Well, 2017 was exciting! Our first season weathered printing swimsuits for Synchronized Swimming was tumultuous and difficult, but we made it.
Every year, I like to go back and review the previous season and find lessons we can learn from our customers, products, and processes.
Dye-Sublimation - or printing - fabric was brand new to us in July 2017. In fact, our machines didn't even arrive until the 2nd week of August -- which gave us two weeks to learn how to print swimsuits!
Needless to say, we had a very steep learning curve! Added to that was a mechanical problem with one of the machines -- that resulted in more prints being thrown away than being made into suits. That first three months I think a minimum of 60 meters of fabric just got wasted!
So what did we learn?
Shrinkage -- a serious factor, albeit we measured that and tried to compensate. Turns out, on Chloroban (TM) the printing process shrinks the fabric 1/4" for every 12" of fabric -- or 4.167%.
Solution: we started cutting the suits 104.167% larger to compensate for the shrinkage.
Stretch-loss -- an even more serious factor, we have discovered that the beautifully stretchy Chloroban (TM) loses much of it's stretch during the process of printing. This has some tricky ramifications on the way the garment feels when it's worn. It feels tighter, doesn't give as much, and not as comfortable.
Solution: we are still working on this one. Some would say order a size up for growing room, others would pay for a bespoke suit and not worry about stretch. Certainly, if we put the stretch around the body, we can accommodate length easily.
Transparency -- as with any swimsuit, transparency is a factor with colours that are light. We chose to line all printed suits with silver foil to prevent transparency. This works well, especially since the foil stretches more than the printed outside, so there is no restriction caused by the foil.
Design for Printing -- Printing a design is not as precise as sewing it together. We learned this lesson the hard way. Mismatched colours, objects not lining up and seams not having the same look are all issues we tried to deal with.
Several things contribute to this imprecision:
Shrinkage - comes from the heat of the press, and it is not always even across the fabric
People make suits -- so placing the fabric on the design as it goes into the press will have variances. Across a team of suits with multiple sizes, is not possible to position each piece exactly the same from one suit to another.
The press moves things -- unpredictably. As the fabric moves through the rotary press, things shift.
Problem: Mismatched seam - the line from the front is not in line with the back
Solution: Do not have lines crossing seams. Instead use solid colours or patterns to cross a seam. Then it doesn't look unmatched.
Problem: Design has embarrassing "eyes" on the bust or unfortunate colours in embarrassing places.
Solution: Do not put circles or ellipses on the chest area, and don't put "spot colours" like yellow at the crotch. Also, if you want to "cover" spots, tell your designer so they are aware of your intentions. This is not always obvious from a drawing.
Problem: Lines intersecting a zipper do not line up.
Solution: Avoid this by using solid colours around the zipper. This also allows for a zipper to be less noticeable. Zippers only come in one colour, so when it crosses a boundary of colour, it cannot match both.
Problem: Inconsistent placement of design elements across a team. This was a big no-no! With traditional suits, this was never a factor!
Solution: We are now pressing directly to a roll of fabric - not cut pieces. This accomplishes several things:
We no longer need to add a bleed. We print exactly the suit we need and just cut it out.
We no longer have to guess or approximate where the piece of fabric goes ... eliminating those inconsistencies.
The suit printed is the design scaled, no guess work. So every size is exactly the same.
Sublimating directly to the roll means faster turn-around time too -- no more fiddling, no more double cutting. Just press and cut and sew.
So you see, we've learned a lot that first season. Most of the issues we were having in the Fall of 2017 were ironed out by January, but the real fine tuning started after the season finished and we could test things much more thoroughly.
Our end product now is better than ever! So if you gave us a try last year, and weren't perfectly happy, this year will be better! If you have never tried TaggerWear, let us change your mind!