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CPSIA Solutions in Digital Direct Tech

Mark Bagley is director of marketing (Industrial Products Division) at Brother International Corporation. With both a legal and business background, he has also worked with several industry suppliers in providing educational content about their products online. 

Growing up, I was like a lot of children who would typically go to their fathers for help when I thought I was in over my head. One of the best principles he taught me was “you have a choice—focus on the problem that has arose or look for a solution.” It did not take me long to figure out that focusing on the problem did not help further me in the direction I wanted to go.

I believe this same principle should apply to the Consumer Protection Safety Information Act of 2008 (CPSIA). While many in the industry continue to express their personal feelings in discussions boards on the Internet, I am here to tell you there is a solution to CPSIA compliance in D2 printing.

Letter of the law

When CPSIA was first introduced in 2008, garment decorators of all sizes started to freak out about how this legislation was going to completely change their business. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) wisely postponed specific parts of the legislation to better understand the far-reaching impact it would have on several industries, including ours. As of January 1st of this year (2012), those stays of enforcement were lifted and every garment decorator became liable to the applicable sections.

During the first couple months of this year, I spoke to several garment decorators that stated they have just given up decorating garments for children. Their belief was that the revenues generated from serving the children’s market would not exceed the cost associated with being compliant. Each business is completely different and I would hate for this belief to carry across our industry with all the misleading statements about CPSIA that are out there.

The simplified version of the CPSIA’s goal is to limit the amount of harmful substances used by manufacturers in producing children’s products. In order to understand how this law affects the decorated-apparel industry, let’s breakdown this statement into the three main components: harmful substances; manufacturers; and children’s products.

The two substances that come up the most in decorating garments that are regulated under CPSIA are lead and phthalates. CPSIA has limited the amount of lead and phthalates that can be used with the different decorating techniques. Next, consider that CPSIA defines a manufacturer as one that makes, produces or assembles a product. This means that all garment decorators are considered “manufacturers” under CPSIA.

Finally, CPSIA has provided some general guidelines as to what shall be considered a children’s product. Below are four factors that CPSC will use to determine if a product is classified as a children’s product:

Any statements made by the manufacturer that describes the intended use of the product. If the garment is labeled as a child or youth size garment, then it is going to be covered under CPSIA.

Any type of representation of the product in its packaging, display, promotion or advertising that would make an inference that the product would be appropriate for use by children 12 years of age or younger. Look at the catalogs offered by apparel manufacturers or distributors to see if children are used in the marketing of the product.

Whether the product is commonly-recognized by consumers to be used by children 12 years of age or younger. This is based on the public’s general perception regarding the apparel.

Based on the guidance provided by the Age Determination Guidelines published by the CPSC. (Download these guidelines from the CPSC website, www.cpsc.gov.)

Direct solutions

Now that we have some general understanding of what CPSIA covers and how it affects garment decorators, let me explain why D2 printing is a great solution for decorating children apparel. Three key areas of CPSIA that garment decorators should focus on are using components that are CPSIA compliant, affixing a tracking label to a children’s product and supplying a Children’s Product Certificate (CPC, formerly known as a General Conformity Certificate) to the customer.

Under CPSIA, a “component” is considered to be every piece of material, application or accessory that is added to the final product—in our case, decorated apparel. This includes the fabric and any buttons, zippers or other plasticized material used in the creation of the blank garment. CPSC has offered an exemption for lead for most fabrics (dyed and undyed) in a garment, but nothing else (i.e. no buttons, zippers or other items used on the garment). For garments that have such style concessions, most apparel manufacturers or wholesale distributors offer the ability to download a certificate for specific products that are CPSIA-compliant. Using a garment that has a certificate stating it is CPSIA compliant is the first step.

Next, we can focus on decorating the garment. Many assume that, since D2 printers use water based inks, this form of decorating is automatically exempt from CPSIA. While all water based inks are not exempted automatically, I’d like to explain how the majority of such inks can be CPSIA compliant.

As mentioned in an article written by CPSC Small Business Ombudsman Neal Cohen in this issue, page 46, the CPSC staff has interpreted the exemption for dyed textiles to apply to those inks that absorb into the fibers of the garment and bond with the substrate because they act similar to a dye used in creating a blank garment. CMYK D2 inks that are printed without using pre-treat do fall in line with this exception. Viewing a white shirt that is printed with CMYK D2 inks shows that the printed and unprinted fibers of the garment look the same.

Here, it is important to note that the white ink and pre-treat for D2 printers are not exempted, however, and will need to be tested before being used on children’s products. Because pre-treat’s job is to keep the inks (especially white) from penetrating the fibers, the inks sit on top of the surface and do not become part of the garment.

For this reason, only light garment D2 printing will be compliant without performing third-party testing on the white ink and pretreat fluid. Also note that this exception only removes the third-party testing requirement for lead. D2 companies are still required to comply with all other requirements under CPSIA, such as the phthalate limits for decorating items such as sleepwear and bibs, and other longstanding federal requirements like flammability.

Track it

So now that we have both a compliant garment and decorating technique, D2 companies will still need to affix a permanent tracking label to the child’s garment and provide a CPC to the customer.

Close-up picture of the white ink sitting on top of the fibers of the black colored shirt. The pretreat fluid is designed to keep the white ink on top of the fibers. Thus you can’t see the fibers of the shirt where the white ink is printed. (Images courtesy Brother Intl. Corp.) 

The tracking label requirement as it pertains to children’s apparel is designed to identify the manufacturer, location/date of decorating and cohort information (i.e. items used to decorate the garment, invoice or batch number)

The challenge with the tracking label is the information for an order or run, as the information will change each time. However, D2 printing is ideally designed for printing unique items like this on just about any location on a garment. The soft hand that comes with light-garment D2 printing allows for the tracking label to be discretely printed on the inside of the garment. A D2 user may want to adjust the ink volume on light colored shirts to prevent the tracking label showing through the other side.

Prove it

The final requirement for selling children’s apparel is to provide a CPC to the customer. D2 companies can use the format of the certificate provided by the apparel manufacturer or wholesale distributor as a blueprint for creating their own certificate with some modification.

Under the product information, the certification should contain information on the garment from the manufacturer and the D2 ink used. Below is a list of the items that must be included on the certificate:

Identify the product covered by this CPC.
Identify each component of the product in detail.
State the CPSIA regulation that applies to each component.
Relate the specific exemption or testing certificate that applies to each regulation.

Final thoughts

Some of the D2 ink manufacturers have already received certifications from independent organizations attesting that their inks were tested for specific levels of harmful substances. Although these types of general certifications don’t satisfy all the requirements under CPSIA, they can tell whether the ink contains less than the maximum levels of lead and phthalates allowed under CPSIA.

For example, an Oeko-Tex Standard 100 Level 1 certificate will show that a specific D2 ink was tested and the results are within the acceptable limits for harmful substances under CPSIA. I recommend that D2 users mention in their CPC any certification that shows the D2 ink may pass the testing requirements of CPSIA. For printing with white ink and pre-treat, however, complete CPSIA compliance requires testing those inks by a CPSC-accepted laboratory or finding a manufacturer who has had their inks tested and will provide you with a CPC.

By following the basic steps mentioned in this article, D2 companies will still be able to serve the children’s market with decorated apparel and be compliant with CPSIA. And, as other garment decorators stop serving the children market, those with D2 digital direct-to-substrate/garment printing capabilities have the opportunity to grow their businesses.Growing up, I was like a lot of children who would typically go to their fathers for help when I thought I was in over my head. One of the best principles he taught me was “you have a choice—focus on the problem that has arose or look for a solution.” It did not take me long to figure out that focusing on the problem did not help further me in the direction I wanted to go.

I believe this same principle should apply to the Consumer Protection Safety Information Act of 2008 (CPSIA). While many in the industry continue to express their personal feelings in discussions boards on the Internet, I am here to tell you there is a solution to CPSIA compliance in D2 printing.