So you are thinking of buying printed or embroidered T-shirts. It is probably more complicated than you think.
Almost everything in life is more complicated than you first give it credit. I regularly make this mistake when I first start thinking about a project and buying branded garments or printed T shirts is no exception.
There are easy print/embroidery jobs and quick decisions that can be made but there are also those jobs where every detail needs to be questioned. This detail is often overlooked by the customer when they begin the journey. A good sales person will guide the customer through these decisions where required but here are some key points to consider.
1 Your quote/the print company you chose
There are now plenty to choose from. Just Google T Shirt printing and you will be presented with those companies that Google has decided to rank organically or via pay per click on your search view; but which one is best for you?
You need a price first. The market is now more price competitive than ever. This is down to the ease in which customers can find suppliers quickly from the web search results that took a millisecond to be presented to them. It is also easy to switch or at least it feels like it might be.
Most credible companies have online quoting and for most requirements, this is sufficient. If you need a simple order of 100 white T shirts with a 1 colour chest print and 3 colour back print, these systems are quick and easy enough to use most of the time. If the company also has a customer service element or account manager system then even better if you get stuck and need to speak to someone.
Your journey usually starts with your garment choice. There are now over two thousand products available, on average, from the better suppliers.
Most companies have a catalogue that you can browse and then a quote function you can use.
The usual questions are the colour of the garments you want, the quantity per size, print location, the type of process you want, the number of colours or the size of your image. They will then require you to upload your artwork by clicking a link and then you would have the choice of adding other garments and repeating the information input process or stipulating that these garments are all being decorated the same.
This can become an onerous task if you want many different garments so look for a company you can talk to who will assign someone consistently to your account as your Account Manager. This is very important if you want consistency and a quick answer/solution to your problems. You don’t want to keep being passed to different account managers and have to keep going over the same detail.
Once you have your price, you probably need to compare against other print companies.
This is where you need to be careful, as not all printing is the same and not all print companies are artisans. Not all print companies are quoting on the same print processes or the same garments.
Check your garment codes. Most companies use the same codes ( there are variations but most are the same) and then check things like ‘setup’ costs, carriage, folding and bagging and most importantly of all, THE PROCESS that you have been quoted on.
Some of the higher profile national companies that Google has chosen to give ranking preference to are just racing to get through your work; will not ask you what process you want and will make lots of decisions about your order for you. They have invested heavily in direct to garment digital technology to cope with a number of in-house fast turnaround orders which is not always the best option and they outsource the more difficult screen-printing processes to ‘trade’ companies who specialise in this work. The account managers at these companies will never see your job being printed. They will process your quote take your payment and then send the info to their outsourced company to produce and send directly to you without ever seeing the garments or printing. Any subtlety you tried to communicate to your account manager about your order, any special requirements you may have insisted on, you can cross your fingers and hope the communicative process between your account manager and the printer is not lost in the hundred plus miles that now separates them.
Look at their testimonials, their facebook page, ignore the fact that they might have put ‘bluechip’ logos on their homepage as anyone can do this, quiz their sales team about the processes and measure their credibility by their response times and knowledge. Look at their address, is it just an office acting as a front or do they have production capability that is theirs to monitor.
2 Your artwork
There is an old adage that runs true in all printing, ‘You can’t polish a poo’!
If you start with poor quality artwork, you invariably end up with a poor quality looking print. In reality, there is nothing wrong with the print it has merely reproduced the imperfections that existed in the artwork.
These tend to be down to poorly drafted artwork or the file being supplied in a resolution that is too low to begin with.
Nowadays, most customers provide digital format file types. There are 2 basic types of formats which a computer will generate. Vector and Raster.
This is a file type generated in a graphics program like Adobe Illustrator or Corel Draw. It allows the designer to create objects and text to build their design, usually in layers, in a format that is infinitely scalable and highly editable. ‘Vector’ is characterised by the smooth straight edges that are achieved and retained when saving the file in the correct format; AI,PDF,EPS,SVG. These hard, straight, clean edges mean that the artwork is printed at its very best when reproduced onto a T- shirt. Fonts that are used in the artwork are best converted to ‘outlines’ before saving. This ensures that your print company can open the file and view it as it has been designed even if they do not have the particular font loaded on their machines. If fonts are not ‘outlined’, there is a danger that your font will be replaced by an alternative when your print companies’ art-worker opens it. This should be noticed at the time but even if it is not, you should notice if your mockup has been produced using an incorrect font. This is all best avoided by having your fonts outlined. To add more confusion, it is possible to save raster objects in a vector file format. This does not mean they have been vectored, it just means they are saved in a vector format with perhaps actual vectored elements such as text.
Raster files are typically known as JPEGS, GIFs and PNG’s. This format is made up of pixels which are tiny blocks of colour. The size of a pixel varies depending on the resolution of your monitor and your settings. Most computer screens produce a 72dpi (Dots per inch) image as standard but this is too low a resolution for screenprinting onto T shirts due to the scale difference required for the artwork.
If you look at your artwork on your screen, you are probably viewing it scaled to fit the screen and not the scale it will need to appear on your T shirt. It looks great on your screen but it needs to be enlarged and this will produce bigger pixels which will make your artwork look blocky and pixelly at the required scale for a T shirt.
If you are supplying artwork, you need to ensure that it is saved at the preferred scale and at a decent resolution. 300dpi is usually plenty but there are occasions where lower resolutions will also work.
Pixel based images are often not as easy to edit as vector images. Particularly if the artwork has been flattened (the layers removed) and you need to change text that is embedded into the image. Your printer company artworker will have little tricks and techniques to get around these sorts of problems but this always takes time and time costs money. Artwork which is too low resolution to be printable often has to be redrawn or vectored if a better file is not available from the customer.
Low res pixel images can be improved by using the Gaussian blur and unsharp filters in Photoshop but remember…………………………………………….. ‘you can’t polish a poo’!
3 The colours in your artwork
Pantone colour references are most commonly used to achieve colour consistency. These are similar to the colour swatches you will have seen in DIY stores when buying paint. If you do not have Pantone references, your printer can pull the colour profile out using photoshop but these are sometimes slightly inaccurate. If you are not that bothered about the exact colours used in your logo then this will provide you with a good enough match but if your corporate guidelines are strict, then you need to provide those references. Your printer should be able to get a close or perfect match. This is not always easy and it is difficult for printers to guarantee exact matches between print runs done at different times unless the mix up an excess of ink for your first order which the can use again in the future. Colour matching is done using formulas and scales. A good printer will eventually get to know what an ink needs to bring it onto the correct colour and use his/her expertise often discarding the scales and formulas.
4 Your decorative application choice
The basic choice is screenprinting or embroidery.
Your decision will be based on a number of factors and it may be your account manager who helps you decide.
It is not unusual to first consider what the garments are going to be used for as this will often dictate the process. For example, if you need hard-wearing aprons for a catering business then you need to consider the rigor these garments will need to endure during wearing and washing. Your logo is going to better off embroidered onto these garments as this provides you with a tougher longer lasting result that can be washed at hot temperatures and not suffer any degradation due to the temperatures required to shift catering stains.
Alternatively, you need a cheap throw away T shirt for a pub crawl. It is a giveaway, will be worn a couple of times and you need 1000. Screenprinting is the process of choice for this project.
Number of colours
Another question that will influence your decision is the number of colours in your design. The more colours you have, the more expensive it can become for screenprinting as each colour requires a screen and each screen has a cost on your first order. Most companies are charging £20-£25 ex vat for screens so you can see how an order of 30 shirts with a 6 colour print can cost you £132 in screens before a single shirt is even printed. Divide that cost by the number of shirts in your order and you have loaded £4.40 onto each garment before you factor in the cost of the garment and the printing itself. The cost price may or may not add up for you particularly if you factor in the purpose to which these T shirts are being printed for. If they are flagship designs for your fashion brand then maybe the cost is fine. If they are promotional T shirts for a one day event, perhaps the cost is too much. This is why Direct to Garment digital printing was invented.
DTG allows multi-coloured artwork to be printed without any setup charges for screens. It uses inkjet technology on an industrial scale to print an image directly from your computer onto the T shirt. The downsides are slightly higher unit prices as the time it takes to print each shirt is lengthy and the final print result, which can be variable. Unit prices are more expensive as production per hour on a single head digital machine is on average 24 garments per hour. This contrasts with the production capability for screenprinting at anything from 300-600 garments an hour depending on the type of design being printed.
There is a tipping point in pricing where digi becomes more viable than screenprinting and vice versa. See this interesting blog for details.
Embroidery is not good at larger scales. This is primarily a cost reason but also a practical one. Embroidery pricing is based on number of stitches and the more stitches in a design, the more expensive it becomes to embroider. This is due to the extra time and materials it takes to produce the garments. At a practical level, the more stitches there are, the ‘heavier’ the design will feel. This is not desirable on average T shirt with a 150gsm weight or sweatshirt/hoody at 240gsm.
It is possible to do text such as web addresses on the back of garments but the ‘standard’ is to go to screenprint or vinyl or digital for larger back prints. This means embroidery is great for left breast logos or arm logos. The maximum size you would want to go for a breast design is 10cm wide by 8 m high but you need to factor in the size of your shirts. Kids garments or small ladies garments will not hold this scale. It would be unusual to alter the scale of your design to be proportioned with the various sizes of garments in a single order so a ‘one size fits all’ approach is common.
5 Your garment choice
Not every application will work on every garment. Not every design can be produced on every garment without some compromise.
Waterproofed rain jackets for example, which are designed to repel rain, will also repel other liquids like ink. This means screenprinting rarely works on rain jackets. This forces your printer to consider whether plastisol transfers, vinyl or embroidery are going to be the chosen application. However, will the transfer or vinyl stick to the repellent coating on the jacket? This is all down to trial and error and whether your print company has done their own wash tests on the garments they are selling. Remember, there are over 2000.
If you have decided that your require fleeces, you are going to be channelled into embroidery as the decorative process. Nothing else works on fleece. This will then force ‘scale considerations’ if you originally expected that you could get a large embroidery on the back.
If you decide that you want your football kit individually numbered and named. This will have to be done using vinyl.
If you decide you want a 4 colour design on caps you will be channelled down the two options available. Embroidery or transfer. Very few companies will direct screen-print 4 colours onto caps.
If you decide you want an ethically accredited garment then most application will work but can your print company supply the in time? Some ethical brands are shipped out of Eurpope and it takes 4 days for the garments to even be in the UK.
6 Do your garments need to be re-labelled?
Relabelling your garments adds value but it requires thought.
Most garments come already labelled with the manufacturers brand label and some are easy to remove and some are not. Some brands have decided not to label their garments and this makes life a lot easier.
Garments that are already labelled require some unpicking and re-stitching to relabel them. This is a slow and fiddly task which rarely leaves a high quality result which would pass muster in a high street store. It is always better if possible to choose unlabelled garments and either screenprint your brand label in the back of the neck or apply a woven or satin printed label into the seam. This latter option still requires the stitching in the neck to be unpicked and re-stitched. There are other labelling options where a tag or label is put on the outside of the garment, along the hem or at the cuff of a sleeve for example. This ‘overt’ forms of branding can work very well adding value to your garment.
Most companies will have minimum orders for the initial purchase of labels at 500pcs. These are kept in stock and used on your repeat orders. There is then the application charge added per unit.
Label sizes are standard but it is easy enough to create bespoke requirements. Woven labels are better than printed labels and only fractionally more expensive.There are options to have ribbon type labels which are stitched onto the garment at each end or traditional insert labels into the hem but creativity is possible with positioning and stitching
7 Your deadline date
Most companies work on a 10 working day turnaround. Some can work more quickly subject to rush charges. These charges are to cover the overtime required to add the order to the schedule on a fast turnaround. You need to remember that nearly all print/embroidery companies do not hold stock. The UK wholesale network is geared for next day delivery for orders before 5pm so your printer will just buy in what he needs as he needs it. This means that 24hr turnarounds are possible but expensive as your printer will probably be shipping the garments same day to you using a courier. Buying local can mitigate these costs if you are after a rush service but try to plan ahead to avoid paying over the odds. Some garments will have stock issues, this is mostly on the ‘niche’ products.
This list is by no means comprehensive. There will always be that job that throws up a problem not considered here. There is often a great deal of problem solving for your print or embroidery company to undertake particularly if your project is all about your ‘brand’.
Author Arron Harnden shirtworks.co.uk