Save That Misprinted T-Shirt! – 7 Secret Tips That Really Work

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There are many reasons why printers occasionally misprint some t-shirts during the print run.  (Not that anyone in this industry will publically admit to making any mistakes.  We are all perfect you know.)  Hopefully, none of your staff is doing it due to incompetence, which probably would be an entirely different article.

This one though, is going to center on a few problems that could pop up, that if fixed, could allow you to ship that problematic “misprint” shirt with the order.  Some misprints are complete disasters, and you certainly can’t send those.  Those go instantly into the test print pile, or are used to clean the floor later.

Part of any shop’s quality control program has to move beyond just identifying problems, and move into fixing them.  Here are some tips for repairing some shirts to get that problematic order to ship complete:

  1. Fuzz balls or Thread Strings.  A piece of lint or a stray thread gets stuck on the underside of the screen.  After the squeegee stroke, there’s a hole or thin wavy line in the print that is pretty noticeable.  If your catchers are as well-trained as ours, they find these small inconsistencies and take steps to correct them.
    1. First, make sure you tell your printer to stop printing and correct the issue so the remainder of the production run does not have this problem.
    2. To fix the affected shirts just daub a little ink on a piece of cardboard.  Use a toothpick to gently smear the ink onto the shirt in the area.  Blend it, blend it in good…  Send the shirt down the dryer.
    3. Take a look around your press area.  If your equipment has not been cleaned for some time, you might consider taking a few moments to clean your press and surrounding area.  Also the lint challenge gets worse if you use spray tack, as the adhesive gets into the air causing all sorts of issues.  Try switching to a water-based adhesive that can be carded onto the platens.  Also, if your print crews are slobs, this is the main cause of the fuzz ball problem.  Owners: This is a floor supervisor management problem.  Make sure you have a word with your leaders.
  2. Distorted Circles or Squares.  Speaking of spray tack…too much applied to the platen can cause the printed image to distort when your press puller yanks it off the platen.  That left chest circle image is now egg-shaped.  That square is now a trapezoid.  Yikes!!
    1. Set aside all of the affected shirts.  Usually it’s limited to a few, as it normally occurs just after the platen adhesive is applied (too generously).
    2. What’s happening is that the fibers of the shirt have been stretched in the direction of the incredible force applied to get the shirt fabric off of the press.
    3. To correct the challenge, if you use your hands to stretch the fabric in the opposite direction that you see with the shirt, you can pull the image back into shape with a few tugs.  Eggs become circles, trapezoids become squares.
    4. To increase the chances that this problem won’t happen again, have the press operator and puller help fix the challenge.  Don’t just leave it up to the catcher.  Getting them involved in repairing the shirt and explaining how it happened will educate them on the cause and effect on how they are running the press.  This challenge is entirely preventable.
    5. Also, on the market are various lower tack adhesives to use.  These are especially valuable for shirts that don’t have a lot of fabric heft, such as burnout or some thinner fashion t-shirts.  These are more prone to having images distorted than a normal t-shirt.
  3. Board Marks.  This is when the ghost image of the shirt board shows up on your t-shirt, mostly due to a combination of heat and pressure.  It’s most visible on dark shirts, and this is avoidable with proper care during production.  Suggested methods of reducing board marks in your shop:
    1. Round off the corners of your squeegee rubber.
    2. Reduce squeegee pressure to as little as possible.  Remember, you are supposed to shear the ink through the screen not drive it into the shirt like a nail.  The answer to everything on press isn’t more pressure!!
    3. Minimize flash cure temperatures.  You only need to gel the ink, not cure it.
    4. Check your squeegee length.  Use squeegees that are just a little wider than your image if possible.  Never use squeegees that are wider than your platen.
  4. Scorch Marks.  Mostly on white shirts, you may have occasional light brown or tan scorch marks appear on shirts.  Check your heat and dwell times on your flash units and the heat setting on your dryer.  T-shirts aren’t pizzas; you just have to cure the ink so watch your temperature!
    1. You can sometimes take the scorch marks out with hydrogen peroxide on white shirts.  Use a properly labeled spray bottle, and mist some hydrogen peroxide on the affected area of the shirt and allow to dry.  This can sometimes take out the scorch mark, but depending on the severity of the challenge, isn’t 100% effective.
  5. Using the Spot Gun.  As ubiquitous as a squeegee in a t-shirt shop, the spot gun is a pretty common sight.  If you don’t have one of these miracle cure devices, you should look into it.  They are essentially power sprayers that focus a cleaning fluid with a tremendous force through the shirt to remove ink, stains, dirt, and other weird splotches on fabric.  Be sure your staff uses proper Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) and check your SDS sheets for chemicals, as usually the better the chemical works the more harmful it is to people.
    1. The most common use of the spot gun is to blow out ink deposited on shirts from pinholes.  These are tiny spots in your emulsion that are missed by your screen room during their quality control step.  On press, these develop over time and small dots of ink will appear on your shirts.  These are caused usually by dirty glass on your exposure unit, or debris on the film positives.  If your shop switches to a Computer to Screen system, these problems are eliminated overnight.
    2. Dirty shirts.  Sometimes the shirts have dirty splotches, oil spots, or other weird spots on them.  More often than not, this is caused by the condition of your press or the work habits of your crew.  Believe it or not, you can’t eat Cheetos and load a t-shirt press at the same time.  Yes, I actually just wrote that…as I’ve had to say that to a printer before.
  6. Rough Ink.  Your print impressions should have printed ink deposits that are smooth to the touch and have a nice soft hand.  So what do you do if the ink is rough or textured like an old cobblestone street?
    1. After the shirt is dried, try using a heat press with a smooth silicone mat and apply some heat and pressure to smooth out the ink.
    2. While it’s easy to blame the ink for this problem, the root cause lies somewhere in the mechanical method of printing.  Every problem is different, but I would look to screen tension and off contact as the main culprits for this type of problem.  Properly made screens with good EOM (Emulsion Over Mesh) should allow the ink to be deposited into the opening in the screen during the flood stroke.  The squeegee just shears the ink in the opening and deposits it onto the surface.  If you have good screen tension, level platens and sharp squeegees this should allow you to print incredibly smooth, opaque ink deposits.
  7. We Forgot – The Case of Some Missing Art.  Occasionally, I’ve seen instances where the art department left off something in the seps, the screen room blocked out a chunk of the art, the print crew taped off portion of the art fixing a pin-hole or registration mark, or other “mysterious” reasons why a detail or item on the art was left off.  Worse, the print run happens and the challenge is discovered too late.  What do you do now?
    1. Depending on the situation of course, you may need to make a separate “fix” screen that just has that one tiny bit of art that was left off.
    2. Your best printer, taking their time, can load the shirts onto the platen and line up the already printed shirt with the newly added fix.  This takes some skill and special care.  And lasers.  If you haven’t bought lasers for your shop yet, get in your car right now and go down to your hardware store and buy several sets.  These project thin red lasers lines down onto your platen.  You can use these to line up the screen fix with the printed shirt focusing on a few landmarks on the printed shirt so each shirt can be loaded exactly.  (We use them for lining up pocket tees for ordinary jobs too).
    3. Does this work all the time?  No.  Will it take the entire afternoon to fix?  Yes.  You will get nothing else accomplished while you try to save these shirts.  However, that’s better than repurchasing them any day. Or the embarrassment of leaving off a key detail in the print and having to explain that to the customer.

Final thoughts.  While some problems occur beyond the control of your staff, a good many are due to employees not paying attention, shop cleanliness, improper training, and just ordinary focus on detail.  It’s up to the leaders of your shop to enforce some general rules on housekeeping, promote training, and build your quality control program.  Make sure you keep a log on these problems, and if you can track down the root cause of the issue.  Remember the tried and true maxim, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure”.   Shop managers should be actively working on reviewing these challenges constantly and developing policies and procedures to eliminate them.

What are your secret tricks?  These are just the ones that came to mind for me, but if you have any that I’ve missed please share!

 

 

 

 

Quality Control – The Art of Proofing T-shirt Printing

Every job that you produce in your shop will need to undergo some basic scrutiny to determine if it’s ok to print.  After your press operator sets up the job, the next step has to be getting someone to ok the job so it’s ready to run.  This could be a member of your art staff, a floor supervisor, maybe even a salesperson or customer service rep.  It’s crucial though to have another set of eyeballs look the job over, and then sign off on job by autographing the work sheet.

A big question that has to be asked regarding this step is “are you training your staff to proof”?  What goes into this decision that the job is ok to run?  Do they know what questions to ask?  Do they have the guts to tell the press operator that something with the job isn’t right and it needs to be corrected?  Are they experienced enough with your process to know what to look for?  Here’s a quick list of the things that you need to review when proofing a job during the approval process:

  1. The Basics.  It all starts with the information on your work order and art approval form.  Press crews shouldn’t have to think.  All of the information they need to set the job up properly should be on one of these two forms.  The work order has to have the basic information regarding the job.  Shirt color, quantity & sizes, number of print locations, due date, sales rep, and any special instructions should all be on the work order page.  If your system has room for it, the work order could also contain a list with your print order, with screen colors, mesh counts and flash / cool down stations (listed in the correct print order).  The art approval form must contain dimensions for each location, colors, imprint location tips (3” down from the collar for example), job name and number, etc.  If you can, print this approval form in color, so the press crews can see a basic representation of what the design should look like.  The work order and art approval form are the key components in the proofing process, as you will use these to compare to the first strike off.  Before signing off on a job, read these forms carefully so that you comprehend exactly what should be expected with the print.
  2. Work Macro to Micro.  To get started proofing, review the shirt just in general basics and then get down to details as you proceed.  Compare the strike off with the order information.  Is the job printed on the correct shirt style and location?  Is it correctly printed on the shirt and not off-center or crooked?  Are all the colors registered to each other?  Are there any obvious problems that need to be corrected?  How is the print quality?  Smooth and nice on the shirt or are their discernible issues?
  3. Printing on junk shirts or pellons.  Lots of shops may print the first strike off on a junk shirt or a pellon.  This is a common practice; and a good one as you don’t want to ruin good blank shirts for registration test prints.  However, you should not sign off on a job by using a test print on a junk shirt or pellon ever.  There is more to the job than just color and registration, as placement and the general quality of the print on the real production run garment is critical too.  If the junk shirt or pellon looks great just say to the printer, “Can you show me one on a real shirt?”  I’ve seen jobs that look great on a test print have issues later when printed on the actual shirt for production.  Be careful!
  4. The Index Finger Rule.  I like to use my index finger and point to areas on the shirt and then on the art approval form.  This is great for reviewing spelling with verbiage, but also wonderful when comparing different elements.  I call it the “Old Librarian”, as that’s kinda what it looks like.  For proofing I have always gone into the approach that there is something wrong and I just have to find it.  It’s like a game – “find what’s wrong and win a prize!”  Carefully compare both and they should be the same.
  5. Using Measuring Devices.  There are two measuring devices that you should always use – a ruler and a Pantone book.  If the art approval form shows that the design should be 12” wide, then it needs to be 12” wide.  Close doesn’t count, as that is what your client is going to find wrong.  For color matching, it’s critical that colors are accurately mixed and printed.  It doesn’t matter what’s in the bucket, what matters is what’s printed on the shirt.  If you have problems matching color hues when printing over a white underbase, you should learn the tricks needed to match colors accurately.  (Sounds like an idea for another article!!)  Color matching is easily the number one reported problem from clients in printing, so great care should be taken to ensure that you hit the colors specified.  When reviewing for color accuracy, sometimes lighting can affect how the color looks when comparing from the t-shirt to the Pantone book.  If you are unsure, I always recommend going outside and checking out the differences in natural sunlight.  Fluorescent bulbs can give off yellow or blue casts and that can alter your perception of how the color appears.
  6. Ask for help.  When in doubt, ask for help!!  I can’t stress this enough.  If something just doesn’t look right, but you can’t decide what is the problem or maybe even how to fix it, the best thing you can do is to ask someone else’s opinion.  A few minutes spent explaining the problem could save you a lot of money, rather than just signing off on the job and moving on.
  7. Slow is fast.  You can’t rush quality.  No matter how long it takes to get the job approved and printing correctly, it’s always going to be faster than reprinting the job in a few days if you approve something that wasn’t right.  Be sure your staff is comfortable with spending the time making it right.  Press crews are often judged on the amount of work they print a day, their set up times, and other factors.  Quality printing has to be one of them.  It doesn’t matter how fast a printer you are if your print will be rejected by the client.  Slow down and do it right.
  8. Train.  For some that’s a dirty word.  Use real examples and show your staff problems so they know what to look for.  What does “out of registration” look like?  Find a print with the circle R that’s missing.  Show one with Reflex Blue over White, and how the blue will print lighter.  Use a shirt that was printed slightly crooked, or over to one side.  Trust me; over time you are going to see all of these and more.  Save them, and use your mistakes to train your staff to know what to look for in quality control, and how to manage the challenges.

Getting screens set up and registered so the job is ready to go is a skill that press operators and crews have to handle every day.  Getting their work approved so the job can be produced and the next one going is a skill too.  You have to know what to look for, questions to ask, and have some intestinal fortitude to tell someone that there’s a problem.  The more that you train and insist on excellence in your shop, the better your final product will be going out the door.

Did I leave anything out?  How do you do it in your shop?  I’d love to hear from you!!  Leave a comment or e-mail me at matkinson4804@gmail.com