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The Big Score: High-Stakes Hot-Market Printing

(February/March 2018) posted on Fri Apr 20, 2018

It takes a certain amount of skill, planning, and luck to get commemorative championship game T-shirts from screen to store to happy fan overnight.

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By Kelsey Johnson

The two presses printing left chests are already up and running out on the shop floor, with production crew members carting shirts around the shop. I wander over to one of the presses in the final stages of setup for the 10-color design, where Richard Patiño, executive VP, is meticulously checking registration marks.
“Everything was set up beforehand except for the last three screens, so now we just have to line everything up,” he says. Speed may be the name of the game, but for F&E, it comes down to quality. As Tidwell told me earlier in the day, “Good enough is not good enough. We want it to be the best.”

As it turns out, F&E isn’t the only place where these designs will be printed tonight. A partner print shop about 20 miles from F&E’s facility has also been contracted to print championship shirts onto Cardinal-colored T-shirts, putting additional emphasis on getting everything right. “Consistency is key,” Scott explains. “I don’t want one guy to say, ‘Well, I can tell Mario ran this one.’ We want all of it to look exactly the same.”

Midnight approaches and printing is now underway on all four presses. As shirts continue to churn out, are carted from press to press, and go through the dryer, Bama and Georgia fans alike start to settle into the groove of things, cranking out close to 1000 shirts per hour. Finalized T-shirts receive an Officially Licensed Collegiate Product hologram sticker to prove authenticity and are then folded and moved to the unloading area to be sorted by size and boxed or bagged up, according to order. More than 250 separate shipments will be prepared and picked up by the morning, with the first trucks arriving to gather their goods around 1:30 a.m. Fans will be arriving at sporting goods stores in the morning eager to purchase their Alabama National Champions shirts, so time is of the essence.

Still going strong on the adrenaline rush of a last-minute victory (or perhaps all the caffeine from the empty Mountain Dew bottles and cappuccino cups from the breakroom I see strewn around the shop is starting to kick in), the whole crew whoops and hollers when someone starts blaring the Alabama fight song. I can tell it’s going to be a long but fun night (or maybe the more accurate word is “day” since the crew will be printing until 1 p.m.) of hard work. As the clock edges closer and closer to 2 a.m., I decide it’s time for this journalist to get some shuteye before the long trip home in a couple hours – that is, if I can fall asleep after the excitement of the day. One thing is for certain: I can now count myself among the few who truly understand just how much work goes into getting shirts into the hands of consumers the day after a big game.

Read more from Screen Printing's February/March 2018 Garment Issue.


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