T-shirts are durable, classic, and versatile garments with mass appeal as a staple closet item. The life of a T-Shirt begins in cotton fields most commonly found in the US or India. They’re typically made of 100% cotton but can be found in polyester or a polyester-cotton blend. Fabric uses vary depending on the designers choice of material and budget; stretchable knit fabrics or jersey, which is comparatively inexpensive and great for screen printing and heat applications, are commonly used. Before a T-shirt is stocked by your favorite retailer, it goes through several processes.
Field to Gin
The cotton balls are put into a gin where the usable cotton is mechanically separated from the seeds and chaff. Modern cotton gins use multiple powered cleaning cylinders and saws which leads to higher productivity and less labor intensive work than previous methods required.
Spinner to Loom
Bales of cotton fibers are spun at a facility where they are carded, combed and blended. Before the carding stage, which involves separating the fibers into loose strands, the cotton is taken off a picking machine. The spun cotton is then knit on a loom (the weaving process) into a rough greyish fabric.
The fabric is treated with heat and chemicals where is takes on its final touch and appearance. Examples of this include bleaching, printing, and dyeing. At this stage, the fabric goes through inspection for grey textile. This process is typically divided into three separate stages of preparation, coloration, and finishing. Fabric are “finished” to the desired softness and coloring.
Cut and Sew
Often times the finished fabric travels great distances to its next stop, the sewing facility. 15% of the fabric will end up on the cutting room floor as sewers create the blank garments.
Transforming Into a Perfect Print
The customer contacts a screen-printing facility to finalize design specifics. At this stage, Pantone colors, sizing, placement, and ink type are all confirmed. Each color in the artwork is separated and printed onto clear film. This is called a film positive.
The films are used to expose the image onto mesh screens that have a photo sensitive emulsion. Each screen is exposed on a vacuum sealed UV Light table. The screens are rinsed with water and the images are checked for accuracy. The screens are registered into place on an automatic screen press that can print up 900 t-shirts an hour! Each screen has a unique color loaded into it with either plastisol or waterbased ink.
At Your Door
In the last stage, the printed t-shirts are folded, sorted and placed into inventory. When an order is placed online the t-shirt is pulled from inventory, packed and shipped to its new home.