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  Value-Added Services: Dyeing
Heat Transfers | Screen Printing | Dyeing | Washing | Embroidery

What you see is not necessarily what you get. If you have had garments dyed in the past you know that this is all too true. Because of the many variables inherent in the garment dye process, there is much that can go awry. The following is an attempt to help smooth the way for you by sharing what we see as the "need to know" information relative to garment dyeing.

Getting Started
As with all manufacturing processes, the quality of the final product is only as good as the sum of the raw materials in that product. In garment dyeing the most critical raw material is the prepared-for-garment-dye (PFGD) garment. PFGD garments can be either bleached with no optical brightener or white. Fabric that is properly whitened will yield excellent garment dye results, and will provide a better base for pastel and bright colors. Non-optic fabrics are excellent for earth tones and dark colors. Non-optic fabrics may also save you money as it takes less dye to make them dark. When deciding which type of fabric to use it is best to test-dye to your color standards. Yard goods may be purchased to use for test-dyeing. There is a misconception that optically brightened fabrics are not suitable for garment dyeing. As long as the optical is uniformly applied there will not be a problem. A simple test for this is to put the fabric under an ultraviolet (black) light and look for streaks or spots.

Keep in mind that a dye formula for color X on fabric Y may not yield the same color on fabric Z. To maintain consistency it is imperative that formulations be developed for each fabric type and construction. This is also the case for different lots of the same fabric (or garments). As each fabric type and construction will take the dye differently (dye uptake), it is advised that fabric types are not mixed in the dye bath. Varying shades and depth of color may result from mixed fabrics in the same dye lot. Garment dyers measure production in pounds of dry garments. Each garment dyer has different production minimums. Some dyers charge a minimum poundage regardless of the actual poundage. Make sure that you understand the minimums and how many dozens they represent.

Color
Although most garment dyers have large color libraries, they more than likely do not have a formula ready to match your standard on your garment. So, you need to provide your color standards to the dyer for correct formulation. It is advisable to also provide sample garments or fabric to the dyer, so that the final formulation will work on "your" product. It typically takes 1-2 weeks for a lab dip to be processed. It is extremely difficult to match colors that are on a different substrate than fabric. In other words, always try to provide the dyer with nice-size fabric color swatches. The use of "paint chips," pantone books, and other non-fabric media for color matching is not recommended.

Once you have approved the color standard (lab dip) from the garment dyer, it is imperative that you and the dyer agree on how much variation from standard you will accept. Many garment dyers use color-matching computers with spectrophotometers to approve dye lot color matches. The computer does not "see" the color the same way that you do and may "approve" matches that you do not deem acceptable. Garment dyers use the term "commercially acceptable match" to describe what you may feel is "close but no cigar"! Make sure that you understand what your dyer means by "commercially acceptable," and make sure the dyer understands what is and is not acceptable to you. There are many special finishes and effects, such as weathering, acid washing, stone washing, overdyeing, etc. that can be provided by garment dyers. These effects, while very popular, have their own drawbacks. They cost more, have higher "fallout rates," are more difficult to repeatedly match, and are generally rougher on the fabric. Talk to your dyer about what to expect of the process you chose.

Preparation
The proper preparation technique is critical to the success of any garment dye program. PFGD garments are NOT ready to be dyed. They have been handled by cutters, sewing machine operators, inspectors, packers, etc. To get good, even dye results it is necessary to scour (wash) all garments prior to dyeing. Many dyers include a scour in their dye process. Some require you to request it and pay extra. Be advised that certain shades are highly critical from a preparation standpoint. Pastel-to-medium turquoise, lavender, and tan/khaki are highly sensitive to any surface differences panel-to-panel within a garment. For this reason we highly recommend a caustic scour as part of the preparation process.

You can sometimes expedite the accuracy of what is dyed by "pre-lotting" your shipment to the dyer. Talk to your dyer and find out if packing garments by color to be dyed will be helpful. Make sure you know what your garments weigh so you can properly pack and program your work. Many garment labels will not stand up to garment dyeing. Certain dye types require longer dye cycles, and cycles may be prolonged in order to achieve a desired shade. Prolonged cycles or re-dyes will tend to strip ink off a label. Additionally, if a dyelot must be stripped in order to re-dye the garments, the labels may degrade entirely. We recommend test-dyeing any and all labels, buttons, etc. before programming production.

Shrinkage
In cotton knits, shrinkage is the consolidation of the knit structure. Most shrinkage takes place in the dryer. Commercial Dye and Dry equipment can accelerate shrinkage in less time (rate of shrinkage) than home laundry equipment. Ultimately all processes will promote the same degree of shrinkage. It just takes longer at home. Make sure that the after Dye and Dry dimensions correspond with your requirements. If they don't, garment pattern revisions may be necessary.

The garment dye process is sometimes blamed for results outside the dyer's control. The most frequently encountered are torque and spirality, identified by the twisting or displacement of lengthwise seams. This usually occurs in long pants, skirts, and dresses. Torque is created in the yarn formation, knitting, and fabric finishing processes. It is a condition that is considered "normal and accepted" in the industry. No one yet knows how to eliminate torque and, therefore, neither Style Source nor any other fabric manufacturer that we know of warrants against it in totality.

Surface Abrasion
The physical process of garment dyeing can cause "pilling" on the surface of some knit fabrics. This is a normal result. If pilling is unacceptable to you, request that your dyer use a cellulase enzyme treatment (at extra cost). When properly applied this enzyme treatment can reduce and/or eliminate pilling caused by the garment dye process.

Quality
The terms "fallout" and "redyes" refer to garments that are unacceptable after dyeing. They may be streaked, blotchy, uneven, off-shade, etc. These garments can usually be reclaimed by stripping and redyeing into darker colors. Most dyers will track and accumulate these garments for you and redye them when they have enough pounds to meet the requirements of their equipment. When possible schedule your lightest colors to be dyed first. If there is a problem with their color match after dyeing, you can move them to a darker color and start over with fresh goods for the light colors. It is much easier to redye into a darker shade than a lighter one. Garment inspection is another area that is handled differently by many dyers. Some inspect for correct color only. Some inspect for color and gross garment defects. Some will do whatever you ask, for a price. Make sure you understand how your production will be inspected and sorted.

There are other services related to finishing that garment dyers can provide. These include sorting (by size, color, etc.), special packaging, hand pressing, steam tunneling, hanging, and tagging. Your dyer may provide other services that may be of value to you. Ask your dyer for what you need and remember to settle on price prior to commencing production. Final garment dimensions for garment-dyed or garment-washed products will be based upon predetermined "after process" standards. Due to the consequence of fabric shrinking variability, combined with normal sewing tolerances, the range of variation will be significantly higher than garments sewn from piece-dyed fabrics. Industry standards of +/- 5% fabric shrinkage variability illustrate the process capabilities of most fabric mills. This variability can be reduced by pre-testing fabric lots prior to cutting and adjusting patterns for fabrics exhibiting variance. It is reasonable to expect an overall process capability of +/- 3%, which still is enough variance to cause minor grades to overlap a certain percentage of the time. Arbitrary "standards" cannot be accepted if they fall outside the process capability.

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