Discover the challenges of working with big-and-tall garments and ways you can profit from these applications
By Rick Davis
Most large contract printers get customer requests for big-and-tall garment jobs from time to time. These orders typically involve T-shirts that can be as large as 5XL and as wide as 36 in., which can create problems that affect virtually every department in a printing facility. This installment will explain how to avoid the most common pitfalls of big-and-tall garment printing, including errors in job costing, garment selection, art preparation, and printing. Costing Before you can determine your costs and establish a reasonable price for printing a big-and-tall order, you need to collect some basic information that includes the following: * What are the size ranges and specs that the customer is looking for? * What are the manufacturing capabilities of the garment supplier, and do they fit the customer's needs? * Are tubular-constructed garments required, or are side-seamed garments an option? * What are the graphic requirements for the job? * What is the delivery date required for the job? The costing process can be as simple as asking the garment manufacturer what the charge is for a standard big-and-tall package in the quantity you desire. Or you can look into the manufacturing options for the garments, selecting specific constructions and sizes. Keep in mind that few garment producers specialize in the manufacture of plus-size T-shirts. Most manufacturers that offer oversized T-shirt lines produce the goods to order based on minimum quantities, which typically are not small. If your business is like most garment-printing operations, you're probably accustomed to working with T-shirts on which the body or trunk of the garment is constructed in a seamless, tubular fashion. Before you accept a big-and-tall order in which the customer expects tubular construction, you must verify that your garment supplier is capable of providing this construction in its extra-large size ranges. Some manufacturers only offer big-and-tall shirts with side-seam construction. Just keep in mind that side-seam garments tend to be more expensive due to the additional manufacturing steps and fabric required to produce them. Once you've determined what garment styles and sizes are available, you can address the customer's questions in an intelligent fashion. Diving into a big-and-tall order blindly usually will do more harm than good, and you'll wind up losing money rather than generating profits. Garment manufacturing Beyond cost and construction issues, you also need to do some homework to find out the garment manufacturer's performance history with big-and-tall packages. Extra-large garments from companies that make regular-size T-shirts as a standard product and offer plus-sizes only as specialties may reveal unexpected production flaws and performance issues. Determining performance parameters is next on the to-do list. For example, you need to know the amount of shrinkage that the garment will experience and the amount of torque the fabric will exhibit once it's washed. The amount of shrinkage a garment is susceptible to increases with the amount of fabric used in its construction. While the manufacturer may adhere to standards for maximum shrinkage, those standards may differ from the customer's. So determine what is acceptable before you start production. The shrinkage factor of oversized garments can range from 5 x 5 (5% in width and 5% in length) to 8 x 8. Typically, 5 x 5 is the accepted standard for a jersey-knit T-shirt. You can verify shrinkage levels yourself by washing and drying a sample garment and measuring the size variation before and after washing. However, you'll get the most reliable results by having a certified laboratory do the testing. Results from an unbiased third party will be harder for the manufacturer to contest and will be backed up by documentation that shows the passing or failing results. If you find any borderline failures when reviewing such test results, you need to bring the problems to the manufacturer's attention and request that modifications be made to the garment-production process. Torque is another performance parameter to watch. Torque typically occurs when garment fabric twists from top to bottom during the washing process. Once washed, the knit yarns pull the fabric in the direction in which the yarns were spun. Torque is most pronounced with the yarns from which the fabric was knit were spun too tightly. Acceptable torque levels vary, but when a garment experiences more than 2% torque, the twisting is quite visible. Here again, it pays to have an independent laboratory conduct your wash testing to ensure that any torque that is taking place is within acceptable industry tolerances. Artwork The artwork for a big-and-tall program needs to be carefully thought out. You may feel safe if your art department already produces large-format images that appear huge on standard T-shirt sizes, but you'd be surprised how lost these same images would look on a 4-5XL garment. Your artists need to be fully aware of the size parameters they need to match, as well as the size limitations of the printing equipment that will produce the job. If the customer is supplying the art-work, then you also need to make the customer aware of these limitations. Printing In the 1980s and '90s, many printers invested in either jumbo platens, wing platens, or flip platens. These devices allowed for all-over printing effects or wrap-around formats. A majority of those printers neatly stored their specialty platens away in a secluded corner of the shop when they found that there was either too little profitability in work requiring those accessories or that they had no way to price out the process and remain competitive. Today, most printers offer big-and-tall garment decoration at a premium cost. They prefer to remain within their standard-sized printing configurations, because there are more business opportunities in that market. If, like most shops, your company doesn't maintain oversized printing accessories, you basically have two options for printing big-and-tall garments. The first is to try to print the graphic as you normally would. This is fine if your press format is large enough and the graphic appears to fit the entire oversized garment range you're printing. But if the graphic's width surpasses your press's print-size limitations, your only option may be to work with side-seam garments, printing the cut-piece panels before they are sewn. In this case, you would lay a panel across the length of the platen and print the panel in such a way that the stroke length of the press can accommodate the total width of the graphic. Once again, you need to figure out your plan of attack up front, before you cost out the job. Size up your strategy Whatever approach you use to print big-and-tall garments, make sure the customer is aware of your limitations, as well as the special considerations and costs associated with manufacturing and decorating larger garments. You also should be able to offer the customer parameters that demonstrate your maximum graphic-size capabilities, based on printing an oversized graphic in a tubular-garment format, as well as the maximum graphic size (and cost) for printing the garment in a side-seamed format. The customer can then make informed decisions and you can begin production with confidence.
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