What is shade marking?

Yesterday, we did a training on shade marking, marking and bundling for our Spring Boot Camp training event (we still have a few openings) so this is a perfect time to discuss shade marking in more depth. I’d initially broached the subject 11 years ago in a post referring to bundling and bagging so this is a perfect follow up.

Cut pieces shade marked with a Soabar machine.
Cut pieces shade marked with a Soabar machine.

First, what is shade marking? Shade marking refers to the process of managing the cut pieces pre-sewing, to ensure that the correct pieces are sewn together. This is particularly important if you are using several rolls of fabric because even if they are the “same” color, the rolls may not share the same lot number. [You can find out more about this in The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Sewn Product Manufacturing, pp 114-120.] So, while colors may look identical from roll to roll or even from the start to the end of the roll, color uniformity is a very rare occurrence. To ensure that every part of the product is sewn from the same ply and same area of the marker, we use shade marking. Each piece is marked by size, group number, style number and ply count. In this way, you can be sure that the size 8 on the 3rd ply down, will be sewn to the other size 8’s on the 3rd ply. It could be disasterous to sew size 8 of ply 3 to a size 10 of ply 4 -it happens, a lot. And most of you will never know it. You’ll only know that your product isn’t meeting spec and the collar or sleeves aren’t matching.

A meto shade marking gun.
A meto shade marking gun.

To do shade marking, we use a variety of tools. The tool you use depends on the size of the lot, the type of fabric and, frankly, your budget. Most small lots, if marked at all (many small contractors haven’t worked in factories themselves so they may not know of shade marking at all) are done manually by a person with a wax pencil who writes in the information on the wrong side of the fabric. If labels will stick, you can use a tool we call a meto, or I should say, Meto -another example of a brand name being used to describe a product generally. A meto looks something like a pricing gun but a pricing gun and a shade gun are not interchangeable. Shade guns are pricey; SouthStar Supply has the lowest cost on these that I’ve found ($135). They usually cost about $165 or more.

Not exactly sexy but a genuine Soabar is an object of envy.
Not exactly sexy but a genuine Soabar is an object of envy.

Another category of shade marking tool is called a Soabar (sew-bar). Again, a brand name for the tool. Soabars are extremely difficult to find here in the US. Most have been shipped offshore and cost $3,000 to $6,000 each. The definitive source for selling and service of these machines in the USA, is MMI Tag & Label. They recently sold us one and we couldn’t be happier -I’d been looking for one for a very long time. Since we now have one, I’ll show you how these machines mark each cut piece in a simple and cost effective way.

Returning to what I opened with, we did a training in the factory yesterday for local supervisors who will be attending the Spring Boot Camp, using another not for profit project we are doing in the factory. Specifically, we are making trap covers for folks who trap, neuter and vaccinate feral cats (we need volunteer stitchers to sew them and will give you free industrial sewing lessons in trade). We cut about 150 of these covers and used the cut for Boot Camp training. We didn’t actually need to shade mark these pieces; that we had so many mismatched color rolls is why the company –Hup Pup– donated the fabric for the job (thanks Matt!).

Shade marking label detail.
Shade marking label detail.

The opening photo up top shows the pieces shade marked but now I will show you a close up of what the tags look like (left). To avoid any confusion, I color coded each bit of information to match its identifier.

The way the soabar works is you first set the details that don’t change between pieces of a given SKU, such as style number and size. You’d then organize your cut by size and grouping and set the machine to match that. Once you’re all set, the counter will start at 01 and advance forward one for each ply -you stick the edge of fabric into the machine and it prints and applies the label all at once. The label is applied with a heat set adhesive on the back of the label . Oh, I should have mentioned that you do whole stacks at once, you know, all of the fronts in a given size etc. Once you move onto another garment or product part, you reset the top counting number back to 1 to start the next batch. When you are ready to do another size or grouping, you change those dies too.

If you will be marking with a meto, be sure to get a gun with at least two lines but three is better. You’ll also need an ink roll and labels. The downside of the metos is that the labels won’t stick to everything. This requires experimentation -this is also true for the soabar machine.

Questions? Comments? Let me know what I didn’t explain sufficiently and I’ll update this.

Before I forget, due to scheduling conflicts, we have 3 openings for our Spring Boot Camp event (S2016). Manufacturing Boot Camp is an immersive, educational hands on experience where you’ll participate in a production run in a real factory (mine) -ours is the only such event in the whole world. MBC takes place twice a year (Memorial Day Weekend & Labor Day Weekend), attendees, no matter their level of experience, learn and manufacture complex products that are then donated to charity. Fall 2015, we made 120 heavy, lined winter coats. For Spring 2016, we’re making 250 dresses to donate to needy seniors. Perhaps best of all, the training is free although attendees contribute a portion of the costs to purchase fabrics and other materials. You can read more about it at the Albuquerque Fashion Incubator site.

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  1. Miriam Weiss says:

    Kathleen THANK YOU for this post, and thank you for our conversation over the phone, you gave me a lot of food for thought (although I didn’t have too much time) I was searching for an answer for this question for a whole year. We were trying many different processes and options to organize our production and really had a hard time figuring out how to make it work.

    I get more confident that you are going to be able to help me going down the road and see the light at the end of the tunnel.

    I have 2 questions about this post
    1.You write that you leave the tickets on the garment. Doesn’t it show on the outside? Will the end consumer not feel the paper? A ticket is hard and itchy!
    2. Do you also tag a garment like a tshirt or a legging that has only about 2-4 pieces per garment?

    • Avatar photo

      Weird, I wasn’t notified of your comment. I only saw it from the back end today.

      We don’t always leave the tickets on. I prefer to do it if the garment is lined and so, is unobtrusive. This helps in trouble shooting should it be needed.

      The importance of labeling isn’t related to piece count of a product but the total pieces cut. Meaning, if you’re cutting one item with ten pieces but are only doing a dozen, you can bundle each one and not need to label. On the other hand, if you have an item with four pieces but are cutting 25, 50 or more of them, labeling would be wise.

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