Inaction: Complications of Newton’s Third Law


Newton’s Third Law states: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” You may have learned that in high school science class.

In the decorated apparel industry, we have our own physics law too. Have you heard or seen this? “For every inaction, there is a force multiplier that propels the order toward a death spiral of doom.”

Ok, maybe I’m overstating that a little.

But it is the inaction part that I want to focus on with this article.

In your shop, inaction is all around you.

It’s the tiny details and steps that get missed. Some of these have a cumulative effect that makes your teeth gnash and your blood boil. (That’s the death spiral of doom part)

Here are a few examples:

Inaction One: Proper Screen Room Techniques


Out of the gate with a biggee. Raise your hand if you have to double stroke your white on your underbase to get the opacity you want.

Go ahead. Raise it.

What causes that? It’s not your ink. Nope. Not your press either.

Is it your screens? Bingo. We have a winner.

Screen tension matters folks. Are you measuring yours?

“But Marshall, we don’t have time for that.”

I’m throwing the bullshit flag on that one. Properly tensioned screens are one of the most critical steps in screen-printing. In fact, our industry is called screen-printing. How can you not invest the proper care in making such a crucial step for what you are going to be using later?

Wait, let me get this straight. You don’t have time to measure your screen tension, but you have time to double print the underbase on every single order that is coming out of your shop?


Here’s another tidbit for you, screen tension also factors in with registration. If you have one screen that has fairly decent tension, and another that is out of range on tension, they won’t register. The real joke here is that instead of fixing the problem, most production folks blame the art department for “seps that won’t even register”.

It’s not the art department’s fault. Although they are on the hook for other things. We’ll get to them later in the article.

Here’s What You Should Do

Find your tension meter. It’s probably in a hard plastic case up on a shelf with about a half inch of dust on it.

If you don’t have one, order one today.

Once it is in your hands, make sure it is calibrated. (That’s what that little rectangle of glass is for.) Then, start measuring your screens for tension problems.

I would plan on having a minimum tension number allowable for your screens. In some shops I’ve been in the number is 20 N/cm. I’ve been fine with 18 N/cm. The point is that you have to determine where your floor will be on tension.

Once you start measuring, cull out the ones that don’t fit the standard.

If you are using static frames, the bad ones will need to be remeshed. For retensionable frames, get busy jacking up the tension to appropriate levels.

After measuring, use a Sharpie and write the date and the tension on the frame for comparison later. Put it in an easy to spot place, and add some clear packing tape over it so it can go through reclaim.

Then go by this guide:

Screens with 18-20 N/cm are for one color jobs.

Above 20 N/cm are for multi-color jobs.

For multi-color jobs, try to grab screens within 2 N/cm of each other for better registration.

Inaction Two: Lack of Information

What stops the presses or prevents the order from shipping more than anything in your shop? Information or communication problems.

You know this. But nothing is ever started to fix it.

Inaction death spiral.

Some examples, but certainly not all that could be in your shop right now:

  • The job is written for the ink or thread to match the color of the garment. Instead of doing this at order entry, your production team spends 30-minutes on a collaborative process getting everyone’s opinion and trying to dial it in. Did I mention the order was entered in the system eight days ago? It’s 3:15 pm and has to ship today. Like some omnipotent presence, you can feel the UPS truck around the corner.
  • Your team just pulled off the miracle. That rush job for the new client sailed through every department, and your team banded together to get that critical order completed. Everything is ready to go. Except for one thing. The shipping information is missing. It wasn’t entered. Checking the purchase order, it wasn’t on there either. Frantically you call the customer. No answer. That’s when you remember they were going to that conference in Denver. Now it feels like your team just marched down the field and fumbled the ball on the one-yard line. Ut oh.
  • On the press is a repeat order you do all the time. It’s on four different colors of hoodies. Same screen, just some ink changes. The mockups on the work orders only show three of the four colors. Instead of asking any questions, your press crew “remembers” what do to and loads in black ink for that fourth hoodie set up. But they remembered wrong. Now what?

The Devil is in the Details

That’s three examples above. I could have written a thousand. You probably could have as well.

The point I’m trying to make here is that the small inaction step is what causes the biggest headaches. Not spending ten minutes to determine the right color and add it to the job instructions. Missing information at order entry and simply kicking that can for someone else to figure out. Not putting perfect production instructions together for your team so they know what to do.

The inaction death spiral of doom happens when we don’t connect the dots with things.

Here’s What You Should Do

Stop for a moment and review your work before passing it on. Use a checklist if that helps.

What do you think would happen in your shop if each and every person along the way asked these simple questions:

  1. Is this correct in every way?
  2. Can someone else understand these instructions to make a good decision?
  3. Is there anything else I can add to make it easier for someone downstream from me?
  4. If I am not available, can someone determine what to do or the next steps?

Inaction Three: Lack of Art Training

Sorry to my creative brethren, but I have to call this one out. One of the challenges that seem to be everywhere is that the creative team doesn’t have the skills to properly prepare files for the industry.

We don’t ship many blank shirts. Therefore, the technical mastery of the art team is crucial to the success of the company.

The funny part is that everyone seems to know this. They get it.

So why can’t your art crew choke an underbase? Separate simulated process seps? Understand print order? Learn where the spell check command is in Illustrator? Determine mesh counts? Preflight the file to make sure everything is correct before sending it to the screen room?

Plus many, many more common requirements.

I know it’s tough. This is an esoteric industry, and many of the technical aspects of working in a shop can only happen with on the job training. But frankly, it seems like that step never completely happens.

Here’s What You Can Do

First, take an honest assessment of your team. Where are the weak spots you need to hit?

Like in any other department training has to be an on-purpose event. Schedule it like a dentist appointment.

“Thursday at 2:00 pm we are going to learn the basics of creating an underbase.”

Then, start your class. Take about thirty minutes a lesson. Go through things and talk about why it matters. If you have examples of best and worst case scenarios, show them.

Rinse and repeat until you have a highly trained ninja-level creative crew.

What You Measure Gets Improved

Don’t like these problems in your shop?

I don’t either.

But typically what happens is that after a problem there is a groundswell of frenzied action to change something, and then it slowly peters off to nothing. Then, it’s back to the same bad habits of inaction.

What helps is to keep score. When we focus on a number, we can see whether the change that has been created is working or not.

When you measure there’s nowhere to hide. That inaction disappears. Causes of problems come crawling out of the woodwork. It’s because you then are focusing your attention like the Eye of Sauron on a problem.

Measuring how many, how long, how much, or how little can make an impact.

Because measuring something provokes the question, “Why”?

“Why” pushes inaction toward action.

That’s where positive change lives.


“There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long-range risks of comfortable inaction.” – John F. Kennedy

“There are many roads to prosperity, but one must be taken. Inaction leads nowhere.” – Robert Zoellick

“I never worry about action, but only inaction.” – Winston Churchill


Inaction Four: Lack of a Business Plan

Many shop owners I’ve spoken to over the years complain about one thing. They want more sales. It always seems like they reach a plateau and can’t get to the next level.

“What do you think we should do?”, they ask.

My response is always the same. Have you written a business plan? Usually, they say no. That might be your answer too.

A business plan helps you focus your intent and purpose for sales. It defines your action. If your company was a rifle, the business plan is what aims that rifle at the bullseye.

My eBook “Shop Basic Info Pack” as two business plan templates you can use. One is the traditional one that you might need for a bank loan. It uses your P&L and other information. The other is the most common, which is called a “One-Page” or “Lean Startup” business plan. Either one of these can help your shop aim your rifle to get to your bullseye faster.

Also included in the eBook are other sections that might help your shop. There is an Employee Handbook template, a section on Branding, and a Production Log Dashboard system you can use to measure your screenprinting output.

All for $49.

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Photo by Natsuko Natsuko on Reshot





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