mesh as much (if at all) and, as long as there is mesh to support the stencil, the edges will be smooth and crisp giving a better print. You can see in the figures at right that, with a thin layer of emulsion or low EOM the dots formed and lines imaged will follow the thread of the mesh causing distortion of the printed image but that, with a thicker layer or higher EOM, the stencil will form the image more independently of its mesh supports.

— Douglas Grigar, The Grendel

Q:  In this lousy economy, I feel I’m knocking my head against a brick wall. Any advice that will help me save my business?

A: Develop new customers, and particularly high-profit-per-hour-of-decorating customers. Make a list of potential customers, then contact them. Contractors such as landscapers, roofers, construction and many others wear easy-to-print Ts. People handling food must wear caps for sanitary reasons. High-school kids need fund raisers. Print the names of all the students in a class on the back, and the school name and logo on the left chest. Students will pay retail-store prices. Office workers and restaurant personnel are candidates for decorated placket shirts. The number of potential customers is endless. The issue for many is how to contact potential customers. If, because you are shy or fear rejection, you send a direct-mail piece to hundreds of prospects, you might yield one order per hundred leads. If you know the decision maker at an organization and can manage to visit that person, your percentage of orders will be much higher. In general, you will need to contact that person at least three times to get an order.

— Roger Jennings, R Jennings Mfg.

Q:  I’ve heard I have to change needles for different applications, but that’s kind of a lot of trouble. So is there a “universal” needle for embroidery?

A: Just as in sewing there is a universal needle available for embroidery machines. It is not as pointed as a sharp and not as round as a ball point. This needle may work fine on “middle-of-the road” fabrics. However, for extra delicate, very stretchy or heavy and thick fabrics, choose the needle and point that suit the thread you are using and the fabric you are stitching. It is not that difficult to create stellar embroidery, and the correct needle is one important part of that excellence equation.

— Helen Hart Momsen, Hart Enterprises

Q:  I have tried my normal emulsion over several attempts at using discharge inks, but the stencil is breaking down after only a few prints. Do I need to change emulsions or even switch brands to get a better screen stencil for discharge printing?

A: Discharge is a very harsh ink, so you will need an emulsion product that can withstand the chemicals involved in the process. Standard emulsions will start to break down quickly under discharge ink use. But most emulsion companies have product designed to accommodate this application. You will need to contact your supplier or manufacturer for its discharge-ink-resistant emulsion. And you’ll sometimes need to add an emulsion hardener even to the “discharge capable” emulsions, for extended printing.

— Douglas Grigar

Q:  What is the best temperature for my flash unit?

A: If you were to compare all the flash temps in the world, you would find the settings to be eerily similar: For some reason, they’re all set to heat up the synthetic rubber platen surface. Seriously, the process of drying, gelling or evaporating an ink requires heat to make a change in the content or configuration of the chemistry. But the platen surface acts as a heat sink requiring excess temperature, excess time or both. All inks have two components which absorb heat: solvent and resin. The solvent makes the ink liquid-like and it may evaporate or remain in the ink to melt the resin. The resin is the plastic or polymer which creates durability, hand, softness. Remember the following rule: Oil moves toward heat, water moves away from heat. If you are working with a plastisol, preheat the platens, keep the panel or tubes as close to the surface as possible and reduce the flash temperature. If you are working with an evaporative, do the opposite, keep the platens cool as possible, increase the temperature in stages and keep a safe distance.

— Joe Clarke, Clarke Product Renovation (CPR)

Q:  I build up quite a little mess in the bobbin/bobbin area. Any tips for adjusting, cleaning and taking care of?

A: You must keep the bobbin case and area of the hook assembly clean. A small brush such as the one that comes with an electric razor works well. Test tension with a full bobbin as the thread in a partially full bobbin is flatter and this may decrease the tension.

Clip the bobbin thread to about three inches so it won’t wrap around the hook shaft. Change all the bobbins on a multi-head at the same time and save the partially used bobbins for smaller designs. Punch a hole in a thin sheet of plastic and hang it near the machine for cleaning under the bobbin adjustment arm. Cleaning under this arm, also called the leaf-adjustment spring, will keep the bobbin on the bottom where it belongs.

— Helen Hart Momsen 

Q:  I want to apply a heat transfer to a full-zip hoodie. Do I apply it over the zipper, closed, and when done will opening the zipper ruin it? Or do you do half-and-half on each side to clear the zipper getting as close to the zipper area as possible?

A: Plastisol transfers apply easily to hoodies, but I have a couple suggestions. First, the heat will not damage a metal zipper. But if the zipper is plastic, check with the manufacturer to be sure it will not melt in the heat. The easiest way to heat print a zipper hoodie is to avoid the zipper completely. A left chest transfer offers a traditional look and, by using a leg/sleeve design, you can give your zipper hoodie a unique look that is easily done. If your customer wants a full-chest design that needs to go completely over the zipper, leave the garment completely zipped up. Set your heat press to firm pressure to compensate for the zipper. Pre-press to remove moisture, wrinkles and also to get the seam around the zipper to lay flat. Position the transfer, press and peel using the directions supplied with the transfer. Remove the release paper and gently unzip the garment to separate the ink where the zipper zips. Now take a cover sheet (extra transfer paper, Teflon sheet or kraft paper), cover and press again for a few seconds to seal the edges. Your zipper hoodie is ready for sale! 

— Sue Wilcosky, Transfer Express 

Q:  Why does my inkjet film turn yellow?

A: There are a number of reasons but here is the most commonplace: Some inkjet inks, particularly water-based, have additives in them called fungicides which are added to prevent molding. The ink and film industries are great places to hide true costs: The buyer focuses on the raw-material costs and forgets true cost; in turn, the lowest sticker price usually gets the sale. Often, the films do a poor job exchanging the evaporatives in the ink, as a result more and more (very expensive) ink is required to achieve minimum density, the multi-layered inks entrap liquids in the film, it gets rolled up or laid in a stack and, finally, the evaporation process releases the liquids in the form of gasses which degrade the coating on the low-cost film. The best advice is to look beyond the package cost at the true cost of the ink and film combination. But for those bargain hunters? Minimize your layering to get just the deposit and density required. In colder environments be sure the film is about 72ºF with adequate air circulation before you put it away in storage. In warmer environments try to keep the relative humidity at a minimum before packing the positives away. In all cases, the problem goes up volumetrically: The more layers and the more coverage, the more likely your low-cost combination will cause trouble when it is archived.

— Joe Clarke

Q:  I’m having trouble with the garment dye coming up through the image, after I heat-transfer it on, especially on synthetic garments. Any suggestions?

A: First, make sure you are using a transfer suited for synthetics, one that goes on at a lower temp. Make sure to follow the machine settings the transfer manufacturer provides. During application, try pre-heating the garment for two-to-three seconds. Then use a sheet of pellon over the transfer during application.

— Sara Kahane, InstaGraphic Systems

Q:  I am working on three-color vinyl lettering for jerseys for a baseball team. It is a youth team and the jerseys are full-button split-front. I have never done this before and am not exactly clear how to space the letters or move them. Can you please help with the technique?

A: Creating split-front jerseys can sometime be tricky. If designs or lettering are not cut or applied properly then they can appear distorted, out of alignment. Here’s the trick: Do one side of the garment first. For example, start with the left side. Position your bottom layer down and heat seal it just enough to hold it in place using a Teflon cover sheet or silicone-coated cover sheet. Then put down the second layer and tack it again. Finally put your third, foreground, piece down and apply for full dwell time. Repeat this process for the right side. Make sure the design is perfectly aligned on both sides by viewing the garment while buttoned. My company can provide a paper proof to help embroiderers with hooping. With a little patience and time, you can create a professional sports look in minutes that any ball player would be proud to wear.

— Terry Wagner, GroupeSTAHL

Q:  I’m trying to be compliant—with my customers, if not with unclear legislation. But I’ve read horror stories about companies that do convert to non-phthalate inks and are still plagued with phthalate test failures from testing facilities. How can I avoid?

A:  First and foremost, make sure you are using a non-phthalate ink over a phthalate-compliant ink. Phthalate-compliant inks still contain phthalates as plasticizers, while phthalate-free inks use alternate plasticizers. Phthalates that are compliant with respect to the CSPIA regulations contain similar base molecules to phthalates which are covered by such regulations and, therefore, may show false positives in laboratory testing facilities. Testing issues can cost you time and money. Another way to avoid test failures is to defend your shop against possible phthalate contamination into your ink. Keep your ink kitchen clean and free of all contaminants. If you carry both classic and non-phthalate inks, make sure you store these lines separate from each other and do not mix your non-phthalate inks with any other ink that is not specified by your ink manufacturer. Additionally, all mixing tools and buckets should be new or cleaned thoroughly with non-phthalate cleaners before each use. A good practice is to color-code buckets, squeegee handles, floodbars, platen knives and any equipment used to help prevent the possibility of contamination. During the pre-press stage of the printing process, make sure your emulsions, stencil products and cleaning solvents are non-phthalate based to avoid any cross contamination.

On press, be aware of old screens that may have been used with phthalate-bearing inks. Create new screens for the new ink line; old screens should not be used to print non-phthalate inks if your goal is to reduce the potential for phthalate contamination. Similar logic suggests that one should use separate squeegees, floodbars and if possible, designated presses apart from the presses that use the classic inks. Also, your platen spray adhesive must be non-phthalate to avoid contamination.

To reduce the potential of the curing step causing contaminations issues, avoid curing non-phthalate inks on the same drier at the same time as phthalate-bearing inks. Finally, make sure that these garments are packed in non-phthalate packaging.

— Ray Smith, PolyOne/Wilflex

Q:  I’m not certain I know when to use pad printing over screen printing? How does that work?

A: Pad printing is an extremely flexible print technology. It allows one to print on a wide variety of surfaces whether curved, irregular, textured or flat. It can accommodate a vast array of substrates including plastics, acrylics, wood, metal, glass and ceramics. It is an excellent choice where other printing forms fail. Pad printing is a fairly a simple transfer process. A silicon transfer pad picks up an image form an inked printing plate (called a cliché), and then transfers it onto the part being decorated. The pad molds and conforms to the shape of the product so it prints without distortion. The image on the printing plate is very shallow and the ink used in pad printing is very opaque allowing for precise detail on even the most delicate of products.

— Cynthia “Mo” Goss, Printa Systems

Q:  I’m afraid of compromising the delicacy of infant and children’s wear in the process of hooping/stabilizing it. What would you recommend?

A: The best stabilizer for infant items is a diagonally patterned no-show nylon mesh because it is soft, sheer and almost invisible. For most jobs one layer will hold approximately 10,000 to 12,000 stitches. For higher stitch counts, I suggest using a tearaway in combination with the mesh. It improves definition and, when you use the mesh, nine of 10 times you should add a tearaway. The tearaway should be a wet-laid non-directional nonwoven in a 1.5- to 2-ounce weight depending on your stitch count and stitch density. You also can use a washaway/tearaway. When layering, the first layer (closest to the shirt) is the mesh and the second layer is the tearaway so when you are done embroidering, you remove the tearaway and you are left with the soft sheer mesh next to your skin. You will have to also trim the remaining square of mesh. The mesh comes in a regular and a low-melt fusible version (260°F) so it will not shrink or scorch your material. The fusible version is used if you are afraid of slippage in the hoop. It is fused on, the embroidery is done, the edges are reheated, you peel it back and then trim it.

When using metallic or any thread that may feel rough, cover the backside of the embroidery with a fusible version of the mesh or a lightweight fusible material that is designed to be used in conjunction with a stabilizer. This eliminates any irritating spots against the skin and it will give your garment a professional, finished look. For top-quality embroidery, you always want to try to approach a “tambourine skin” tension in your hoop as this will improve definition. Do not overstretch your fabric to achieve this tension as this will produce puckering. There is a happy medium.

— Fred Lebow, Cotswold Industries

Q:  When buying a flash-cure unit, does it matter if I’m using a manual or an automatic press?

A: Obviously, you will need to choose a flash-cure unit that is compatible with your press. Some manufacturers make flash cures that are compatible with only their press brand, but there are universal flash cures that will work on any model. For the most part, flash-cure units also are designed to work with either manual or automatic presses. A manual flash unit physically won’t fit into an automatic press, even if it’s the same size as the corresponding automatic unit, and there are mechanical issues as well. However, there are units that are interchangeable and can be used on both. Typically, flash-cure units for manual presses are more mobile. They have wheeled stands and are designed to fit under the press screens. The height of manual and automatic units can be adjusted to work with the press. This is important because it enables you to get the flash as close to the garment as possible. On a manual press, it also offers a way to control garment temperature. Some of these units are designed to swing above and away from the press platen automatically.

There are several types of flash-cure units for automatics. An intercolor flash-cure unit is positioned over a platen and takes up a print station. With this type, you sacrifice the ability to print another color. Some intercolor flash units clamp onto the press like a screen. Others slide in and out or on and off the platen. An alternative type, sometimes referred to as an intracolor flash, is an inline unit. It works from underneath the screen, allowing the same station to be used for printing and flashing, thereby not taking the place of a color. This type of unit also has a blower system that cools the ink, to it’s not necessary to use the printing station that follows the flash unit for cooling, and you’re not losing the ability to print a color there, either. This can be important, depending on the size of your press and the number of garments and colors in your typical jobs.

— Dan Axelsen, Workhorse Products

Q:  My white ink is thick and hard to print with. Any suggestions on how to make printing white ink easier?

A: White ink is thicker than other inks because it is made with titanium dioxide as the pigment. It absorbs the plasticizers from the ink and the pigment molecules swell.

White ink is always best when it is fresh. As it ages, it gets thicker. I’ve had customers tell me, “This gallon of ink was awesome three months ago when I started using it, but now it’s too thick.” So one way to avoid thick ink is to stock only the amount of white ink that you will use in one month. You get the best discount when buying in volume, but if you want a fresh, fast-moving white ink, you don’t want to overstock. Another habit to get into that will make white ink less thick is to always mix it. When you whip it up, it breaks down what’s called “false body” in the ink. When it is at rest, it appears thicker than it really is. Once you start mixing it, the molecules get moving and the ink warms up a little bit and starts to flow much better.

Otherwise, the most conventional way to thin white ink is to add curable reducer, a balanced plastisol additive that has the consistency of heavy cream. When you mix it in with the ink it does two things. It thins it down and it also makes it less sticky so it does not stick to screens as readily. Generally, add between three and five percent to white ink. If you add more than that you start to undermine the opacity of the ink.

You do not always need to add reducer, but more often than not. Temperature plays a big factor. In the winter, plastisol ink can be like tar, so you will find yourself using more reducer in the winter. In the summer on a 120°F day that same ink is like liquid. You may not have to do anything to it.

A good rule of thumb to use when determining whether or not to add reducer is to stir the ink up as above, put some in a screen and print with it. If it prints well, don’t reduce it. Another seat-of-the-pants method is to whip it up and pick some ink up on the spatula, pulling it like taffy. You want to see that the ink flows a little bit, and doesn’t stick to the spatula.

What a printer especially needs to be careful about is that he doesn’t try to solve a white-ink problem by adding squeegee pressure. If too much pressure is used, it can distort the print and throw off registration. It also puts more wear and tear on the screen. Other issues that too much pressure creates are that it slows down the press and can prematurely fatigue a manual printer. Consider also using a lower mesh count. Instead of using a 110, say, try an 83 mesh. The squeegee also plays a role. I have found that a triple-ply/double-durometer (60/90/60) keeps the squeegee from bending over. You get good detail and a nice lay down.

— Bob Drake, Performance Screen Supply

Q:  I am having a hard time embroidering caps, especially the unstructured type. Text is always mangled, and designs with fill stitches are always off and distorted. I’ve tried cutaway and tearaway backing, Solvy, and slowing down my machine. Please someone help!

A: The issues you seem to be having sound more like a digitizing problem than the right stabilizer. As Walter Floriani taught us: “Digitizing is mastering the art of distortion!” Especially on a curved, unstructured cap, you are going to have some distortion. If your design looks nice and pretty on screen, and everything matches up but it sews distorted, you need to adjust the digitizing for the type of fabric and cap you are working on. Another thing to make sure of is, if you have a fill pattern, always be certain it is sewing off the grain line. It should never sew directly on grain line. Even a couple of degrees off is better than none.

— Melanie Coakley and Steve Coakley, Floriani Commercial Products

Q:  I understand that, when you first install a new automatic press, the technician ensures that it is level and in registration. Is this good for the lifetime of the press or will it need to be redone?

A: Depending on use, you’ll occasionally need to level the machine’s platens and check its registration. It’s difficult to say just how often this should happen, because it varies based on the volume the press handles. Generally, a high-volume shop should check platen level and off-contact semi-annually, and smaller shops should do it at least annually. As your machine ages, its parts wear and tolerances aren’t as tight as they once were, so you may need to increase the frequency over the years. You also need to follow the safety warnings in your operator’s manual. Most machine damage occurs when people aren’t following proper safety precautions. For example, use the standard stop button, not an emergency stop, to halt your press. Also, adjustments to the machine’s indexing, acceleration curves, and speeds should be made when the press is idle.

Other safety precautions are mostly common sense. For instance: Don’t set food or drink on the control panel; if you’re frustrated at the press, don’t hit it; don’t ram-and-jamb screen frames into the press; and don’t use a wrench to loosen hand-knobs. If a hand-knob is getting difficult to turn, clean it, or order a new one.

— Tim Dunham, Workhorse Products

Q:  Is there an industry-accepted sales-per-employee ratio for garment decorators? How do I calculate this and is it worth doing?

A: According to the 2009 SGIA Financial Outlook Survey, the median sales-per-employee ratio is $75,001 to $100,000, up from $50,001-$75,000 in 2008. The sales-per-employee ratio, a great way to track the productivity of your business, is calculated by dividing a company’s total annual sales by the number of employees. A low ratio could imply underutilization of personnel while, in general, a high sales-to-employee ratio tends to indicate greater efficiency. Note, however, that it is best not to view the sales-per-employee ratio in isolation. If you’ve recently hired or fired staff, for example, the ratio may be temporary low or high. In a labor-intensive industry such as garment decoration, one way to increase sales-per-employee ratio is to gear up marketing, sales and other service aspects of business that can increase sales without hiring additional staff. More benchmarking data and industry trends can be found at www.SGIA.org, keyword: surveys.

— Katy Lellelid, SGIA

Q:  I tried to use contact paper to transfer individual pre-cut heat-applied vinyl letters to a garment on my heat press and it melted. Suggestions?

A: Contact paper is not the best choice for transferring letters or graphics as it is sticky and, with the different temperatures and pressure that occur during a heat application, it may actually ruin your garment. It is best to use a product that has been tested with a heat press and is known to work well with heat-applied vinyl. A product designed for this purpose is known as transfer, thermo or premasking tape. It is heat-resistant and will allow you to position your letters. You then lay the tape across the word and you can pick it up in one piece to position on the garment. Heat press the garment and remove the tape. Any supplier that offers pre-cut lettering also will offer this type of tape.

— Terry Wagner

Q:  With all the new inks, additives and press technology, I’m still having trouble finding a single-stroke white that has a soft hand and good opacity. Can you help?

A: This might just be the most commonly discussed question in our industry. In a short statement, the object is to place a thin film of ink precisely on top of the weave/knit of the garment. There should be only enough thread contact and penetration for the ink film to adhere to the cloth surface. Very little ink should be falling into spaces between threads, and little or no fiber should be visible at the surface.

The most common misconception is the need to “fill up” the shirt weave so that the visible ink has a base to support it. This is where endless recipes for print/flash/print, soft-hand additives, multiples strokes, chicken bones, pixy dust and voodoo commonly come into play.

Which white ink should you use? Ink opacity is actually the least of the issues. Most general purpose, high-shear white inks these days can be used to produce a one-stroke white. It takes very little white plastisol ink to produce opacity and brightness. A quick test is to print any white plastisol on smooth black cardstock through a 305 mesh. If it’s opaque and bright (and it usually will be), you now understand that it’s NOT just about the ink opacity. It mainly about ink shear and delivery.

How are you delivering this ink to the surface of the garment? This is actually the main problem. Since the weave of a shirt is not smooth, the object is to bridge the valleys to create a smooth surface with the ink film.

To do this, the ink needs two conflicting properties:

(1) it must have enough viscosity and body to create a film that can keep its shape and not flow into the valleys or wet into the fibers excessively;

(2) it must flow well enough through the screen to be delivered with a minimum of pressure, so as not to drive the ink into the fabric.

The term “shear” as applied to ink (and this is a very quick and simple explanation) is the ink’s ability to artificially lower its viscosity almost instantaneously (from a paste to a liquid) when pressure is applied to it.

In this case, we use squeegee pressure. Well-designed inks will regain a large portion of their original viscosity in milliseconds. This is what keeps them from flowing to places you do not want (like into the shirt).

But that’s not the total explanation. When any substance is “squeezed,” that squeezing can only be accomplished between two surfaces. Try to squeeze any object between your fingers and you realize it requires a bare minimum of two. Ink is no different. The “squeeze” that causes viscosity drop and flow (shear) happens between the screen and squeegee and not just by squeegee action alone. Every ink has a point at which it begins to shear. The common problem is that many printers only pay attention to one surface (the squeegee) that is applying pressure. By raising the pressure on the other surface (the screen) you can reduce the pressure needed from the first surface (the squeegee).

In the old days (1990s), most white inks had extremely high shear and large pigments (athletic style inks). They required extreme tensions to shear them (50-60N/cm2 was a common successful recipe). Plastisol inks have improved greatly. Their additive packages allow them to shear very well at much reduced screen tensions.

Though this has been a boon for plastisol printability, the common habit of excessively low screen tension has created the usage of excessive off-contact. The higher the screen is, the more squeegee pressure is required to drive it down to the shirt. The main result is a very imprecise release point for the ink. At low tensions with high squeegee pressure, that release point is typically somewhere within the weave/knit of the shirt and not at the surface.

There are a lot more details that can go into printing a single-stroke white: fibrillation of the cloth chosen, flash temperatures and the flow point of the ink, cure temperatures, emulsion thickness and so on. But the main starting point is high screen tension and low screen off-contact.

— Ray Greenwood, SGIA

Q:  I just got a 16” X 20” clamshell heat press. Having dabbled in T-shirts for 10 years, I’m looking to launch a label. Can I press sleeves and “tagless” tags using a large clamshell press for now? Or is a cap press required?

A: You can use your clamshell heat press to apply heat transfer labels. You need to make sure that the neckline area is elevated above the rest of the shirt so that the seams and neck trim do not get in the way and affect the amount of pressure being applied to the transfer. The best way to do this is to purchase a silicone pad. Several suppliers offer these in a variety of sizes. You may need to cut a pad to the correct size for your purpose. Insert the pad underneath the neckline area between the platen and the back of the shirt. When the top platen comes down, only the tag area of the shirt will touch the platen ensuring that you are getting enough pressure on the transfer to get a secure bond.

If your T-shirt line takes off and you find you are doing higher volume, you may want to consider purchasing a heat press with a 6" X 6" platen that is specifically designed to apply labels and smaller transfers.

— Ben Robinson, GroupeSTAHL

Q:  Knowing they should be perfect, I find screen making kind of intimidating. And I’m wondering, should I stretch my own screens or outsource the process?

A: The T-shirt market in the US is the anomaly for screen making; most of our screens are made by the printers who use them, whereas outside of the US screen-making services are more prevalent. Dedicated screen-making shops usually have the skill set required to provide a cost-effective (not the same as the lowest cost) product based on economies of scale in their ability to purchase products at more attractive pricing, while the volume of their processing allows them to better distribute their costs per screen. If scheduling looms like a giant eight-ball on the timeline of your life, you won’t be secure to outsource anything but a stretched screen. However, be forewarned, don’t just buy their “most popular mesh”; it is likely to be the one with the thickest thread, of a higher count, and the cheapest overall product. Obtain a thread counter from your supplier, count the threads, and check the tension in both warp and weft direction with all inbound screens. Most screen suppliers are honest, but this QC stage will help them stay that way and could save you a lot of frustration and money in the long run.

— Joe Clarke

Q:  I am currently making T-shirts with heat transfers and I want to learn to make vinyl decals for autos to add to my business. Can you help?

A: Assuming that you already have a vinyl cutter (if not, you will need one), the principle of cutting out the design and then “weeding” away the excess media is pretty much the same for each process. The difference is that when cutting heat-applied film for heat transfers to be applied to a garment, you cut the design in a mirror image and flip the design over (carrier backing and all) and press the design to the fabric. Once pressed, the protective carrier sheet is removed revealing the image in its original design. When cutting sign or decal vinyl, the material has a tacky pressure-sensitive adhesive that is mounted to a paper carrier. With this process, you cut the design in the positive or just as it appears on your computer screen, weed away the excess material, then lift the image from the carrier using a paper premasking tape. At this point, you are ready to apply the design to a hard surface using a squeegee to ensure even application and eliminate air bubbles.

— Bob Robinson, Imprintables Warehouse

Q:  I’ve tried laser etching on light and white fleece for a subtle, tone-on-tone effect, but my results are not satisfying, hard to even see, in fact. So what types of fabrics can you use laser etching on?

A. Laser etching can be done on any type of fabric but the results vary. The laser can be set to any depth where it literally burns off a top layer of fabric to create a range of special effects. A lot of experimentation is still going on to see how it works on different fabrics but it has been proven to be very effective on denim. It actually removes the blue pigment of the denim. It also works well on polyester fleece, but not equally well on all colors. Black does not give much of a tonal look and lights do not work as well either. The mid-tone colors such as blue, red, green, work best. Laser etching also works well on polyester such as performancewear and camp shirts. On polyester/cotton blended shirts, it creates a nice tonal effect. On T-shirts, etching has a discharge effect, literally taking out the dye. Not all T-shirts will etch the same; however, it depends on how they were dyed so some experimentation is needed to determine which brands look best.

— Henry Bernstein, Hirsch Int’l.

Q:  Does the CPSIA it apply to me? I’m just a little backroom operation, and I don’t print any kids clothes . . . at least not that I know of. Do I have anything to worry about?

A: To determine whether or not the requirements of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) apply to your products, you first need to determine if you produce a children’s product. For implementation of this legislation, the CPSC is defining a children’s product as a consumer product designed or intended primarily for children 12 years of age or younger. In determining whether a consumer product is primarily intended for a child 12 years of age or younger, the following factors will be considered:

A statement by the manufacturer about the intended use of the product, including a label on the product if such statement is reasonable.

Whether the product is represented in its packaging, display, promotion or advertising as appropriate for use by children 12 years of age or younger.

Whether the product is commonly recognized by consumers as being intended for use by a child 12 years of age or younger.

The Age Determination Guidelines issued by the Commission staff in September 2002, and any successor to such guidelines.

If your product, including apparel, falls within these guidelines, then the lead certification/testing requirements apply to you. If you produce children’s products that would be considered a toy or a child-care article designed for children under three, then the phthalate restrictions apply to your product as well. The good news is that the testing and certification requirements have been put on hold until Feb. 10, 2010. You still need to meet the limits, you just do not need to test or certify at this point.<

All children’s products must comply with the tracking label provisions. In July 2009, the Consumer Product Safety Commission issued guidance to those impacted by the tracking label provision of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. Section 103(a) of the CPSIA requires manufacturers to place permanent, distinguishing marks on children’s products and their packaging to the extent practicable. This provision of the CPSIA applies only to products manufactured on or after August 14, 2009. The primary purpose of the distinguishing marks is to aid in the quick and effective facilitation of recalls involving children’s products. The policy guidance approved by the Commissioners on July 20, 2009 does address the issue of enforcement. Specifically, the guidance document states: “As with any new requirement, the Commission anticipates that there will be a period of education when Section 103(a) first takes effect. The Commission will require compliance with this provision in the context of recalls of products and will exercise its discretion with regard to penalizing manufacturers for noncompliance. In the first instance, given good faith efforts by manufacturers to educate themselves on the requirements of Section 103(a) and to consider ways to apply it to their business, the Commission will not likely seek penalties if required information was inadvertently omitted.”

— Marcia Kinter, SGIA

Q:  I recently purchased a Roland cutter and am having problems with the contour lines. When I print my artwork and go to "object" and set my contour lines, it shows just fine. After printing, I place my piece into my cutter to cut. After taking my piece out the cut lines are about 1/4 inch lower than my artwork. What do I do to fix the problem?

A: First, make sure you are using the most current version of Cut Studio. An updater is available atwww.rolanddga.com. Once you have the design, crop marks and cut lines properly sized and positioned, got to “File – Printing Setup,” click the rectangular box that says “Fit into shared area for cutting and printing.” Now you can print the design and cut the sheet as usual.

— Bob Robinson

Q:  I am shopping for my first automatic press, and am wondering how much difference there really is from one brand to another. Do they all have close to the same features and how much does quality vary?

A: Comparing apples to apples when shopping for an automatic press can be a challenge because manufacturers may have similar features but call them different names, and what might be a standard feature on one brand is an option on another. However, you will find distinctly different features from press to press. One of the questions you should always ask is: “How is your press different or better than your competitors’?” Another good way to make comparisons is to get referrals or find printers using press brands you are interested in and ask them what they like and don’t like about their machines. Pay attention to what comes with the press and what you have to pay extra for. You can expect to get a set of squeegees, platens and flood bars with your new press but, other than that, do not expect to find much consistency between companies. You might want to consider making a chart listing the features that are most important to you. Then write in each manufacturer’s name and check off which features are included and which are optional (ie: cost more money). This provides an at-a-glance way to compare one press to another and what you are getting for your money. In terms of quality, automatic presses can be compared to cars. You want to test drive the machine if possible. Evaluate the unit’s ease of use, the quality of its components, the durability of its materials, and so on. It’s just like the old adage says: You get what you pay for. You may find two similarly equipped cars, with Car A at a much lower price than Car B, but Car A may last only one-third as long as Car B, and it may be prone to mechanical failures. Automatic presses act the same way.

— Gavin Kidd, MHM North America