This article monitors movements in design styles, garment-printing applications, types of wearables, and more.
By Ed Branigan
A number of converging factors caused all of this to begin to change in the 1980s—technological advances in automatic presses allowed machines to print faster, and developments in ink manufacturing are some of these changes. The growth of the NFL, the NBA, and other sporting organizations and the mass-merchandising entities that they spawned are another. A third element was the advent of the private-label retail chains and their ability to sell merchandise at a discount.
There are always people in any social group who buck the norm. The idea of someone printing their own design on a T-shirt either to make a political or artistic statement is certainly not new. In fact, at one time the easiest way to decorate a T-shirt most likely was to do it yourself, by hand. There wasn’t much of a stylistic variance as far as design simply because existing technology was limiting. Before Photoshop, color separations were done by hand, and a lot of the printing would have been done by hand also. The automatic machines did not move very fast by today’s standards.
Things were pretty conservative—smaller production numbers, more localized markets, and the graphic elements would correspond to that. Mainstream guys wore shirts with sports or beer logos, or simple graphics and slogans, sometimes political, sometimes not. As we mentioned earlier, puff inks were about the only things available that were close to what we would call a special effect today. There are other types of blowing agents available now that weren’t available in the 1970s, but for a standard puff, the print-application parameters haven’t changed. If it’s a puff additive, add 10-20% to the ink, print it through a 110-thread/in. mesh, cure it, and you’re good to go. If it’s a base, tint it with color and use the same mesh. You had either a logo or a character puffed with an outline that was flat.
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