Welcome to yet another annual installment—our 18th in a row—of one of Printwear’s most popular features. This year a talented team of authorities from every industry sector—many of whom you’ve seen in past issues, some of whom you see here every month, even a few we’ve never seen before—share one or more of their most frequently dealt-with troubles, then nimbly, succinctly and accurately blast them to smithereens. If you experience any of these maladies—or any of the simple curiosities also addressed—you may expect a treat on the following pages. . . .
By: A talented team of industry writers
Q: Holy-moly! I nearly electrocuted myself the other day. I was catching shirts at the end of the dryer and I touched the zipper on the belt. The static shock just about knocked me over. What can I do to prevent this in the future?
A: Just to be on the safe side, I’d recommend you contact your manufacturer and/or a licensed electrician to make sure the dryer is properly grounded. Chances are, though—especially if you work in a dry climate—that your dryer and garments have built up a static charge from all that friction and heat. You sometimes get that same static shock when you separate your socks from you shirts in you own clothes dryer, just not quite as strong. How do you fix the problem at home? Pop in a sheet of Bounce, right? Try running a few sheets of household anti-static-cling sheets over your dryer belt at the shop. It works, I’m tellin’ ya!
Q: I have a customer complaining that a job I printed red, black and grey on a white T-shirt has faded by 50 percent after two washes. In looking at the washed T, there seems to be a bit of fibrillation but it definitely has not faded by any 50 percent!Bottom line, though, he now wants me to replace all 2,000 units because of the fade.An additional note, it took him two months before making me aware of this problem and, supposedly, all the shirts have been distributed. As if! Suggestions?
A: At this point you have a subjective problem that has very little to do with the fact that your print has faded, or appears to have faded. Your challenge is how to maintain the relationship with your customer, and what price you are willing to pay to do that. The ink companies and technical writers can help you deal with the process to make sure you understand what happened. (For starters, check out last month’s Printwear.) Meanwhile, each of us as business owners have a very simple proposition which is to meet our customer’s expectation. In this scenario the ink deposit apparently did not meet the expectation of your customer. Keep in mind that what is acceptable to a fashion boutique or mass market customer such as Target, may be totally unacceptable to a coach or athletic director. It is your challenge to make sure you understand the expectation and that you meet it. The fact that the same technique does not meet all expectations is a moot point in this discussion. With that said, if it was my customer we would not argue what percentage of “fading” had occurred; it would be a simple conversation of the mechanics of the process, the realities of the situation, and the logistics of distribution. Options would be discussed and the bottom line would be that we would potentially make a pricing consideration, present or future, up to the value of replacing the order. You did not mention if this was an ongoing relationship, custom work, contract decorating, and/or who made the bulk of the profit. However, my opinion is that we would make our customer happy by making sure we empathized with his position, stood behind our work, met his expectation, and insured that we never repeat the error, real or perceived, in the future. While this may not be the answer you sought, I hope it focuses on the reality of running a successful business.
Mind’s Eye Graphics
Q: I’m looking for new directions with my heat transfers. I know you’re globally oriented, and I’d like to know about hot new heat-applied graphics trends appearing in Europe and other foreign countries. Seen any?
A: In Europe, both CAD materials for textiles and print/cut for textiles are very hot garment-decorating trends that show no signs of slowing down. These are not fads. The trend towards this type of decorating is also seen in the U.S., but in Europe it is much stronger, for several reasons. First of all European garment decorators in general better understand the benefits of being able to cut or print and cut any logo, on any fabric, quickly, profitably and with excellent end results. They are often asked to print in small quantities on trendy, challenging fabrics, such as ultra-thin performance wear, microfibers and tricky nylons, and have had to find ways to adapt in order to survive. The vast array of fabrics used in European garment manufacturing means that garment decorators have to be proficient at printing on more than just cotton or poly/cotton blends. Second, the demand for mass customization—“I want the same . . . but make it different!”—is growing in Europe as it is here, but in Europe they quickly realized that cad-cutting and print/cut is ideal when the job doesn’t lend itself to screen printing or embroidery. All you have to do is remember what some of the athletes from around the world were wearing at the recent Summer Olympics. This was high-end performance wear that wasn’t decorated with screen printing or embroidery. The only way to print many of the items you saw featured during the Olympics was with cuttable/printable products designed with special adhesives for heat application. Another reason why CAD-cutting and CAD-printing are more popular in Europe is the higher barriers to entry into more traditional decoration methods. Many countries in Europe have extremely rigid environmental laws, sometimes making it tough to start up a screen-printing operation, but it is easy to meet environmental standards with a cutter and CAD materials or with eco-solvent printer/cutters and printable media. In addition to saving labor and production costs, many CAD-cut and CAD-print materials are labeled “green” or environmentally friendly. Overall, there is a tendency for Europe to be more progressive when it comes to faster acceptance of new decoration methods such as CAD-printing. There are many digital printable materials—reflectives, metallics, perforated materials and more—that have been introduced successfully in Europe and other countries, but are not yet popular or even understood here in the U.S. It could be that we are still so strong with embroidery and screen printing and the reasons to embrace new technologies are not as pronounced yet as they are in Europe. Therefore, the use of CAD cutting and printing for decorating garments, and the demand for more advanced, high-tech cuttable materials and digital is much larger in Europe than it is in the United States. That will change.
Stahls’ ID Direct
Q: When I set up a nine-color/one-flash job on my 10-color auto for black shirts, I got a smear fest. I’m running all 110 and 156 mesh counts for opaque coverage. So what am I doing wrong?
A: This is one of the great questions of our industry, with a lot of factors in play. We have to start somewhere so let’s start with your base plate. You should be running your base on a 156 with 10 to 15 percent EOM (emulsion over mesh ratio); having a correct EOM is one of the most important factors in getting an opaque layer on the base plate. Wait, let’s rewind. When you are making your screens in the art department, make sure to put half-point spread lines separating the colors. This will act as a gutter system letting the inks fall into the garment as they spread instead of bleeding into each other. Okay, fast forward. After getting an opaque base the next step is the rest of the colors. First let’s talk about mesh. There is an array of different mesh counts at your disposal, anywhere from 13 to 420, each intended for different uses and most a must to have in a shop that takes printing seriously. The industry’s favorites are 110, 156, and 230. Some shops only have two of these and carry out all their jobs using only two mesh counts; many of their prints are bullet-proof. Assuming that yours is one of the open-minded shops with lots of mesh choices at your disposal for different purposes, consider this rule of thumb: The farther away from the end of the job you are, the higher the mesh count. Lets say you have eight colors after your flash, I would run something like this: eight-380 (opaque base critical), seven-355, six-305, five-230, four-230, three-196, two-196, one-156. The higher the mesh count, the less ink there is to lift off on the next screen and smear. This is not a cure-all formula by any means; the ink’s viscosity has a lot to do with smearing too. No matter what brand of ink you use, the system should have thickeners, reducers, and other additives that you should consider using, to change the viscosity of your inks to work to your advantage. Oh, high-tension mesh helps too: 35+N/cm2 if you can manage it.
If you're looking to set your embroidery apart from the rest, think small, smaller, smallest...then read this Q&A. Q: I’ve long thought my embroidery looks a little . . . dull, compared to what I’m seeing in the marketplace. Any tips for really stellar embroidery?
A: Think smallest, smallest smallest. . . . Use the smallest needle, the smallest hoop, the smallest thread and the smallest (as in least amount of) tension. Add to that a cotton bobbin (cotton doesn’t have the stretch that polyester has) and you are in for a treat when stitching details and tiny lettering; #60-weight thread and a 65/9 needle can turn small lettering into a thing of beauty, and often without any edits.
—Helen Hart Momsen,
Q: We are shopping for a heat press specifically for our digital inkjet-to-substrate printer. Does one type of press have an advantage over another?
A: With the rising popularity of digital printing, manufacturers have found that sales of heat presses have also been increasing. This is because digital inkjet prints need to be cured either in a heat press or via a conveyor dryer. Some users have reported better results with a heat press and this is driving sales.
Increased sales have validated greater research and development and this has resulted in a type of press being designed specifically for digital inkjet printing. During research, it was discovered that when a fresh-off-the-printer digitally printed inkjet shirt was placed on the platen and was pressed, the wet ink would smear and stick to the upper platen creating a mess. So operators would carefully place the shirt on the lower platen and then bring the top platen down for about 45 seconds to just about an inch over the print to surface-dry the wet ink so it would not come off the shirt. Then once the ink was partially dry, the platen could be brought fully down on the print for the final cure.
Obviously, this technique greatly increased the amount of time that the operator had to spend curing a digital shirt, the top platen having to be held in position for nearly a minute. As a result, a new style of press has been developed that has two programmed settings. The top platen is brought down in the hover position. Once the 45 seconds is up, it pops up and the operator can then bring down the platen for the final cure and it pops up again once that is done. So now an operator can set the press and be doing other things while it is drying the shirt.
Since the heat and time settings can vary from job to job depending on how much ink is on the shirt and whether it’s a light or a dark, the settings can be programmed to reflect individual job requirements. This type of press will greatly increase your production time when curing digitally printed shirts.
Q: I’ve been asked to embroider on a belt. Since I can’t hoop this, I am wondering how to keep the design and words straight. Is there a good technique to do this?
A: Yes, and here are the steps I’d recommend:
- Digitize two parallel running stitches that are spaced apart by the same distance as the width of the belt.
- Digitize a small “X” to indicate the center-point of the design in regards to its placement on the belt.
- Add a color change command after the “X.”
- Digitize the actual design to be sewn so that it is centered between the two parallel lines of running stitches.
- On the belt, be sure to mark the center-point for the design.
- Select a hoop that is larger than the area of the brace to be sewn.
- Set up the hoop with adhesive backing, place it on the machine without the belt and center the hoop.
- Program your machine to stop sewing when it gets to the first color change.
- Start the design without the belt in place. The two parallel lines will sew first, followed by the small “X” marking the design center-point.
- Stop the machine at the color change if it doesn’t do it automatically.
- Using the parallel lines of running stitches as a template, carefully place the belt on the surface of the adhesive backing using the “X” to line-up the center-point of the belt.
- Firmly apply pressure to the entire belt to ensure that it is securely in place.
- Continue the sewing process.
- Upon completion, the adhesive backing can be torn away. Since the parallel lines and reference “X” were sewn only on the backing, they will be removed when the backing is removed.
Q: My screens seem fine most of the year . . . until summer hits town. Then I have lots of trouble. Any suggestions?
Ain't no cure for the summertime blues? Not true! If you experience an increase in screen problems when the weather turns warm and humid, read this Q&A. A: If your screens are not fully dry you will get pinholes, poor resolution, premature stencil breakdown, and you may have trouble with reclaiming. This happens often when humidity increases.My prescription is to first get yourself a hygrometer. That’s a fancy name for a device that measures humidity. Humidity is the enemy of screens. You generally want to keep the humidity under 50 percent. Most human beings cannot really tell by feel if the humidity in a screen room is 40, 50 or 60 percent; you need to measure it or you won’t know what’s going on. You can buy a cheap hygrometer at a hardware store. If your reclaim or wash-out sink is in the same space as your coating, drying, storage and exposure are performed, change that floor plan as soon as you can because at the same time you are trying to dry your screens you are filling the air with water vapor. If you can’t change the layout, at least try to vent out the water vapor from near your sinks to the outside. Many people stick an air conditioner in the window and think they’re all set. Wrong. It may take the humidity out of the air, but on your most humid days you may find that you have to air condition the air down to a frigid temperature just to get the humidity down. We use a combination of dehumidifiers and air conditioning. A dehumidifier basically is an air conditioner that sends the hot air back in the room instead of outside.I often visit shops and see dehumidifiers used inefficiently. Instead of having to constantly dump the water from the container, put the dehumidifier on a high shelf out of the way, hook up a hose and drain it outside or into a sink. It will keep running all the time, then, without counting on an imperfect human being (yes screen-room workers are human beings) to keep it going. Also, don’t forget to wash the coils every once in awhile or the dehumidifier will be increasingly inefficient and ineffective. Also make sure that the dehumidifier is in a place where air can circulate to it. I recently saw one in a screen room where it was in the drying closet, but in a place in the closet where no air could circulate. And while I’m on the subject of circulation, air movement is the problem I most often see in poorly or hastily constructed screen rooms. Air must go in and air must come out for circulation. I have seen too many screen-drying cabinets where there is a fan blowing into the cabinet but no way for the air to get out of the cabinet. And if you do produce nice dry screens in your drying closet, you will negate this if your screen room is not dry: Just like a sponge, the humidity in the room will rush back into the dried screen. Humidity can also return to screens when you bring them out to your tropical production room. Thus, in very humid weather, keep them in your nice dry screen room as long as you can before printing.
Q: I’m in an argument with a customer over who owns the designs. Is it the digitizer or the customer?
A: Unless and until the copyrights are transferred in writing, the digitizer of a stitched design owns those rights. This means, if you contract with an outside digitizer, the rights are retained by that digitizer. So, if you want control of the designs you order, make sure the transfer of the copyrights is part of the deal. If you are the digitizer, the rights belong to you and you are under no obligation to give (or sell) the file to your customer. Even if that customer provides the artwork, the digitized version has a copyright and it is owned by the creator. Why would you want to keep your designs? Because they add to the value of your business if you sell it and—especially if your digitizing is stellar—you give the competition your edge when you lend your expertise to their stitching.
—Helen Hart Momsen,
Got something that won't fit in a hoop like a sock or a necktie? Use a hoopless embroidery stabilizer. This specialized stabilizer has a needle friendly pressure-sensitive adhesive. Q: How can I get better coverage when I am printing an underbase white on dark garments?
A. Many printers overlook the importance the thickness of their stencils. The thickness of the stencil is what allows the ink to seal the garment fibers so you can flash and over-print with colors. An inadequate stencil thickness will allow fibrillation and transparency of the ink. A quick test—after you’ve exposed, developed and dried your screen—is to flip it onto the print side and scratch the image with your fingernail. If your fingernail does not nick the edge of the image while you scratch it, there is not enough emulsion on the screen. Try doing the same test but with a single piece of paper on a table—you will feel your fingernail nick the edge of the paper each time you scratch. This means that, if you don’t hear your fingernail nick the emulsion, your stencil doesn’t even have the thickness of a single sheet of paper.
Q: How do I know which embroidery stabilizer to choose?
A. First, you should look for a stabilizer that is a wet-laid non-woven. This type is nondirectional, soft, dense and drapes well. You should use one layer of stabilizer that’s the proper weight for your embroidery’s stitch count, stitch density, target material and material stretch. You want the stabilizer to be tight in the hoop, approaching a “tambourine-skin” type tension so that the material doesn’t move, shift or bounce. If the stabilizer is stable in all directions, it’s easiest to achieve the right tension in your hoop.
Another consideration when choosing a stabilizer is to choose one that will be comfortable to wear and will look nice. It should not be scratchy or bulky behind the embroidery. Even with stabilizer, fabric should drape nicely. Who wants to wear a bullet-proof vest? Also, make sure you select a stabilizer that’s designed for the specific type of item you’re embroidering.
There are many types of stabilizers available to choose from including cutaway, no-show cutaway, tearaway, hoopless adhesive and water-soluble. Hoopless stabilizers can be stuck to a garment with either a self-adhesive or a water-activated adhesive. These are called hoopless because they are used with items such as baby socks that can’t be hooped. Recently, some suppliers have started coming out with biodegradable stabilizers as well, for companies who are environmentally conscious. To view an FAQ article on choosing a stabilizer, go to www.lebowconsulting.com/stabilizer-articles.htm#glos.
Q: How do you know your ink is cured on a shirt?
A: Launder it as you normally would wash a shirt and see if the ink comes off. Install a washer/dryer in your plant or bring shirts home, ‘cause that is the only way to be sure if the ink is cured. You can use all kinds of heat probes and temperature testing devices but there is no substitute for testing by a washer. You can also get a rough idea by stretching the shirt gently against the grain and seeing if the ink cracks. Also, if you are not sure, then turn the temperature up and/or the belt speed down until the shirts barely scorch, then turn the temperature down or the belt up just a bit. That may waste energy and is not ideal, but if you are unsure it’s a good start. Your customer is usually going to wash the shirts and they aren’t really wanting to hear about your temperature tapes, donut probes, or non-contact infrared thermometers; they are hoping that you already tested the shirts by washing one. You actually want to keep track of dryer temperature and belt speed and, eventually, figure out what works best. But the washer is the tool to find out if the ink is cured.
Q: What causes hoop marks, and how do I remove them?
A: Some fabrics are just more prone to marking. Dye and finishing methods can contribute to a fabric’s vulnerability to the hoop. Natural fabrics, especially dyed textiles, show marks that polyester or cotton blends don’t. Lint rollers can help remove hoop marks on dark-colored goods. Rub the side of the tube against the fabric in a sideways motion. Remove light hoop marks with a spray of water or Magic sizing (not spray starch). A mix of white vinegar and water will remove contact shine, or rub the fabric with itself for the same result. Steam from an iron or a steamer will also remove hoop impressions. The best solution is to avoid the marks in the first place. Use “hoopless” methods of securing the goods for embroidery. Or sandwich a piece of tissue paper, backing or fabric between the top hoop and the goods. Remember that, once the integrity of the fabric is destroyed, which a too-tight hoop may do, wearing and washing will only aggravate the damage and holes and runs may result.
—Helen Hart Momsen,
Q: My ink film does not have the opacity, effect, or hand it was supposed to have. Why does this happen?
A: This is one of the biggest problems/questions I run into, and it is generally due to a lack of temperature monitoring in the dryer, leading to inadequate fusion temperatures on standard ink and on clears and embossing inks. Everyone wants a quick trip through the dryer, so they crank up the heat, but rarely know how hot the ink film is actually getting. Solution: Use a thermo-probe to monitor dryer temperatures. Check every set-up and also once in production mode when the dryer is fully loaded.
Q: I have decided to jump into the digital direct-to-substrate printing marketplace. With the number of machines out there, what should I be aware of as I shop, and how do I know which machine and vendor to choose?
A: The number of vendors in the direct-to-substrate field has grown significantly in the last year. It is important that you consider not only the equipment you are buying, but also the company backing the machine. Most of the established players in the market have good-quality printers that, when properly operated and maintained, will produce good output consistently. Some will be larger, some faster, some less expensive; unfortunately, there is not one specific model that is all three. You will need to set some personal guidelines prior to taking the next step. Important things may be price, portability, speed, versatility (can the machine print both lights and darks, alternate substrates and so on) and print size.
Once you have set your guidelines you should contact the vendors for each machine. Ask some pointed questions, preferably the same ones of each vendor, and evaluate the answers you are given. Should you get any contradictions or radical variations, revisit with all of the companies regarding these issues, inviting the “extremes” to defend their points and the others to attack the same points. There can be some pretty wild stories and claims associated with this type of product; you will need to sift through the input for the truth.
When you have narrowed your choices down to a couple of machines, it is a good idea to evaluate the vendors themselves before making your final decision. Some good questions to ask (both of the vendor as well as others in the industry) are:
- What is the core business of the vendor? (Is it mainly a supplies vendor, does it sell mostly equipment, is it new to the industry and so forth.)
- What is the overall market impression of the vendor you are considering?
- What is the installed user base for the model you are considering?
- How long has the machine been on the market?
- Does it come with a video showing set-up, operation and maintenance?
- Does the machine’s website include a trouble-shooting and maintenance section?
- Is training available? Is it included in the price of the machine? Where is the training held, and how frequently?
- Does the manufacturer/distributor provide a users’ forum?
- Can you see a copy of the machine warranty?
Whether it's your first or your tenth automatic-press purchase, when you are in the market, Mike McEvoy's checklist (at left) will guide you to ask the right questions.Q: I’m shopping for my first automatic press. It will be the biggest investment I’ve ever made, and I don’t want to overlook anything. So what are the most important features I should be looking for in order to help me compare apples to apples? A. While many believe that how fast an automatic press indexes is the biggest indicator of how productive it will be, the truth is that how quickly you can set-up and break-down jobs on the press is the single most important feature when evaluating productivity. With that fact in mind, here’s a short list of features that will determine how fast you can set up your automatic press.
- Pre-registration systems: Does the press manufacturer have its own pre-registration system or can a universal one be used with it? This will greatly speed set-up times.
- Quick-release squeegees and screens: Be sure and ask if this is offered, then see how quickly you can put them in and take them out. For some manufacturers this is standard while others offer it as anoption.
- Platen changing: This is especially important if you do a wide variety of garments and are constantly changing out platens to print sleeves, legs, caps, youth garments and such. Ask to see a platen switched out and note how long it takes.
- Screen accessibility: When you have to stop the press to add ink or clean screens, how does the machine handle this issue? Again, ask for a demo or explanation of what is involved in getting these tasks done, then evaluate how long it will take.
- Control-panel and print-head settings: Consider how easy or difficult it is to set print heads, off-contact, micro-registration, squeegee-angle and the like, to the “home” position. Do you have to lock and unlock micro-registration or stroke-length adjustments? Can you save a job’s settings so you don’t have to re-program every time? Are the control settings intuitive and easy to learn and use?
- Integrated vs. universal flash. An integrated flash that can be controlled from the master control panel is much faster to use than a universal flash.
Q: I’m afraid I’m experiencing a bit of . . . inventory shrinkage. So what to do about employee theft?
A: If employees steal, fire them.I might add that, if the theft is large enough, prosecute them. That sounds pretty basic and obvious, but it’s surprising how many businesses I’ve known or heard about that don’t fire thieving employees. Stealing a single shirt, five bucks or something belonging to another employee is still stealing and can’t be tolerated. I’m known as a nice guy, but stealing isn’t something you usually cure someone of. And that goes for all types of stealing including falsifying time cards or expense reports or any number of transgressions. They all amount to stealing.
Our philosophy at Mirror Image is to be very generous with letting employees use the facilities at inexpensive rates or free, buy rejects or good shirts for very little money or for free and, in general, treat them with respect and generosity. As a result there is less reason for them to take the risk of stealing in the first place. Also, stealing is usually part of a culture and, if you have most employees feeling good about the business, they aren’t going to let the other employees steal. If the employees are paid well and, more important, treated with respect, you will lower the possibility of petty theft, as it is more often about a bad attitude about where the employee works than it is about greed or need.
The other preventive measure is to put checks and balances on everything. The most trusted employee is the one who can embezzle or perpetrate a massive theft. A good accountant can help you put in place practices that can tell you if you have such a big problem. For example, enact policies such as forbidding the bookkeeper from signing checks that transcend what you think of any particular bookkeeper you have at your shop. Keep your shop in order and you’ll more likely notice if a case is missing, or even a shirt.
I know some shops use surveillance cameras to stop theft. I wouldn’t want to be watched that way, so I won’t do it to my employees. It also sets a tone of disrespect and an antagonistic dynamic that is going to lead some employees to take it as a challenge to steal, despite the cameras.
In general, by the time you find out somebody has been stealing or you catch someone at it, it is a sad thing and possibly a financial disaster. Don’t let it come to that by doing whatever you can to create an environment from which employees wouldn’t even think of stealing.
Q: I’m trying to augment the business I do for local school groups and organizations, but I’m finding the logistics—including getting paid—to be incredibly complex. Can you suggest a good system of collecting orders, processing them . . . and getting paid?
A. You’ll definitely want to work out a simple, organized process for collecting and distributing orders. For example, let’s say you’re working with a school-band booster club whose members must wear embroidered shirts. You’ll provide order forms to the group’s advisor, who then sends then home with the members. Students bring completed forms back with a check, and the advisor turns over the forms and a single check for the full amount to your shop.
One of the newer techniques is setting up a website, which also gives you a competitive edge. For quick turnaround and to get orders coming in, create a simple flier with the URL, the items available, and their costs. Parents can use this to visit the site and place their orders. The site will collect the information, including sizes, colors, credit-card info and so on, and you don’t have to worry about getting forms turned back in from students. There also are no cash or checks to collect and deposit as customers pay online. Not having to collect and process money is a huge timesaver, and this service alone may get you in the door when selling against an established company.
A website also generates the opportunity for add-on sales. Make sure you display additional, perhaps more upscale items for parents to see as they go online to place the basic order. A parent may not have been interested in the shirt chosen for the kids to wear but may find that a nicer quality shirt with the school’s name and mascot looks much more appealing. If all the apparel styles you offer come from the same source, consider that some blank-apparel suppliers work with decorators to set up complete online solutions for ordering, payment and more. This makes everything easier for you and the client organization. Research which wholesalers offer this capacity and see if you can make it work for you.
—John M. Colman,
Q: I understand there are “automatic” digitizing programs out there that require less skill and knowledge, but I’ve heard mixed reviews of their functionality. Can I get by with one of these, or are there drawbacks I’ll want to consider?
A: All so-called automatic digitizing systems are geared to read “segments” of a piece of art, then auto-digitize.Most require that you bring in the vector art, then press the auto-digitize button and—voila!—you have digitized art.It is an easy approach to simple art; complex art, however, can be a bit more tricky.You may find that you bring art in as “automatic,” then edit or redo segments to add your personal touch pertaining to stitch selection and direction. For me, when it comes to finding programs that are easier to use, I look for how many mouse clicks and screens you have to wade through to accomplish a task.
Floriani Commercial Products
Q: My problem involves an eavesdropping co-worker who sits in an adjacent cubicle. After I’ve ended a conversation with a customer, he will invariably comment on something I’ve said, which I find annoying. Any suggestions?
A: Yes. Pick up your phone and say this into it, making sure to keep your voice low: “So the doctor says it’s a form of tuberculosis and that I should stay home, but you know how busy it is here. Infectious? Well yes, it is a little bit. The doctor says that as long as I keep a 12-foot distance from people, they should be okay. I’m keeping it quiet.”
"Oh, no, sorry, not interested." If that's the customer response you're used to hearing when you propose a CAD-cut solution, there's help...read this Q&A. Q: I understand the features of heat-press vinyl, but often have a tough time explaining them to my customers. They’re skeptical of its durability and rarely order when I tell them about it. How do I overcome this?
A: When marketing and promoting heat-press CAD-cutting materials, it is important to understand how your customer perceives the product he is purchasing.When some people hear “CAD-cutting film” or “vinyl,” whether from past experience or hearsay their impression of the product can be negative. I recommend avoiding the word “vinyl” altogether.When a customer hears the word T-shirt vinyl, an image is presented of a thick, plastic, cheap material that is not durable. They remember the cracking, peeling vinyl lettering from their youth. But the quality and performance of cad materials have dramatically changed. Today’s products are much more durable, have a soft hand and look great on a garment. So how do youreverse the negative connotation?I think the best way to meet this challenge is by changing the terminology. Here are some suggestions:
- Invent your own name. Consider breaking out of the box and classifying CAD-cutting products with your own made-up copyrighted term. Call it heat-applied film, thermo-weldable film or urethane imaging, anything that identifies the product in a unique way.Some may even be calling it by a brand name such as Eco-Film.
- Sell the product in generic terms. Marketyour products ascustom lettering, identity embellishment, personalization, and similar monikers.Be sure to refer to the product in a way that relates to the solution you are delivering to your customer.
- Directly relate it to screen printing, Everyone agrees customers are familiar with screen printing (even though they may call it “silk screening”).A good question to consider is whether or notthere is a need to differentiate between screen printing and CAD-cutting.If it looks good and performs well, does the customer care how it was done? If you do need to differentiate,consider selling the technologyas “a graphics solution whose quality is equal to screen printing.”
It is commonplace for top decorators to not reveal an exact process name, but rather sellthesolution.For instance, one decorator finds the only thing she needs to list is “Team Sales.” Another company simply states “Personalized Apparel.” Or how about “any name, any number” or “your design here.” Another effective technique is to have samples on hand so customers can see, touch and feel for themselves. Stress the ability of your shop to do onesie-twosie orders or to create samples for the customer to show around and take orders. Another big selling point is how many types of fabric CAD materials can be used on such as leather, nylon, and Neoprene, all substrates that are difficult to screen print. Bottom line, it is important tobe awarethat what we call our products and services can impact the way they are perceived and, ultimately, dictate the price at which we can sell them. CAD materials rival screen printing and other decorating methods in quality, looks, and performance. By presenting your heat-applied products using a positive features-and-benefits approach, you overcome negative perceptions which allows you to create decorated apparel the customer doesn’t pre-judge to be inferior, but ends up being completely happy with.
Q: I’m interested in starting up a screen printing business at home. I am curious how much space is recommended for doing this. I’d prefer to keep my two-car garage free for at least one car. And what kind of plumbing and electricity will I have to allow for?
A: At least half of screen printers start in their homes, perhaps in a basement, garage or other out building. You need about a 20´ X 20´ area to work comfortably. You can do it in less space, but that’s what you really need. Aside from production, you’ll also need some storage space. This will vary depending on how many orders you do per week and how large the orders are. But you will have to have some place to put boxes of blank shirts until they are printed, and a place to put finished orders before they are shipped or picked up. In addition to storage, you’ll also want dedicated areas for staging screens, if possible. Screens are delicate, so you don’t want them lying around. If space is an issue for your start-up shop, there are space-saving options available in equipment. For example, some manufacturers offer an exposure system that can be placed on top of something else such as a screen-drying cabinet, allowing you to stack two pieces of equipment in a single footprint. Be sure to research the many options available as you shop for equipment.
Although your shop’s size and equipment determines electrical needs, even the smallest screen printer will need several dedicated power lines, a dedicated breaker and control panel for the flash and a dedicated breaker for the dryer. You should get a professional electrician to help with the wiring. While suppliers offer equipment at 120 volts, going with 220-volt equipment is the better route. To get anything more than a small, entry-level dryer, you’ll have to have 220 anyway, so why not start there? The difference should have no impact on your electricity costs; higher voltage just allows for a larger, faster machine that allows for higher production. The alternative is like having a car with an engine that’s too small. It may seem like a good idea at first, but if you can’t merge with traffic on the highway, that can be a problem.
You’ll need access to water to prepare and clean your screens, a resource you can obtain simply by running a garden hose into your work area. However, it’s better if your plumbing allows direct access. Some people wash out screens at the local car wash, and some farm screen making out completely, but that’s a short-term option. You’ll want to add the ability to do screen development as soon as possible.
And, because simply opening a can of ink releases fumes into the air, it’s important to ventilate your work area, including the area that houses the dryer. People often ask us if they should ventilate their dryers. They should, not for the sake of the dryer, but for your environment and quality of life. You want good air movement out of the shop. Also, solvent fumes are heavy and ventilating the ceiling alone isn’t good enough. You need to circulate the air with ceiling fans, then ventilate the air. While larger dryers have built-in power exhausts that allow the user to pipe the air outside, smaller dryers may require after-market ventilation systems.
Q: I am looking for some unique fabrics to use for doing appliqué for spiritwear orders at my area schools. Can I get these with an adhesive backing? And if I want to just go to the fabric store and pick out some fun fabrics, can I use these in my cutter?
A: For a fabric that is stocked, most suppliers will cut any amount of yardage with an adhesive stabilizer already applied. Or, for five yards or more, they will apply a stabilizer to a fabric you supply, then cut it for you. You also can go to the local fabric store and find your own fabrics. Any fabric with enough body to be cut can be used. Typically, good choices are 100 percent polyester, 100 percent cotton, and blended fabrics that are washable and tightly woven. To make a fabric cuttable, apply a fusible stabilizer to the backside. Wonder Under is just one of several well-known stabilizer brands. There are several industry brands of fusible stabilizers that also will work.
How long should you expose your stencils for optimum performance? Exposure duration is one of the most-guessed-about steps in the screen-making process, but it needn't be so. Q: I’m having all kinds of image problems on my screens, and must admit to never really having been trained on proper exposure. So how long should I expose my screens?
A: This is one of those questions that’s tough to answer on a general basis because there are so many variables.You have to factor in thickness of the emulsion, type of emulsion, mesh count, color of the mesh and humidity, among other things.The first thing I always recommend, though, is that the printer use an exposure calculator to determine optimal exposure time.The exposure calculator is generally a film positive showing a series of graduated light filters that is placed on a coated screen, exposed for a specific amount of time, and the screen washed out.After exposure and development, each section shows a value indicating over-, under- and proper exposure(s).
When performing astep-wedge test—a kind of “informal” exposure calculator—the film positive (any simple, consistent image) is placed on a coated screen in the exposure unit witha pieceof opaque paper over top to block exposure light.Perform a one-minute exposure, with all but a thin strip—a fifth or sixth—of the image covered. Then manually slide the light-blocking paper one block per additional minute of exposure—each time revealing another segment of image—for about five or six blocks. When exposure and development are complete, determine which time block yielded the best result.
Q: I have problems removing stains from my screens after reclaiming. I get varying results sometimes, even if I use the same products over again. Why does this happen?
A: Before you pour on the heavy-duty haze removers and don your haz-mat suit (most haze removers contain a high degree of caustics), learn how to “read” the stain. This way, you can use the least-caustic screen chemical that will meet your objective. For example, if you just printed a large letter “A” and have a ghost image, look again and see whether it is a positive or negative image. Positive images are most likely to be ink stains in the mesh. As long as they aren’t physically blocking the mesh, you may want to first try an all-purpose ink wash. Sometimes that’s all it takes. If this doesn’t work, chances are the ink has had a chance to penetrate into the mesh threads, so you need something a bit stronger. Again, a mild or medium-harsh haze remover is a good choice. These have just enough caustic to break up the ink without damaging the polyester mesh. Very stubborn stains may require “fast acting” or high-strength haze removers. As mentioned, these should always be a last resort. Negative images can also be caused by residual ink, but are far more likely the result of stains from the emulsion or capillary film (especially if underexposed). Diazo stains are most common, along with stencil colorant pigments. Negative images can be removed easily with a caustic haze remover and, in most cases, are easier to remove than ink stains. This is why you may perceive that some products work differently each time you use them.
—Paul E. Drago,
Selecting thread colors that work with each other and the color of the item being embroidered can make all the difference. Learn more by reading the Q&A. Q: Thread choices . . . how important are they?
A: Your choice of thread can make or break your embroidery. It is important to select exciting hues that will stand out not only from the target fabric but also from each other.
Use your scanner to determine the value of the goods (gray scale, from black to white) then scan in your thread chart and study it in grayscale. Choose thread colors that are two or more steps away from each other in value in your embroidery and make sure they are not the same value as the goods you are stitching. Hues that are chosen in this manner will “pop” and the stitching will be visible from a distance. Color choices are important when digitizing as well. Hues that are in the same family and close to each other in value will create gentle rounding and give a realistic appearance to digitized shapes. If you are creating custom or stock designs, be sure to share your color recommendations with your customers so they can recreate your designs effectively.
—Helen Hart Momsen,
Q: I see samples of heat printing on a wide range of things in addition to shirts, such as umbrellas, tote bags, lunch bags and pockets. I only have a clam-shell style press with a flat heat platen. How is printing being done on so many different items?
A: Some styles of heat presses come with interchangeable platens that can be switched out depending on the job. For example, you can purchase a standard heat press with a shirt platen that also comes with a bag platen and a youth-garment platen. These easily slide on and off. In addition, printing on items with snaps, buttons, zippers, or other obstructions can be done by using a Teflon pad or pillow. Many heat press suppliers will carry these. You stick the pillow under the item so that it raises up the section to be printed allowing for solid pressure to be used without pulling the platen down on the entire garment hitting a zipper or a snap.
Q: I just purchased an automatic six-color/eight-station, and realized that my next purchase has to be a new air compressor. So what’s recommended for this size and type of press?
A: The press manufacturer should tell you what air requirements you need. For our six-color/eight-station automatic, I recommend a 7.5 horsepower compressor and chiller. For our 10-color automatic, I recommend a 10-horsepower compressor. The chiller needs to be matched to the size of the compressor. The compressor by itself can put out very humid air. If humid air builds up in the press and it can damage critical components. Our company offers compressors to customers who buy presses, but only as a service. We’re not in the compressor business. Otherwise, we recommend using a local vendor. You can find one the phone book. A local vendor is readily available when the compressor needs servicing. In fact, some vendors will offer a service agreement whereby, if your compressor goes down, they will be out to your shop within hours to fix it or have a replacement while your unit is being serviced. A service agreement with the compressor vendor is your best insurance that your compressor will be kept running at peak performance and you minimize the risk of having your whole operation shut down by a compressor with problems. There also are different types of chillers. In one type, you must drain water from it on a weekly basis. Failing to drain the chiller can cause problems. Another type of chiller automatically drains the water eliminating the weekly maintenance.
Q: I’m experiencing a variety of aggravating sewing problems. I believe I’ve checked everything but my needles, and am wondering how often they should be changed?
A: The needle is the first thing you should check. It is amazing how many troubles are solved by the insertion of a fresh needle. A rule of thumb for changing needles is every eight hours of sewing. But, this rule should be tempered by common sense. Caps and denser goods are harder on needles than lighter fabrics. Although there are so-called “universal” needles that span a variety of applications, they are meant for middle-of-the-road applications and any special fabrics or fabrics that are heavier or lighter than “average” should be stitched with the proper needle. Ball-points for knits and sharps for wovens is another rule. Knits can be cut and may run if stitched with a sharp, and wovens can be pounded by a ball-point, which can cause cupping of the fabric.
Consider the divide-and-conquer approach with needles. A 16 needle embroidery machine head can be arrayed with seven ball-point needles, seven sharp, a small needle for #60-weight thread (for details and small lettering) and a large-eyed needle for metallics. If your design is destined for a knit garment and has seven colors or fewer, you are good to go. If there are eight colors, you only need to change one needle.
—Helen Hart Momsen,
Q: What causes pinholes? I try everything, but still have pinholes and spend countless hours touching up my screens. I’d rather be printing!
Frustrated by pinholes in your screens? There are typically four causes of this malady: under-exposure, light blockage, chemical incompatability and insufficient stencil thickness. A: There are many specific causes of pinholes, but they all can be placed in one of four categories:
2). Light blockage.
3). Chemical incompatibility.
4). Insufficient stencil thickness.
The number-one cause of pinholes is under-exposed emulsion or film. Under-exposed emulsion will wash away on the squeegee side of the screen, so that the stencil is thinner and softer than intended, and thus vulnerable to breakdown and pinholing. Fully crossed-linked emulsions and capillary films are strong enough to withstand water pressure during development. Likewise, fully exposed stencils better resist ink solvents and should last the duration of the print run without breaking down. Any particle (dirt, dust, lint) that blocks light during the exposure will cause a pinhole. Extra care should be taken to wipe off film positives, the surface of coated screens, and the contact glass before exposure. Chemical incompatibility can include the presence of oils, or residues of ink, screen chemicals or solvents on the mesh. These repel the emulsion, which is water-based, or prevent the uniform wetting of the mesh when applying capillary film. A properly degreased, thoroughly rinsed screen provides a receptive surface for emulsions and films. Even if fully exposed, if the stencil is too thin to withstand the flexing of the screen during printing it will break down, resulting in pinholes. Thin stencils result from insufficient coating passes (eg: a 1 X 1 on coarse mesh) or from coating too quickly. This does not allow viscous emulsion time to flow into the mesh openings, or will trap air bubbles in the mesh openings. Capillary film thickness should correlate with the mesh count; the coarser the mesh, the thicker the film should be. If the film selected is too thin for the mesh being used, pinholes will result.
—Paul E. Drago,
Q: As an embroiderer, can I legitimately claim to also offer screen printing if all I have is a heat-transfer press?
A: Yes! With just a heat press that many embroiderers already have, you can add “screen printing” by offering screen-printed transfers. You still order the apparel and can order a screen-printed transfer from one of the many vendors that sell them, then apply to the apparel in just seconds. Some vendors have template systems so that you don’t even need artwork and turnaround is as fast as one day.
Q: Sometimes I get great exposures. Other times, with the same artwork and emulsion, I can’t get the image to wash out at all. What’s wrong with my emulsion?!?
A: I would look to your film positive as the prime suspect, not the emulsion. Many people now make their own film positives, using inkjet film, vellum and the like. It is very important that you have a way to measure the actual density of the black portions of such films. They may look black and certainly appear to block light, but there may be less here than meets the eye. If you are using a fast-exposing emulsion, your exposure times will be short and the opaque areas of the positive may have just enough “blocking power” to prevent light from passing through. However, suppose you switch to a lower mesh count. Just as coarser mesh holds more ink, it also holds more emulsion and will thus require a longer exposure time. It may allow just enough light energy to pass through to expose a layer of the emulsion on the print side of the mesh, so when it comes time to wash out the screen, you must struggle to open up the image. Many assume the reason for this more difficult washout is overexposure, so they back off on the exposure time and repeat the process. Now, all the emulsion will wash out, but only because it’s weaker. A terrible cycle! A suitably opaque positive should measure 3.0 (D-max) or higher on a densitometer. Simple densitometers are available at reasonable prices, and they’re worth the investment. If you don’t have one, though, there’s an easy test to perform to determine whether your positives lack sufficient density to block light. Coat a new screen and repeat the exposure, but first place a coin over the emulsion next to the black portion of the film positive. If the area covered by the coin washes off without effort, but the areas under the dark portions of the artwork doesn’t, you know your film positive isn’t dense enough . . . assuming our coins are still opaque.
—Paul E. Drago,
Q: I am in T-shirt sales and believe I do a fair job, however, I’m curious about ways to establish a sense of urgency in the people I talk with. Often times they agree to needing our services, but put off ordering. Help please!
A: Everyone wants what you sell. The question is, do they feel the need combined with the urgency? In order for you to create greater urgency, you have to find out how they intend to use the T-shirts, not simply tell them what kind of designs you have and then ask them to buy. Once you find out what their five prime uses are, then you can begin to create urgency around each one. And once your customer sees the real need based on his or her own intended use, they will create their own urgency and buy from you.
Buy Gitomer Inc.
Q: My compressor went down unexpectedly recently, and I’m wondering if there’s any way I could have seen it coming?
A: The two biggest telltales of the compressor starting to age or needing maintenance are a loss of pressure and air volume. You’ll notice a loss of pressure by seeing the squeegees slow down or it may take longer for the platens to come up to the screen. On some presses, there is a low-pressure alarm light that will indicate that the pressure is below standard. On some presses, there is a pressure regulator on the outside of each machine. The operator can turn the air off to clean the machine and regulate the pressure up and down. You can also check the regulator to see if your machine is being supplied the necessary pressure. What can cause low volume and pressure is dirty hoses. The age of the compressor also is a factor. Over time the rings inside will lose compression. As it ages, it loses capacity. This problem can be fixed, but it means an overhaul. You would have to hire a professional to tear it apart to replace the rings.
Q: I’d like to satisfy my embroidery customers who also want printing, but I don’t really want to get into screen printing. Any way to do one without doing the other?
A: Without a doubt the addition of a heat press will provide the opportunity to expand the services you can offer your customers, in the way you want to do so, without getting into screen printing. With an investment ranging from a few hundred to a couple of thousand dollars, product opportunities will abound. The amount you invest in the press will determine the length of service you can expect from the equipment. Being able to control time, temperature and pressure are the primary features to consider. The size of the platen will also be an important factor, as will being able to work with both large and small surfaces.
Q: I own a modest but very profitable decorated-apparel business. When I hire new employees, I look for team players and wonder whether I can test for “team-player” characteristics when I’m interviewing candidates for a position?
A: In the book, egonomics: What Makes Ego Our Greatest Asset (or Most Expensive Liability), (and no, that’s not a typo) authors David Marcum and Steven Smith provide compelling evidence and matter-of-fact answers on striking the balance between ego and humility to reach the next level of productivity, accomplishment and leadership. They point out that the term “team player” is used more often as a weapon than a desirable work trait. Isn’t it funny that whenever a person disagrees with the boss or we just don’t like what he says, we label him “not a team player”? Marcum and Smith suggest there are twelve characteristics of the ultimate team player. They are:
- a “we then me” mindset; team players always consider the team first but don’t lose sight of the individual effort that’s required to accomplish a task or get the job done;
- devotion to progress;
- speaks his/her mind boldly yet diplomatically;
- solicits and listens carefully to feedback;
- constructively discontent with the status quo;
- includes all teammates and seeks diversity of approach, opinion and experience;
- insistent upon debate;
- doesn’t allow or tolerate early warning signs of poor communication;
- sees all people as equal, not as superiors or subordinates, regardless of title;
- trusts other people’s intentions are worthy and admirable;
- possesses the desire to “make a difference,” not just do a job.
- Here are some good questions you may want to ask yourself about a job candidate or reword to include in your interviewing technique:
- Does this person make people around them better?
- Do others around this person come up with and offer better ideas or solutions because of the questions the team player asks?
- Do others work more passionately when the team player is around?
- Do others pay attention to the team player?
- Are others more engaged when working with the team player?
You can typically test for skills and verify work experience, but it’s tough to assess how an individual will meld with your existing team and realize good chemistry. Just don’t view individuality and pride in one’s workmanship as being counterproductive to team unity. Good luck.
Your Personal Business Trainer
Q: After a marketing campaign early this year, I called a few of the leads, then got busy with one client and didn’t follow up on the others. Is it too late to call them back and beg their forgiveness? Or should I just forget them, and launch a new campaign.
A: You don’t have to beg anybody’s forgiveness. But you do have to stay in touch. The reason you didn’t connect with all your prospects is because you were not prepared. You found one and ignored the others. My weekly email magazine Sales Caffeine stays in touch with every customer, every week. It contains a value message and an opportunity to connect with me. If you had created a weekly email with one paragraph of value, you wouldn’t be in this mess. As it stands right now, you’re actually embarrassed to call people. Do not start another campaign until you’ve created an ability to follow through and communicate with everyone, either directly or indirectly. Otherwise, all you’ll be doing is doubling the amount of boots that you would potentially have to kiss.
Q: I’ve somewhat impulsively taken an order for a fairly simple logo on 500 canvas book bags, but all I have is my trusty heat press. Can I still do the job?
A: Actually, heat-print application on canvas bags works very well, but my one caution would be if the bags are lined. If the inside of the bag is a vinyl or plastic, you should insert a pad or coversheet between the sides to prevent them from sticking together. Another approach would be to “dress” the platen which means to slide the bag on the platen so that the only one side of it is under the press during the application. (You will also need to pay attention to any plastic handles or decoration on the bag.) Application temperatures will range from 300–375°F and, if necessary, it is possible to reduce the temperature slightly and increase the dwell time. The application instruction for the transfer or CAD-cut material will recommend the ideal temperature, time and pressure.
Q: Lots of stabilizers come in both sheets and rolls. What are the pros and cons of precut sheets vs. a roll?
A: Precut sheets save you manpower, energy and time, over rolls which are a bit less expensive.I keep both in my shop, though, because I never know what the next order is going to require.Tip: When two different people cut their own sizes, no two will cut alike, so the use of a cutting mat and rotary cutter may ease the waste from irregular size cutting.
Q: I can’t seem to get any traffic through my booth at trade shows. Any suggestions?
A: Assuming that you haven’t been discouraging traffic by not, for example, wearing pants, you may want to think of offering something to eat to passersby. Chocolate always works but, depending on the venue, a more appropriate offering might be Scotch whiskey. A friend tells a story about a trade show where no one was coming by his booth. He learned that a competitor had arranged to have the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders available for photos at his booth. He learned from this and the next year arranged to have a women’s roller derby team at his booth, where they successfully punched and wrestled his attendance to record numbers.
Q: Do you consider the practice of leaving business cards around in public places too passive a way to spread word about my company’s services?
A: I think leaving business cards lying around is totally tacky, and a poor way to build image. Have you ever come out of a ball game and seen a flyer on your windshield or a business card tucked into your window? What did you think? How fast did you throw it away? Business cards are a secondary marketing source. They’re to be given away after an introduction has taken place, not before. Instead of leaving things laying around, why not make a firm marketing plan so you can actually meet people, engage people, interest people in what you’re doing, then professionally exchange business cards?
Q: I’m feeling kind of stagnant. Any ideas how I can grow my existing decorating business?
A: Diversification is the best way to expand your decorating business. The custom-decoration and promotional-product industry has great strength and opportunity because there are so many different technologies that service the same customer. Embroidery, screen printing, pad printing, sublimation and heat transfers are all complementary technologies. The corporate client to whom you supply embroidered shirts is also a great candidate for cylindrically screen-printed coffee mugs for employee recognition, screen printed T-shirts for a company event or even a dozen sublimated Ts for a personal event such as an annual camping trip. Having the ability to provide a wide variety of personalized and custom gifts opens up the thought process and applications for the client. In addition, having more capabilities attracts a larger client base to create a more stable business and, as the variety of products grows, the word of mouth and referral business increases dramatically. People desire one-stop shopping. By diversifying your offerings and adding complementary services, you will not only strengthen your existing business by having more products to sell, but you can attract new business, increase your profits and posture yourself for growth and stability.
—Cynthia “Mo” Goss,