KENNEWICK -- As runners cross the finish line of the Lilac Bloomsday Run in Spokane on Sunday, they'll be handed souvenir T-shirts screen-printed by Atomic Screenprinting & Embroidery of Kennewick.
Owner Greg Walden can't talk about the design, or even the color of the shirts.
"I had to sign, practically in blood, a non-disclosure agreement and my employees did too," he said.
It's a Bloomsday tradition for runners to complete the 12K race before seeing the coveted T-shirt. Those who finish first often run back through the course to show off the shirts to the other runners.
The contract for the shirts was awarded to Atomic Screenprinting in September. Once the blank shirts -- about 51,000 of them -- were delivered to the Kennewick store in November, Walden and his staff went to work.
"At first we thought we'd do them all at once in a three-week period, working 12-hour days and get them done. But after four days, we thought we'd go nuts. It was so repetitive doing the same thing over and over, so we divided the order into five runs of 10,000," Walden said.
For the past three years, the company has done the screen-printed shirts for the Bloomsday volunteers, which are a different design and color than the race shirts. Those orders were for a couple thousand shirts.
"Item-wise (the Lilac Bloomsday) is the biggest order we've ever done," Walden said, adding that he considers 5,000 items a large order.
Atomic Screenprinting has two automated screen-print machines and two manual. His staff loads the shirts -- or other clothing to be printed -- into the machines by hand.
"There's no automatic feeder for screen printing," Walden said.
Once the printed T-shirts are removed, again by hand, they're sent through a garment dryer that cures the ink.
Then the shirts are flat folded, a dozen at a time per bundle, and placed in boxes.
"Screen-printing is a very hands-on job, manual labor, but easy," Walden said.
The Bloomsday T-shirts are done and delivered, ready for the big race and the big reveal of the design.
Walden opened his business in 1998. Over the years he's added equipment and staff and now employs about 20 full-time workers.
Atomic Screenprinting is at 329 W. Columbia Drive, Kennewick. Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
In addition to screen printing, the business also offers embroidered clothing and vinyl graphics for vehicles and banners.
Visit the company's website, www.atomic ink.net, to see some of its designs from the past years.