Saturday, May 02, 2009

Experiment: Printing CPSIA Labels On A Home Computer

I'm over at my dad's, and my dad has the coolest gear, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to work on a problem that's been plaguing the children's craft industry: the Printable Label Problem. Small producers of children's clothing (or producers of small quantities of children's clothing) are seeking high and low for a way to make "permanent labels" to attach to their clothing to bring it into compliance with CPSIA's labeling provisions, which come into effect this August. All children's goods are required to be permanently labeled with the manufacturer, location of manufacture, and a code that the manufacturer could use to identify other items in the lot. In short, all the info that would make for an easy recall. So far CPSC hasn't come out with any guidelines for the labels (e.g. what needs to be labeled, how large the labels have to be, etc.) so I obviously can't project whether these labels will be in compliance in August. But for those looking for a labeling solution now, I think I've had a breakthrough.

It's well known that you can print on fabric by attaching it to a paper backing and running it through an inkjet printer. Various techniques exist to fix the ink so it doesn't wash out. Sadly, all of them seem to involve a rather expensive product called Bubble Jet Set. Maybe I'm just weird, but Bubble Jet Set freaks me out. I don't know what's in it, and I can't make it myself, so if it's 10 pm on Thursday night and I have an order that has to go out Friday and the kids have spilled it all over the floor, I'm out of luck.

After consulting with my dad the genius, I came up with this method for using a laser printer (not an inkjet printer) to print off the labels. It seems to work with either color or black-and-white laser printers, although the black seems to look the sharpest.

I started with some print-on fabric I got at JoAnn Fabrics with my 40% off coupon. It comes on a 10 foot roll and is called Crafter's Images PhotoFabric by Blumenthal Craft. This is supposed to be for inkjet printer use, but my dad's only inkjet printer is for printing on CDs and DVDs (he has a business doing CD and DVD reproduction). I have no idea how as big a geek as my dad manages to not have an inkjet printer, but maybe he figured he didn't need one if he had a color laserjet.

I used Microsoft Publisher to create my labels. I figured out how big I wanted my labels to be (1 1/2" square) and how many would fit on an 8 1/2"x11" sheet, and created a table with that many rows and columns. Then I went into Table Properties (right click on the table) and changed the size of the table so that it was the right size, and all the cells automatically sized themselves appropriately. I set the table to center the text in each cell both left-to-right and top-to-bottom, and put in the text "Curious Workmanship, Tooele, UT, Lot 0905".

I cut a 11" length of the 8 1/2" wide fabric from the roll using my mom's paper cutter. I counter-rolled to straighten it, because the printer couldn't feed it until I did. Then I stuck it in the manual feeder of my dad's laser printer and printed out my labels. You must be careful when handling the raw printed labels. The laser toner will smear easily.

Once I had it printed, I ironed it with the iron on "cotton" setting for two consecutive 30-second intervals (1 minute total), using a press cloth.

That's it. The labels are now ready to be cut up, have the backing peeled off, and sewn into booties.

I'm still doing wash tests, but both the black and color laser printer samples passed the first wash test (hand washing/air drying, since that's what I recommend for my booties) which is the toughest.

Now for the bottom line: the cost.
At full regular price, including tax, and getting 35 labels to a sheet like I am, and not including the cost of toner or electricity, the labels are costing me about 7 1/2 cents each. Not too shabby, I think, although I'm sure someone more experienced in buying labels could tell me whether that's a good deal or not.

But the best part is that I can print as many or as few as I want AND easily change the lot numbers. A quick "Replace" command in Publisher will fix the lot numbers. And if I only need, say, 5 labels, I can cut a smaller piece of fabric, change the page size in Publisher, and print it. I can also print multiple lot numbers on a sheet if I decide to print a sheet.

Hopefully this solution will hold me over until CPSC comes out with their guidelines. And now I have to get back to crocheting my brains out, because now I have to work extra hard so that I can find the time to sew in labels.