Print Tolerances when Customising Clothes.
Consistently printing superior quality custom tees is a challenging business. One that we’ve been involved in for decades. But what does consistency really mean when it comes to premium standard screen printed apparel? Well, customisation involves numerous processes and lots of different elements. In essence it’s an art, much of which requires human input and manipulation. As you can imagine, such circumstances may mean that absolute uniformity needs a degree of interpretation. Hence, this piece on clothing manufacture and printing tolerances which will provide an insight into the intricacies of maintaining adequate standards in these areas.
What is meant by tolerance?
Put simply, tolerance is the acceptable level of variation that still meets a satisfactory quality standard. Now, you might ask why any level of variance in how clothes are made and printed is justifiable. After all, in some industries such leeway isn’t in evidence. Extremely low or zero tolerance is the order of the day with things like the medical, engineering and electronic fields. But, the same will never apply with apparel and print. The truth is that wider yet still very small tolerances are necessary in practical terms. That is, making or decorating without them would be effectively unworkable. We’ll go into further detail below about both garment construction and screen printing tolerance.
Textile manufacture and clothing tolerance.
Ever purchased a pair of joggers and loved them so much that you bought another colour? Then found the fit to be fractionally different. Still great but not exactly the same. Well, that’s simply an example of clothing tolerance levels when manufacturers construct the garments. Generally speaking, textiles have a certain amount of ‘give’ in them. For example, most customisable t-shirts are made from cotton and/or polyester. These fabrics can move a little, stretch, slightly change size and shape. Which is why we choose to wear them. And, in turn, it’s why clothing construction has an inherent variability to it.
So, naturally, there is going to be some variation when manufacturers are actually making clothes. It’s virtually impossible for there not to be given that they’re using these type of materials. So, tolerances are deemed acceptable when cutting the pieces of a garment and sewing them together. The basic truth is that no two t-shirts, even if the same style and size, will be ever be precisely identical.
However, differences usually fall within established parameters which are considered sensible for such production environments. Which is another way of saying that they aren’t noticeable to the wearer. Yes, it might be possible to compare two garments and find small discrepancies. But, this is effectively irrelevant if they appear the same when worn. Basically, small differences do not equal defect.
Screen printing tolerances.
Just as with making clothes, printing a design on them requires a lot of human involvement. It’s true that many aspects of screen printing t-shirts in wholesale volumes are automated these days. Nevertheless, the human touch is still an integral part of the process. Our printing carousels may be able to print thousands of tees a day but they won’t load themselves. And you have to bear in mind the nature of the article being printed. Those characteristics mentioned above about clothing construction, flex and give, also apply to its decoration. In essence, some movement in the fabric is inevitable when handling these items.
Anything up to 2cm allowance for the position of printing on a shirt is judged to be acceptable. All commercial screen printers work according to print position tolerances. And they’re the norm within the industry because having them makes sense. To do otherwise would be incredibly wasteful when there is no genuine need to be so. In effect, customised shirts look perfectly fine when printed according to these quality standards.
There is another area of tolerance which is worth mentioning in terms of screen printing. And that’s the colours that are actually printed on your tee. Nowadays, most of us are aware that how colours appear will vary from one phone or computer display to another. It’s simply a fact of life. So, we do our utmost to match a colour when a reference is supplied. But it’s not always possible to get it completely spot on (unless a pantone is provided). Consequently, there is a 10% tolerance band for colours.
There is another extremely important aspect about clothing manufacture and printing tolerances being set at reasonable levels. And that is the amount of waste that would be generated if they were too severe. Think about the raw materials used to make clothes. Rejecting large numbers of them for negligible differences would be crazy. Especially in an age when we’re all trying to reduce waste and have a smaller impact on our environment.
It’s a similar story with custom printing clothes. Nobody, us as a printer or you as a customer, wants to needlessly discard perfectly decent products without good cause. Now, that’s not to say there aren’t ever defective garments or prints that fall short of reasonable expectation. And on these occasions, the problem will be identified and rectified. But at the end of the day, tolerances are beneficial to us all insofar as they keep costs to a minimum. And, perhaps more significantly, contribute to creating high quality eco-friendly printed apparel. If you ever have any concerns, your printing company will be able to provide further information.