Sewing Pattern Paper Discussion

The Sewing Pattern Paper Overview generated discussion among several industry patternmakers. To preserve those comments with valuable information, they are reprinted here.

Cost of Printing Pattern, Dale Blair, 10/6/2012

What do you feel your cost is to produce a sheet of pattern drawings, and how fast is the plotter producing them? We are a pattern design company and currently use McCall's, however the 1000 piece minimum gets very costly. Your research was very interesting and we would like to see if this would work well for our company. Thanks.

Plotter printing always more expensive than offset press, Fashion Belle, 10/6/2012

Dale, thanks for your response to the article. Many variables enter into the cost of plotter printing (full color inks vs. black, the number of sizes per sheet, the amount of additional text, the total number of patterns needed), and I am happy to offer advice based on a specific situation. You may reach me via the contact form. While I do have a general idea of cost, I have not done enough pattern printing yet to have hard numbers on my cost per linear foot, though I will be charting this closely as my business moves forward. This article provides a cost per square foot of $1.76 for full color photo printing including ink, print heads and paper for the same printer I have, an HP DesignJet Z3200. Of course, printing for patterns, that leaves most of the page blank, utilizes far less ink. I recently placed an order through Atlex for double packs of replacement cartridges for my printer (these are water-resistant inks), and the cost was just under $1,000. The gloss enhancer and photo black are not used on bond paper, so my order excluded those. Atlex's ink pricing is excellent, and they also sell photo printers, though I ordered my printer through a local dealer before I learned about Atlex.

The Ioline plotters utilize black ink that is less expensive but not water resistant, so if your customer irons patterns with any steam by accident, the ink may smear or stain fabric. Ioline plotters are easier to set up to sync with pattern software systems like industry leader OptiTex, so if you want to print directly from pattern software without going through a secondary program like Adobe Illustrator, then an Ioline plotter is the best choice. I chose full color printing because I like the size lines to be easily differentiated, and I am working to choose colors that are lightly saturated to conserve ink. As for speed, the technical specifications of each plotter or printer lists printing speed. Any large format printer can run on a queue that prints around the clock, so if you are distributing only a few hundred patterns per day, the speed should be adequate. If you are selling patterns by the thousands, offset press printing such as offered through McCall will always be less expensive per pattern than plotter printing. The more patterns printed, the better the cost advantage of going with offset printing.

You might considering ordering Komar paper (described above) by the reel and engaging a local offset press to print your patterns to get the cost below what McCall offers. I prefer the flexibility of changing pattern files and printing patterns on an as-needed basis, which is why I chose to bring printing in house.

Another option you might consider is grouping patterns into a collection and printing a wire-bound instruction book with an envelope in the back holding patterns for several styles. Examples of this are common in fabric stores, and this would allow you to raise your minimum order for a single printing project while still making a variety of patterns available. You could self-publish books or find a publisher who might be interested in your collections who has existing marketing avenues in place. I am interested to hear what you decide to do.

Pattern Printing, Dale Blair, 10/19/2012

Thank you for your response back. My wife has Laughing Moon patterns, and she has had them produced by McCall's for many years. We are looking at what is cost effective in not having money tied up in inventory (1000 pieces each pattern) or paying a little more and printing as we need them.

I checked out Komar's paper and even got a couple of samples to try. We have looked at HP Plotters T-1300, as we would only be printing black and white. We have also looked at a couple of LED plotters that would reduce the cost of toner/ink. We then had to think about folding and packaging. Your information that you did on the forum was great, gave us lots of ideas, however when you look at the cost of the equipment, it makes you wonder if it is worth it. I like the idea of having it in house.

I am interested in how your printing progresses and what your actual cost and time it takes to print a pattern will be. Thank you for all of your ideas and hope to hear how your printing works for you.

Pattern Packaging, Fashion Belle, 10/20/2012

Dale, I just reviewed your website and was excited to see the the five-gore skirt with the bodice that you have made up in pink which I absolutely love! I had always assumed that Harper House, where I first saw it fifteen years ago, was the source. So, that is your original pattern! It's such a thrill to have the makers of one of my most favorite patterns comment on my site! Please tell your wife I love that style and am still keeping it in mind to make for myself someday for a special occasion. I have added your pattern company link to the Harper House review in my directory.

Yes, I will report back on my actual costs once production printing begins. I would recommend an Ioline plotter if you want black ink only. Ioline plotters are designed to work with all types of pattern software, a crucial feature, and they utilize standard HP ink cartridges available everywhere. They are also several times faster than most inkjet printers.

A separate article could be written on packaging, which relates directly to how patterns will be folded. I've experimented with boxes and tubes, but I'm coming back around to envelopes as a preferred option, both to reduce shipping costs and storage space. When printing in-house, I cannot imagine any way to fold patterns except by hand. Patterns of great length may need to be plotted in several sections and cut apart to make folding easier. Most plotters have auto cutters.

The real expense with in-house packaging is the front cover illustration, especially if it is done in color. My plan is to outsource the front cover illustration, possibly to a color copy shop or an offset printer. Multiple cover illustrations can be placed on one offset printing plate, increasing the economy of each printing run. Some in-house pattern companies use clear plastic bags for packaging so that the cover illustration can be printed on square cardstock and inserted. Others outsource the printing and assembly of the entire envelope, which is what you have been doing with McCall, but most offset printing shops also have this capacity.

You are facing a delicate decision. Offset printing will no doubt be less expensive for large volumes, but printing in-house allows a broader inventory for specialty sales. My own hope with in-house printing is to have an inventory of hundreds of patterns that are printed on demand, and I am also looking toward formatting patterns for digital download, which will especially be an advantage for capturing international sales since shipping and customs clearance is so complex as to prevent most hard copy sales offshore.

Have you started printing patterns yet? Dale Blair, 12/27/2012

I was just checking back to see if you had started printing yet. We just purchased a used HP Plotter a Z-2100, to test and see if it will work for us. We have done several test runs and I do feel that it will work for us. I found a mechanical folding machine that will help in folding the patterns. JoAnn is very excited that she can now change some of her pattern designs easily and not have to order another 1000 from McCall's. She is also going to add some color into the patterns. We think that overall our customers and dealers will like the new print. They get more durable paper and a reclosable bag that they can actually put the pattern back into.

I again wanted to thank you for all of the research that you did, made it very easy for us to look at another way of producing the patterns.

Hope that you had a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!

Thanks for the update, Dale! Fashion Belle, 12/28/2012

Thanks for the update, Dale! I am excited to see more of what you will be doing with Laughing Moon Mercantile patterns. My pattern printing is still in the prototype stage, but I will try to post data on exact printing costs when I have it.

I totally agree with "a bag that you can actually put the pattern back into." The slim paper envelopes from the big companies are rarely big enough once the pattern has been used. I am experimenting with several options myself, including muslin drawstring bags with printed canvas labels sewn on, showing the pattern designs.

Update to our Printing, Dale Blair, 4/06/2013

I thought I would update you on what we are doing with our printing. Since the last time I wrote you, we have purchased another T-series Plotter. We have found that they print much faster than the Z series. We have two T-610/44 plotters. We purchased them used and have found them to be very durable. We are completely changing over to printing our own patterns. Thanks to your initial article, we really have found that printing our own patterns is much more cost effective for us.

We have worked with Komar to get them to make the 44 inch 30# paper rolls. I do believe that our customers like having the colored lines to cut out the pattern. We did have some push back on the size of the patterns and the shipping cost, however the quality of the bond paper over the tissue has really won them over. We also have so much control over how the patterns are made and we ease of being able to change if needed. We can also get more patterns printed with out such a huge outlay of capital. We have released two new patterns, reissued two existing patterns and will be releasing two more in the next couple of months.

I am now looking into purchasing a folder, they are expensive but over time will very much pay for themselves. In the future we will look at getting a more production plotter that has the large ink wells, like an HP 4500 or the new T-7200. This will lower our ink costs drastically.

I am interested to hear if you have started your production yet? If you have I hope that all is going great.

Dale Blair
Laughing Moon Mercantile

Congratulations on in-house pattern printing! Fashion Belle, 4/7/2013

Mr. Blair, thank you for the update! That is interesting that your customers are willing to endure a larger pattern package size and increased shipping costs in order to have more durable paper. These were concerns I had evaluated but had not yet experienced in production. I work for another company in the spring of each year and hope to begin my own pattern publishing before the end of 2013. It is good to hear your comments on colored lines. I have felt that they are superior, but it adds cost, and it is hard to know at what price customers will resist purchasing patterns regardless of quality.

Cartridges in my HP Z3200 may be refilled, but it is complicated because of the water-resistant pigment inks used by that model, so I am just purchasing cartridges currently. More is written about my printer on this page, Sewing Pattern Printing for the Home Sewing Market. I am curious to know more about your folder when you find one, as I have not researched that yet. Thanks for keeping us updated on your progress. Congratulations on your success at bringing pattern printing in house!

Useful, Kathleen, 3/12/2013

Every now and again, I do a web search for large format pattern printers and today, this entry popped up.

I've been a pattern maker in the garment industry for 30+ years and have been thinking about producing a retail pattern line. Fwiw, I use StyleCad -I didn't have a good experience with OptiTex but I know many others have.

A word about the Ioline plotters. There are two kinds. One is a pen plotter and the other is an inkjet. It is the inkjet that may pose a problem with smears and what not. I have an Ioline 600A which is the pen plotter. This model is also larger than any of the 44" HP printers, mine is rated for 72" output. I also use Komar for some supplies, definitely paper (marker, plotter and cutting tissue). I wasn't as pleased with my last muslin order but so it goes.

But I digress. A lower cost option can be a pen plotter rather than an inkjet. I occasionally have inkjet envy (I have a pen plotter) but inkjets aren't the best choice in my very arid climate. The consumables (ink) are basically free with this particular pen plotter (Ioline 600 A) because it will take just about any pen (the owner designed it that way). The downside is that you can only use one color ink and only one line thickness. For manufacturers, this is no problem since we need the thinnest possible line.

Another benefit of pen plotters is that they are faster than inkjets. I think the top speed on mine is 30 feet a minute but that varies depending on number of pieces etc.

My plotter is a bit noisy but it isn't dramatically so. You can still talk on the phone while it is running. I plan to re-arrange my shop to put the plotter in the bay with all the industrial machines if I end up using it to plot retail patterns because it going all day would annoy me.

If you need to output Illustrator generated files, make certain that the software and particular plotter you have in mind are compatible. I haven't investigated whether my plotter will print Illustrator modified files but I suspect that if it did, it wouldn't be with whistles and bells so formatting the illustrator files to be complimentary with pen output would have to be very simple -single lines and no fancy fonts.

The Ioline plotter I have is about double the cost of the HP 44" ink jets. New, mine was $11,000. Then again, maximum output is almost twice that -72". This could be a good value if you have large pattern pieces. Not so good if your pieces are small, such as baby or children's clothes or craft items.

If you live in a garment area, you could probably pay less for a used one. This unit is a work horse and it is easy to maintain and repair. In fact, I selected this plotter after calling 3 different plotter repair places and asked which model/brand they repaired the least. They all said this same brand and model. All seemed rather enthusiastic about it, that it was so simple that most people could repair it themselves.

By the way, no affiliation, just a satisfied customer. Also not saying other brands/models aren't as good, I don't know. Anywhere I ever worked, we had in plant mechanics to fix stuff so I never had to worry or think about it.

Thanks Kathleen! Fashion Belle, 4/7/2013

This must be Kathleen Fasanella of Fashion Incubator, right? Thank you for visiting my website and leaving such an in-depth comment! Your book, The Entrepreneur's Guide to Sewn Product Manufacturing has been a key resource for starting my own business, and I regularly recommend it to others. Your comment about the Ioline inkjet printers smearing is helpful. My concerns about smearing, especially around steam irons that home sewers use to flatten pattern creases, led me toward an HP photo printer instead of an Ioline, even with increased ink costs. Pen plotting is ideal for production, but with retail patterns, I do plan to include markings that could be difficult for pen plotters, plus the nested patterns for home sewers are easier to use with colored lines. Thanks for the information and for your many years of work to educate designer-entrepreneurs! You may be interested to read several other posts about fashion entrepreneurship on the Fashion Belle website, including this one that mentions your book, Basic Steps in Starting a Modest Clothing Business.