How to Properly Align T-shirts on a Platen

If you are having trouble aligning T-shirts on your press so that they are centered and horizontal on the shirts, the problem may be in how you are attempting the alignment process. This article will help you align the shirt properly every time. And, the best part is that is foolproof and totally without cost.

Bill Hood, ASDPT Fellow

The decorated apparel segment of screenprinting is inundated with myths that keep printers from earning the revenue that they need to be successful. Here we need to discuss a myth about T-shirts that exists, with no basis in reality.

Centerline Myth

There is an assumption that the vertical crease that is visible on many t-shirts is a centerline. It is not! However, the myth persists and printers attempt to use the vertical crease in alignment of the shirt.

During the manufacturing process, T-shirts go through many steps from the spinning of the yarn to the final folding of the blank shirt. Many T-shirts are made on a tubular knitting machine, where the spun yarn is knitted into a very long, continuous tubular form. Once knitted, the tubes are transferred to the finishing department where they are cleaned, bleached, dyed, and pressed. It is this last step that produces the crease on the fabric. As the material is a tube, when laid flat, there will be two layers, the top, and bottom of the horizontal tube.

During the cutting process, the tubes are stacked onto long cutting tables. Reciprocating electric knives (think of a jigsaw) cut through the stack of multilayer tubes. At this point, the pattern maker decides whether the crease is to be on the front and back of the garment, the sides of the garment, or to be cut away entirely. Many times this decision depends on the design of the garment and the processes it will go through if it is to be decorated. But what is not part of the plan is to assure that this crease is in the exact center of the design. The cutting and sewing process is not capable of such critical alignment. As the electric knives cut through the stack of material, which can be up to 150 layers or more, the base of the machine raises the material slightly which affects the parallel of the cut from bottom to top of the stack.

Each sewing machine operator has one job to do, and the shirt may pass through as many as ten machine operators before it is completed. Here you can see the collar is sewn onto the body of the t-shirt. An average operator will produce 600 pieces per hour. To keep up with this rate, the operator must complete the task in 6 seconds. However, as the operators are often paid by the piece, the speed may increase dramatically as workers attempt to increase their daily earnings. During placement, the operator aligns the collar with the shoulder seams, not with the front or back crease, if any.

So, no, the crease seen on some t-shirts is not a centerline and was never intended to be used in aligning the shirt onto the platen during printing. Watch the video below for the correct way to align the shirt so that the design is  centered on the wearer.


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