Fulfilling Tournament T-Shirts in Real Time

Recognition from the Colorado High School State Volleyball Tournament.

In many of our monthly columns, we share complicated projects that take weeks to create, optimize, separate, prepress operations, then facilitate the setup and production involved with up to 16 or more screens. Simulated process work with special effects is common. In this month’s column, we dumbed it down a notch or ten. Simple doesn’t have to be boring, though. We’ll share a more straightforward project that still gets a little complicated.

As we write this, the Nebraska Cornhuskers women’s volleyball team’s quest for a sixth national championship came up short in the NCAA final. The Huskers (33-2) finished as the runner-up for the sixth time in program history. Earlier in the year, Nebraska had a record-breaking night at Memorial Stadium, the school’s football field, for an outdoor volleyball match. The attendance of 92,003 set a world record for the largest crowd to watch a women’s sporting event. The Huskers shattered NCAA attendance records as well. We should note that several of us here at Graphic Elephants went to school at Nebraska.

Earlier this fall, the 2023 volleyball state tournaments took place. These happened not only back home, but also here in the Rocky Mountain state, where we have been located for more than 35 years. It’s the pinnacle of high school girls’ sports. The immediate area had a presence over the long weekend at the Colorado High School State Volleyball Tournament at the Denver Coliseum. At least three of our local schools qualified for state: Grandview, Strasburg, and Rock Canyon High Schools — among others — made it to the playoffs. The 12-team format in each class was an Olympic crossover, which meant that teams played in a double elimination bracket to qualify for the semifinals.

Once the semifinal round had been reached, the tournament moved to single elimination format. Teams advanced to the state tournament after having won one of the 12 regionals in their respective classifications. A total of 60 teams qualified to represent their communities in the state field. By Monday, we knew who qualified and that they would each start playing on Thursday. This is typically no problem. It became a little more complicated since three of our “family” teams qualified at the same time with the same schedule. We play in this space, so we had to come through.

With current coaches and former college players on staff here at Graphic Elephants, volleyball has become a favorite market space for us to serve. With kids and coaches on our own teams for decades, we do our fair share of volleyball merchandise.

We like simplicity for school athletic apparel, particularly for three hot rush jobs. Each team was looking for something clean and sharp, but personal enough to represent the accomplishments of the players. We stayed basic, sticking with the school colors. The color palette for each school was different. We kept them in basic garments because that’s about all we could get in short order. We tried to set up each in a simple two- to three-color design.

Like anything, we began with layout and composition. Construction began in Adobe Illustrator, as you would expect, for the vector components. Generally, we selected the type tool, and entered the school names and created outlines. By ungrouping the objects, we could spread the letters out manually for proper kerning. We copied and pasted multiple versions of each for some additional outlines and/or drop shadows. Each school’s mascot and/or logo was then added to an appropriate location when necessary. We set type for the backs with all the kids’ and coaches’ names for that personal touch. We even added a sleeve. Yep, our customer service rep couldn’t say no.

For the dark garments, we would need white printers or baseplates to keep the whites and school colors bright. We added an overall half-point choke to all of them, as well as quarter-point gutters between the colors to stay clean on press for as much wet-on-wet, butt-to-butt printing as we could do. Once each team approved our digital mockup, we proceeded to output from Illustrator on Computer to Screen (CTS) with our preregistration system. Numbers would be minimal, so quick setups were essential.

First, we printed the white printers on 156 TPIs (threads per inch). After flashing and smoothing, school colors and the highlight white printed directly on the base using 230s. All the screens were dyed mesh stretched on retensionable frames and stabilized at 30 N/cm2. After just a few small micro adjustments, we were good to go with one right after the other. Squeegees were all sharpened triple-ply duel durometer 65/90/65s at a medium pace and a 10 degree angle. The inks were all RFU (ready for use) primary and secondary as most school colors are. We had black and white of course, but also, royal blue, red, gold, and navy.

That was our Wednesday! We hit the deadlines, and each school did fairly well. No state champions, but it was a great tournament. Meanwhile, the Husker volleyball program has sold out 320 consecutive regular season matches. Nebraska’s sellout streak is an NCAA record. The Huskers have led the nation in attendance every season since moving into the Bob Devaney Sports Center in 2013. It’s safe to say that volleyball is kind of a big deal!

Lon Winters

Lon Winters

Graphic Elephants

At 21 years old, Lon Winters was the production manager for Ocean Pacific and started his 30+ year career reclaiming screens. His companies have won 50+ garment decorating awards and honors, and he's served 15+ years as an honorary Golden Image Judge, published hundreds of articles and columns, led various industry seminars and workshops, and consulted on projects large and small. He's the president and founder of Colorado-based Graphic Elephants, an international consulting firm and apparel decoration studio specializing in screen printing technical advances, plant design, layout, troubleshooting, productivity, quality analysis and complete apparel decorating solutions. He was inducted into the Academy of Screen Printing Technology in 2013 and is recognized for his contribution to the graphic printing industry. www.graphicelephants.com.

View all articles by Lon Winters  

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