Marker questions and costs

[amended] Various questions from various people on markers:

I have a question regarding markers. I apologize if this seems like a silly question. Are they re-usable? In other words, once a pattern is made and graded and the marker has been made and paid for should I be paying for a marker again when a second production run is done?

First of all, a marker is a tracing of all the pattern pieces needed to cut out a given style. A given marker is not reusable. The fabric is laid out, the marker laid over it and the cutter uses the lines to cut out the pieces. The marker is cut up as the fabric is. Below is a photo (courtesy) of a marker being cut.

These days though, the definition of a marker is blurring. Most markers are made by computer and saved as a file. In this context, a marker is reusable provided none of the details (number to cut, sizes, fabric width etc) have changed. It would be a mere matter of hitting “print” to generate a new marker.


Some markers are still made by hand. This involves laying out a length of marker paper and tracing out the pattern pieces individually. If one wanted to make copies of this, one would have two options. One is to buy a particular type of paper that’d make 3 to 5 copies (you’d start with this). This is called Redi-Roll or Multi-Mark. It is fairly expensive. The other option is to -prior to cutting- take it to a reprographics place and have it copied. Or, some manufacturers still have ammonia (diazo) copiers. You’d save the copies for future identical cut orders. For the most part, I don’t recommend hand markers. I could see using and making them for a small sample run.

I feel that my contractor could have been more responsible because he didn’t mention these ongoing costs. When you have a newbie, do you mention this is a per run charge? Or do you only mention it after the fact?

(I spoke with this writer by phone) I’d say your contractor committed a litany of sins, this being but a small one. I can imagine scenarios where they’d unintentionally fail to mention this ongoing cost. I can’t imagine that I’d fail to do it (more below) but I asked Barbara at Apparel Mark and she says most contractors roll the cost of markers into the package. The reason I don’t think I’d fail to mention it is because I do an inventory of the customer’s needs. While I still love making patterns by hand, I think they should be graded and marked by computer. Nobody can beat the price. I can’t. If after I explain the costs (example below) and the customer still wants hand grading and hand markers, I don’t take them. It doesn’t make sense so they’re either out of their tree or I don’t know what but it’s certain to foretell future problems with the given client.

What should it cost to have a marker made?

[Amended, errata provided by Barbara in her comment, more is there] Barbara says:

I charge $30 to digitize a pattern and make a sample marker for those who are not ready for grading. I do not charge a digitizing fee for patterns that are ready for grading, my grading prices range from $15.00 per size for simple pants and skirts to $40.00 per size for complicated jackets and blazers that have over 40 pieces. That charge includes the digitizing and a printout of all pieces for the cutting of hard patterns. The $6.50 per size is for marker making once the pattern is graded. Marker making ranges from 6.50 per size for simple pants, skirts and tops to $17.00 per size for complex coats and jackets. My customers may pay out several hundred dollars for the grading and first markers but the second run could be as little as 5 to 10 dollars.
I definitely agree with you about the cutting table size being an issue for a contractor. Generally, the more sizes that can be mixed into a marker the better the fabric yield will be achieved. And a table that is less than 3 yards long would only allow the cutting of 4 size of pant at a time, that would definitely add to the fabric cost.

I can’t imagine anyone making hand markers or doing hand grading who can beat that rate. Just because your patterns are made by hand, doesn’t mean they can’t be graded and marked by computer. I always pass a client off to a grading and marking service. I’d consider anything less to be irresponsible. If you want to do it in house because you need it fast, that’s one thing. But I don’t think that should be a long term operational strategy. Even if you’re doing really small runs in house, have the pattern graded by computer and a copy of all the sizes shipped to you. Then you can staple it to pattern paper, cut it out and have it ready for in house use. Then when you grow and need real markers, your patterns are already in digital format. I’m telling you this because this is what I would do if I were running onesies and twosies. Before I got the CAD system, it just wasn’t worth my time to grade my own patterns manually.

I paid the same amount for two (really three) markers but the first production run was only for 20 pieces and the other production run -I needed two markers for that one and paid double for it) cut 100, of the same color and fabric. Shouldn’t my first marker have cost less?

Maybe. Maybe not. If the only difference was the number of plies, it wouldn’t matter. A marker for a sample run of one size could cost the same for a marker of X number of units -provided they were all the same size. If the marker was the same for the larger plies, I’d have questions about the contractor’s table size. Some people claim they’re contractors but their table is only eight feet long. If a contractor is sewing apparel and they only have an eight foot table, I wouldn’t consider them to be professional (and I apologize if that offends anyone). If you have to have a cut order spread in two markers because of table size, that contractor is wasting a lot of your money. It sounds like this is what happened for the larger run. They didn’t have a long enough table to cut a longer marker.

Excuse the sales pitch but there is a lot more about markers in my book, including how to design them according to sales. Even if you won’t make your own markers, the information will be useful -if a contractor doesn’t ask those questions, run! If you do plan to make hand markers and give those to the cutter, you must read Production Cutting: Making Markers pp 114-120. Lastly, if the contractor doesn’t make markers, there are specific questions you must ask them before you can have the marker service make them. The man in the example above could have purchased the book and knowing the costs, paid $30 or so for the marking and would have had enough money left over to buy four more copies of the book for what he originally paid in marker making. I don’t understand why people are so penny wise and pound foolish.

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