Davis gives the skinny on loading big-and-tall garments and explains how you can prepare your shop to handle the task.
By Rick Davis
In my last column, I reviewed the basic parameters and considerations involved with costing, manufacturing, and printing big-and-tall garments. In this month's installment, I'll take a closer look at loading oversized garments and the challenges of aligning these products on press. I'll also explain how you can avoid some of the loading pitfalls associated with graphic design and placement on such garments.
When printing a big-and-tall job, the loader will try to use all of his typical reference points to ensure that the garment is positioned as straight as possible. The garment's centerline and the collar's location on the platen are two primary references loaders use to ensure that a garment is properly loaded onto the platen. However, the size of big-and-tall garments often erases tried-and-true reference points such as these.
The centerline crease that typically runs down the front of a T-shirt is the primary guide that printers use for positioning. But retail buyers decided that they didn't care to have that crease appear on their shirts, and garment mills responded by quarter-turning the fabric during manufacturing. This eliminated the centerline, the best possible guide for aligning a big-and-tall garment.
When the loader deals with garments sized XXL and larger, he has to center the garment on the platen by gauging the proper location of the collar in relation to the center of the platen and/or the equal distancing of the sleeves from the platen's respective edges. Unfortunately, the size of the garments hinders the process and increases the time the loader must take to ensure that the garment is properly centered.
The size of the graphics you print usually determines the appropriate platen size to use during a print run. But when dealing with plus-sized garments, you are best off if you always use the largest platens available. Large platens make referencing the sleeve seams to the platen edges much easier, and using these platens may help speed up the centering process.
Printing facilities that continually deal in large volumes of plus-sized garments should consider having custom jumbo-sized platens made for their presses to further ease the loading process. Although this sounds like a costly solution for a simple issue, it will not take many rejected production runs to make you see the advantages of such an investment. The larger platens will not only work for finished oversized garment jobs, but also for cut-piece printing.
Let's take a look at graphics placement and how graphics play into the loading process. As with any garment graphic, linear image elements offer a challenge to the loader. Graphics containing straight vertical and horizontal lines, large squares, and similar elements can amplify any positioning errors made during loading.
Graphics that have few linear reference points can be printed onto a garment at 2-4° off from their ideal position, depending on the art, and can easily go unnoticed. However, T-shirt graphics designed with heavy linear references can scream crooked, even when printed as little as 1° off from their proper alignment. The size of big-and-tall T-shirts strengthens the visual reference created by linear graphics, because the graphics are typically larger and more visible.
Whenever possible, it is best to avoid T-shirt graphics with linear image elements that are designed to correspond with true horizontal and vertical orientations when worn. Just keep in mind that you'll make little ground with artists on this issue. Many of them see it as the production department's problem to get the graphic printed straight onto the garment. And the artists are right. The production department is supposed to make sure that garment graphics are printed as straight as possible, regardless of the elements that appear in the artwork.
Many printing facilities pin register their artwork so that the press loader only has to bring the collar's hem in alignment with the top of the platen. If you make this practice a standard operating procedure, you'll always place the garment in the same place, and the graphic height will be predetermined during the pin-registration process in the art department. This removes the graphic-height variable from the operator's hands, leaving only the correct centering of the graphic on the garment as the main loading concern.
Once the press is set up and you're ready to start, there are additional steps you can take that will make the production process a little easier and perhaps decrease the number of rejects you generate. Have the garments neatly stacked for loading and as flat as possible. As simple as this sounds, the more time that the loader needs to properly arrange the garment on the platen, the greater the chances are for errors to be made on press. Also make sure that the loader is loading the press in as few movements as possible. In many cases, the loader will have the stack of garments placed farther away from the loading position than necessary or arranged in a way that further burdens the process. Ideally, loading should take place in one continual, fluid motion, with no more than one action to properly place the garment onto the press.
Slowing the press's speed slightly by adding a second or two to the dwell timer also may help the loader get used to working with big-and-tall garments. Although you may immediately equate reduced press speeds with slower productivity, you will most likely make up the difference by reducing rejects. Once the loader reaches a good comfort level with the plus-sized garments, you can increase the press's speed.
Take a load off
Printing on oversized garments causes the greatest number of problems if you treat the process like conventional garment work. But with the right preparation, procedures, and tools, you can remove the obstacles to productivity and profitability on big-and-tall goods and make them a lucrative addition to your product line.
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