So, first + foremost, what is a 'strike off'? A strike off is a sample of fabric that has been printed to your requirements, so that you can check to see if you're happy with it before agreeing for the full order to be printed. I would never arrange for a large order of fabric to be printed without seeing a strike off first and encourage you to do the same. As well as picking up potential problems, there's other things that you might notice on a fabric printout, that you wouldn't see on screen. I always encourage people to print a paper version as well, but seeing the design on the correct fabric + in the correct colours is really important.
What do I need to ask for?
Suppliers will vary in exactly what they give you + will often provide you with something that is most convenient for them. I like to request the following on all of my strike offs, as this gives me the closest representation to the real thing + therefore the most informed choice on whether I want to proceed with the design or not;
- Use the correct fabric, i.e. the actual fabric I will use for the bulk order - there's no point getting a strike off if it's in a totally different fabric. For one, different fabrications dye differently, so if you see a sample in cotton and the real thing is polyester, chances are the colours will look different. Also, the weave or knit of a fabric can play a part in whether or not a print is suitable. For example, if a fabric is printed on a smooth fabric for the strike off, but the final fabric is a cotton drill (which has noticeable grain + texture), the print might not look as nice. Also consider if your final fabric is sheer or semi-transparent + how this will affect the colour
- Provide a sample bigger than the actual repeat. There's 2 kinds of prints; placement prints, where the print is on a specific part of the clothing, for example a slogan print on a t-shirt + a repeat print, where the fabric is printed all over + the print lines up seamlessly. If you've got a placement print, you should ensure you receive an example of the full print. For a repeat print, you want a sample bigger than the repeat. This is so you can view the whole print design + check to see if you like it, but also so you can check that the repeat lines up seamlessly + looks nice.
- If you have any specific colour references, make sure you let the factory know before you have the strike off printed. The way colour is communicated varies between companies, factories + printers (there will be a full post on this coming up soon) + there's several different ways of doing things that all work well, so it's up to you to outline how you want to work. The printing type also plays a part in this too. For example, if a print is being screen printed, inks are usually mixed 'by hand' + therefore a colour standard or Pantone reference number is used. For a digital print, many companies often just use the digital print file to print the colours from, as there's often hundreds of colours in the print, which would take too long to assign a colour standard to. If there's a predominant colour that ties in with other items in your range, you may wish to provide a colour standard or Pantone reference for this.
What should I look for on the strike off?
When you receive your strike off, take a close look at it + ideally compare it with a paper printout + also any colour standards if you've used them. This probably sounds strange, but look at it in different lights, in different angles, even hold it up against yourself + look at it in the mirror. These are the things I always look out for when assessing the strike off;
- Is the scale correct? There are some print methods which only allow repeats of a certain size to be used, for example rotary printing. I've had experiences where the factory hasn't told me that they don't have the correct size equipment, so they just scaled the print up without telling me. The print came in + was huge + didn't look right at all, so it's always worth checking the scale, just in case
- Do I like the colours + if I've given a fabric reference, do they match? I do find in the industry, we can be over critical of colours + expect the closest match possible (myself included!). The most important thing to keep in mind is, if this colour is different, will it affect anything else in the range. If you've got plain fabrics, trims + accessories all matching the same colour, it's really important to ensure that the colour is a perfect match. Otherwise, when everything is sewn together, it can look 'off' + a bit cheap if the colours don't match well. However, if the item is a one-off in the range, it can be good to take a step back + simply think, 'do I like this + will my customer like it'? If so + the colours are a bit out, it's perfectly acceptable to approve it in this instance.
- Does the print work with this fabric? Sometimes you'll find that a fabric just isn't doing the print any favours, or vice versa. For example, you might have seen me working on the print below. On screen I was really happy with it + printed on a smooth fabric, I thought it looked great, perfect for a swimwear range as it suited swim fabrics + also chiffons for cover ups. I also wanted to try the idea of a cotton drill beach bag, so I ordered a strike off. I've put a close up photo below, so you can see what I'm talking about. As you can see on the left, the grain of the fabric is causing visible lines in the print + some of the horizontal lines even look white. However the original doesn't have any such lines, as you can see on the right image. From this strike off, I can see that this type of print + this fabric aren't really what I was looking for + I won't have any further prints done on this fabric. This is exactly why we have a strike off - much better that I tried it on a small amount + realised I didn't like it, rather than spent money on the full order!
- Is the quality as expected? The same type of print can look great from one supplier, but awful from another, so it's always best to look at the details. Check things like the colour saturation (how well the colour has taken to the fabric - is the application even, or is the base colour of the fabric showing through?), the definition (are details getting lost?) and the handfeel (is the ink causing the fabric to feel stiff?).
I hope this has helped you to understand what a strike off is + why it's so important - don't commit to a print order without having seen a strike off that you approve of!
If you're keen to learn more about the process of getting a garment into production, you might be interested in this free training video I've put together, which takes you through 7 key steps, from idea through to production. Learn more, or watch the video via this link.