Marshall Atkinson muses on PMS 485 and suggests simple solutions to common problems that can bedevil any printshop owner or manager

‘Gold ink’ can mean different things to different people. Always send the customer approval forms with Pantone colour call-outs, or at the least colour names, and proof the job beforehand.

Pantone 485 red has to be the most hated colour ever invented. If you don’t know why, then you haven’t been in the printed apparel business for long. For me, easily a half-dozen ‘printing problems’ a year caused by this colour are due to the fact that when the customer gets the final product they think the red is too orange. One hundred percent of the time the client says, “It should be redder”. There’s always a big hoo-ha about the order, but in the end when we show the customer that the colour we printed matches the PMS book there’s nothing left but hurt feelings. You can win the debate over the colour, but still lose. I hate it.

There should be a warning sticker or something that accompanies any order that uses PMS 485. It could be a classic Jedi mind trick (imagine me waving my hand): “This isn’t the red you are looking for…”

So if this red is so inadvertently awful, what other problems are lurking out there that we need to watch out for in our industry? Let’s take a look.

All that glitters is not gold

Speaking of Pantone colours, a colleague was describing a story where his shop printed an order for several hundred black shirts with gold ink. They sent out some amazing looking metallic gold prints: every one of them bright, shiny and perfect. It was a rush order, and they nailed the delivery too. I’m sure you can guess the punchline here, as what the customer actually wanted was PMS 123, which is a yellow-gold. It was a phone order, and they asked for “gold ink”. How can you screw that up? Pretty easily actually! This slams an exclamation point down on the need to send the customer approval forms with Pantone colour call-outs, or at the least colour names, and proof the job beforehand. Do you do this every time in your shop?

Heat control

What’s the quickest way to ramp up a huge dye migration problem? Not understanding how heat affects the garment during a production run. It’s great that you are using low bleed inks and are spending time making sure the print is dialled in on press. That all fails when your dryer temperature is set too high or your catcher hot stacks the shirts into one big printer-folded pile and places them in a box and tapes it shut. Another order complete! Next! Your customer calls you on Friday screaming about the pink ink on the shirt where it should be white. You argue you used the correct ink! Not my fault, you say, “It must be the ink”. Then you scream at your ink rep and go searching for another white that can solve this problem.

Don’t get into that situation: remember ‘ink don’t think’. Lower your dryer temperature to the correct setting for starters. At the catcher end of the press, you want absolutely cold shirts going into the box, as the box acts like an oven and will continue to bake the shirts. The residual heat in the shirt from the drying process sometimes causes the dye molecules to stay active, and this is accelerating your issue. White ink that looked great at the end of your dryer becomes a gigantic financial crisis when your customer receives the shirts a few days later. The problem isn’t your ink, it’s how you are catching your shirts. This is 100% training for your staff, (see Cool Runnings).

Never box a shirt as it comes straight off the dryer: wait until you can no longer feel the heat at all with your hand.


Train your staff to follow this procedure to reduce the risk of dye migration on white ink

    1. As the shirts come off the belt, have your catcher stack them into one of four piles on the table
    2. Have a fan blowing on the shirts to cool them down
    3. As more shirts are ready, stack them on top of the short piles; try to avoid stacking hot shirts on top of each other, just place the next shirt on a new stack
    4. If you run out of room, transfer the newly cooled shirts to a pallet on the floor with some cardboard underneath to protect the shirts from getting dirty
    5. Don’t box anything until you can’t feel the heat at all with your hand. This single simple test can save your butt!



Ever get an order from a customer and wonder if a doctor filled out the form? This is especially bad with sizing. Don’t interpret 2 XL to mean 2x: is it two XL shirts or one XXL shirt?) It’s a good idea to always write out the Xs. Don’t write 2X, instead use XXL. I discovered this the hard way one year trying to interpret someone’s inventory count sheet. Doing a CSI-style investigation on why your totals are off and discovering it’s due to poor penmanship and assuming something about what was jotted down will teach you a good lesson regarding following up. Take it from me, a 9 can look like a 7.

Some best practices to counteract this problem are obvious: anything you can’t read, ask questions; always send an order acknowledgement to the client to double-check that everything was entered correctly; and you may want to include a note stating that there were some challenges reading the information provided to reinforce the need to review everything.

When goods come in, count them and check against the packing slip to be sure that you have what was ordered.

Always check the packing slip

That isn’t a box of shirts: it’s a box of money. Look at your receiving department and how it operates. Are your staff members counting things in properly? Call me a cynic, but I don’t trust anything on the receiving dock to be correct. So it’s good that everything usually comes with a packing slip. This isn’t just a piece of paper, it’s a lifesaver should something be off with an order.

When goods come in, count them and check against the packing slip to be sure that you have what was ordered. Every time. The day it comes in. Regardless of how busy you are. No exceptions. For gigantic orders, this means you need to crack open each box and look inside. Does that pallet of G-2000 royal blue mediums have the right colour and style in each box? The only way to know is to look. Whoever counts the contents then initials the bottom right corner of the slip, and then you mark the goods received into your system. The packing slip is filed by receiving date in case there’s an issue later.

If you don’t establish what’s in the box the same day you receive it, you are begging for problems later. By later, I mean at the press when that order is due to ship and you discover that one box of the royal blue mediums actually has forest green shirts inside. Whoops!

Marshall Atkinson is the owner of Atkinson Consulting, LLC, a service firm focused on the decorated apparel industry for process improvement and efficiency, sustainability, employee training, social media marketing, and long term strategic planning. He has over 20 years experience in the decorated apparel industry and has championed two companies to become SGP certified sustainable printers. A frequent trade show and webinar speaker, he also publishes his own weekly blog.