Avoiding problems early on in your color separations will cascade down into gains at every step of the screen-printing process.FULL STORY
Screen Printing: Production
Handling Hoodies With Unique Printed LocationsBe mindful of artwork and press parameters for successful printing on innovative garment locations.
One way to stand out from your competitors is to offer a process that they don’t, particularly with regard to printing placements. This will not only create a specific demand that can land you clients who appreciate higher levels of creativity and artwork, but it also can develop strong customer relationships that are built on a “can-do” mentality.
With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the unique printing locations that are available on fleece hoodies. This garment’s standard area can be challenging to print on, so when a customer has an innovative location request, it can be especially touchy. A simple process for handling new hoodie decoration locations involves creating some test prints and attempting them with in-house promotional apparel or non-critical orders prior to selling the process.
This may sound like an obvious step, but it is a common practice for screen printers to accept jobs for printed locations they haven’t done and then try to figure them out as they go. Doing this increases the chances of losing money because a blank hoodie’s higher cost means it is not a good product on which to make mistakes. Any waste, even on a smaller hoodie order, can make the job unprofitable, so it is even more important that a printed process be defined and practiced before an order is promised.
There are a wide variety of popular locations that vary from the standard front or back prints on a hoodie. Some of the unique locations are similar to popular tattoo locations on the body: front and back shoulder, hip, lower back, rib, triceps, biceps, pocket, over a zipper, over the shoulder, upper back, hood back, hood side, cuffs, waistband and off the edge of the upper collar or hoodie top (Figure 1). Of course, you will be best served to steer clients to the most popular locations with which you have the experience and equipment to handle. Use a digital art proof to sway clients from locations that you don’t currently do to save time and money.
To master a new printing location on a hoodie, review four areas prior to selling a job that offers the process:
1. Take a careful look at the required hoodie to determine the size-dependent print area.
2. Perform a press check to examine the needs of the new job using test garments.
3. Do a combined review of the defined print area and proposed artwork.
4. Show the development of the artwork on the garment as a digital proof.
You may want to revisit this process with different artwork even if you have printed a location before. Sometimes there can be hard-to-anticipate artistic variables that are design-specific and that require a change to the printing production method.
CHECK THE SPECS
Depending on brand, size, fabric and style, hoodies vary dramatically in print area and seam location. It is critical to understand the largest and smallest hoodie size in the same product type that you will consider using for a new print location. The safest way to always determine these concerns is to get samples of the largest and smallest sizes you are considering using. It often is impossible to print both youth and adult sizes using the same artwork, and a small hoodie of one style may not be close enough in print area to another similar brand.
The reliability of the brand’s sizing and seam locations is an additional concern. Some hoodies that are assembled overseas or that are new, unproven styles may have unpredictable location shifts of seams and dramatic changes in the size of printable areas. If you are nervous about the style or brand and it is unrealistic to acquire a lot of samples to review, add a quality check on the seam locations and the consistency of the print-area size immediately after you receive the blanks. This may not prevent all issues, but it can at least save you from attempting a print on a garment where half of the hoodies in the order won’t work. Also, do not alert the customer about a potential issue until there is a significant problem because it can make a client nitpicky on the garment specs and create an issue where there normally isn’t one.
A well-established hoodie brand that is a best seller should be used to create a standard printing area for a unique location. This way, you can accommodate the majority of your orders and then work with exceptions as they arise. Examples of printable locations on hoodies can be shown in a digital or physical display as your company becomes more comfortable producing and offering them.
There are a wide variety of screen printing press solutions available for different print areas on hoodies. Several popular press manufacturers construct specific platens for printing over zippers, shoulders, collars and other locations. Check with your press manufacturer first, then your screen printing supplies company, to see what’s available. Odds are you even can find a printer that already has done the homework on the location that customers want for your hoodies; the challenge is to figure out how to adjust your equipment and process to work optimally.
If you cannot find a platen or squeegee to print the intended area, you can make a custom one by using a press platen attachment and then bolting on your own, customized platen shape (Figure 3). If you don’t know how to do this, contact a local woodworking shop and see if you can contract with someone who has the right skills to build it for you.
Ideally, you should consider the garment specs and press requirements before the artwork is finalized. This will allow some leeway for the artist to adjust the design to work with different sizes and seam locations as the graphics are prepared.
The best way to judge whether you can properly print a location on a hoodie you haven’t tried before is to get a sample in the smallest and largest sizes, then attempt to tack them down to your current platens.
Depending on the available platens and the necessary print area (this will vary according to the artwork), you may be able to use a sleeve, pocket or youth platen to print on a variety of hoodie locations. The key factor is loading the garment in a reasonable amount of time and still protecting it so that it won’t become damaged or the print become distorted during production.
Look for these concerns when using traditional platens on unique locations:
1. Large seams that push the screen away on the surface of the platen (this will increase off-contact and likely distort or smear the print).
2. Extra layers of fabric that cannot be held down (on hoods, for example, you may need a jacket-style hold down with a frame border because of two pieces of fabric that will slide or pull up and smear a print).
3. Too much stretch of the fabric when loading the garment will distort a print, and could make unloading and loading slow while likely causing a higher mistake rate. This happens when you try to force a hood on a youth platen.
4. Garments swinging or dragging on the ground during production. Printing low sleeve prints or hoods may require tying the garment to avoid damage from ground contact, random ink pickup or catching on areas of the press. This may slow the garment-loading process.
ART CONCEPTS VERSUS PRESS VARIABLES
If you have a new print location, a good way to test your concept is to print your design in its intended size on a translucent piece of vellum (black and white is fine). You can then load the garments in the smallest and largest sizes and look at how the art will fit on the loaded print areas in question. Watch for areas that don’t have enough support to push the garment surface against the screen. Also look for large seams or fabric buildup that will push the print away from the hoodie.
Once you have considered the art and the loaded garment, you may decide that you need a custom platen. If dealing with a small order, you could attempt to modify your existing platen with layers of cardboard to compensate for seams or zippers that need to be tucked and flattened. Other options for smaller hoodie print runs include heat printing (see “Consider Vinyl”) and direct-to-garment printing (DTG). For the latter, be careful of the required off-contact on a unique hoodie print location or you can damage your DTG print head.
If you need a different platen edge shape for a volume job, it often is better to consider having a custom platen made. Temporary solutions can break down during a print run and ruin a whole batch of hoodies on an automatic press before you notice the issue. Examples of custom platens that are worth considering include hood, shoulder and upper-sleeve combo, and off-of-the-collar platens. They will produce consistent prints over larger runs with easier loading times because they will not snag or excessively distort the print.
Start with a digital proof before checking your garment or press; otherwise, it will be difficult to offer alternate locations on a consistent basis. Commanding a quality result on a thicker garment like a hoodie requires coordinated testing from both the art and production departments prior to the printing attempt. Once the first three steps in this process are done, the digital proof easily can be mapped up and sold to a customer without the concern of whether it will be executed properly.
An additional advantage of doing a little research and development is that sometimes you will make cool discoveries by accident. In one case, my shop had a print that went onto a hood by mistake because it wasn’t folded out of the way. It looked so cool that the final design was rebuilt to print on both the hood and the back of the hoodie so it could be seen whether the hood was up or down.
Digital proofs of designs on alternate hoodie locations need to be somewhat to scale. It is good to not be too exact with dimension, however, because flat computer projections of garments can make customers nitpicky and possibly create complaints if the print doesn’t look big enough on one size versus another.
Occasionally, though, you may need to address the print size issue with the client if he has requested a wide spread of garment sizes and expects to use only one print size (such as size S and 3XL hoodies in the same order). In these cases, you will need some really forgiving artwork or a client that is aware of the issue and will accept that one of the sizes will have a print that is too small or large.
Hoodies sell really well with multiple locations that surprise and excite customers. Printing on unique locations well can make a strong case for your screen printing company being different and appealing to clients that value fashion and artwork over the cheapest product. These same clients also tend to be OK with a higher per-piece price on hoodies that have a dramatic look, so the time invested to make it happen can pay off for years to come.
Thomas Trimingham has been working in screen printing for more than 21 years as an industry consultant, freelance artist and high-end separator. He is an award-winning illustrator, designer and author of more than 110 articles on screen printing art and separations. For more information on screen printing consulting, separations and graphic design, check out his educational website at screenprintingartist.com.
Before you take a hoodie order to the next level and start to create a new process for it, consider the result you want to achieve with the artwork and the printing reproduction. If your company commonly does hoodie orders of less than 24 pieces, then it may make sense to discourage a wide variety of printing locations because of the risk and the longer printing time for each print.
In those cases, it can be more profitable and safer to offer a heat press solution using cut vinyl for a challenging location as long as the customer can be persuaded to absorb the cost. With screen and setup charges, the added cost of vinyl may be close to screen printing in per-piece price. Using a heat press is safer than screen printing, with a much lesser chance of a destroyed garment. This is one reason that it is an attractive method to use on very expensive, branded hoodies for smaller orders.
Like this article? Read these other screen printing articles at impressionsmag.com:
• “Fleece Printing Over Zippers, Seams & Pockets”
• “Printing Basics: Reflective Inks”
• “Multimedia Decoration of Color-Blocked Hoodies”
More Production News
T-shirt screen-printing veterans Danny Gruninger, of Denver, Colorado, based DayBirds Printing, and Rick Roth, founder of New England’s Mirror Image Screenprinting & Embroidery and Ink Kitchen, talk fast, efficient setups as part of the Shop Talk education series at the 2022 Impressions Expo in Fort Worth, TexasFULL STORY
Garment decorators always are looking for ways to create special effects (SFX) with their screen-printed designs by offering specialty inks — puff, glitter, suede, shimmer, high-density and more — to keep their artwork on the cutting edge.FULL STORY