Sunday, November 11, 2007

Serious Changes in the t-shirt business

There are some serious changes going on with the way I am running my business. I provide a service, a product and a small bit of entertainment through the website my main website at, but I haven't finished what I've started. The entire approach to has been to try and make a comprehensive site to bring it all together, to direct information and funnel my efforts into one long-lasting manageable enterprise. In doing so I've opened the doors to several areas that I had previously closed. The time it takes to experiment with every facet of this business has limited my ability to bring a fully functional professional website to my customers, however, this drive to try everything is the fodder that should make this site worth a read if you are interested in t-shirts.

Today I played with , a transfer based t-shirt website, and uploaded some of my latest graphics and slogans to try their interface. I've bitched about the quality of transfers before, but I have to say you can't argue with the functionality of a smooth interface. Just being able to allow customers to upload jpegs, the lowest quality of printable artwork, to items as varied as mugs and license plates is impressive. In less than 5-minutes you can post an image on over a hundred products and get an idea of how your logo/design will look on various garments too. Sure, I'm jealous, but I don't want to be in the transfer business and I've stayed away from the draw of instant gratification, so far.

I posted about 7 separate sites on today (links below): - Free Benazir Bhutto T-shirt - Writers: Strike Studios: Blink T-shirt - Regime Change Starts at Work T-shirt - Regime Change Starts at School T-shirt - Be Kind, Rewind VHS Video T-shirt - Super Star T-shirts - I Hate The Environment T-shirts - Highway Star T-shirts

I can't even begin to think that I would make these types of items for people, one at a time, without going crazy. Coffee Mugs are one process, mouse pads are similar, but another. T-shirt designs fit differently on different types of shirts, dark garments require a transparent background, otherwise they have a white rectangle shape around them, which are just a few of the reasons I have stayed away from offering this type of stuff. More power to them if they can provide all of these items and make a profit, because nobody else really wants to do that. Which is why I felt I needed to embrace their talents without discarding my own skills. I figure I can post my items on their site and if someone finds it through their site and buys it then I haven't lost anything, but I may even make a few bucks at the same time.

Cafe Press has a profit/money sharing setup that allows the user to set a price for the products, above the cost/charges that Cafe Press sells the items at. Any proceeds beyond the prices charged by Cafe Press will go to The User, which in this case is me. Cafe Press's prices are practically retail, as it should be since they are making these things individually, so if you price your stuff too high you may not get many sales. Conversely if you price it at cost you won't make much when you sell items through their website. The good thing about all of this is that you don't have to touch the merchandise or deal with the customer service beyond uploading the logo to their website. Nice.

Part of approach to marketing is also offensive, in the strategic sense, because many of my design ideas in the past end up on Cafe Press and often they end up being presented in such a way that hinders my own marketing. Largely due to the fact that someone can scratch out a few lines of text and have it presented on everything from thongs to clocks with only a couple of clicks. I don't blame the people for also marketing ideas, as some of us may think alike in this low-brow kitschy world of tacky products. Therefore my approach is not to complain, but to make sure that I am there too, placing my products for sale, just like every other amateur. When you have to make money in the t-shirts business there is no pride, it's work and if this gets the job done, then I don't see why I should put my head in the sand and act like they aren't there. I couldn't make half that stuff anyway as I've got my hands full with screen printing.

Friday, November 2, 2007

T-shirt Print Size and Printing Specifications

This is a 12" design, the width is approx 8", properly prepared artwork for a one-color print, black ink on white t-shirts. Preferably we would receive this design via email in a PSD, grey scale format at 1-300dpi at the size it is to be printed. Or an EPS, scalable artwork, at the size that it is to be printed. Email artwork to or

This section is more of an instructional blog. Often I get inquiries for jobs that I move along through the printing cycle knowing that the only way to truly get a job approved is to get the sample into the hands of the customer. However, due to time constraints and shipping cost, I try using digital photo samples to get quick approvals (which often suffer color variations from lighting problems, but that is another post). The one area that always creates confusion is the size of the artwork. No matter how specific I am, this part of taking a t-shirt printing order is the most confusing, yet it is the simplest problem to solve with a little communication, a ruler and a simple draft print from an ink jet printer.
I always request from a customer that they indicate to me the size of a graphic when they email me the file, in inches, in one-direction, either the width or the height of the design. It's just that simple, but most people can't find a ruler, assume that what I see on my end is what they see on their end, or they are just lazy and figure I should "know" what size they want it by looking at the design. I recommend that the customer should print the artwork out from their end from an ink jet printer and hold it up to a shirt. Also that they should trim it along the edges and tape it on a shirt, then stand back a few feet and squint. Surprisingly the squinting really helps at eliminating the edges of the paper and this provides a pretty good sample of what a print will look like. Printing a color background around the design that is the same color as the shirt that is going to be used for the job is a good way to get a more accurate view of how the design will look on any particular shirt color. Then MEASURE THE DESIGN with a ruler and email the dimensions.

Otherwise, here's what happens, a printer often prints things to fill a page, then when the file is emailed to our art department it might open at 6 inches across instead of 10 inches across as the customer intended. Then we open the file, proceed to print a film, shoot a screen make a sample shirt, shoot a digital photo, email it to the customer, wait to hear back and the customer replies, "it's too small, can you make it bigger?" Still no mention of how big they want it though. This drives me crazy and the customer hates it too, because I usually reply, "How big do you want it, in inches?" They reply, "Just fill the front of the shirt". Oh my god. I've gotten this far without committing suicide, but this type of email thread pushes me closer to the edge than anything else. Why can't people just say how big they want a design in a measurement that I can use?

The print above is 12" high print approx 7.5" wide on a white Large Hanes T-shirt. Although it may look small on a shirt laid out flat, which is approximately 22" wide, it isn't that small on a person wearing it. Take a ruler and measure your chest and you'll see that unless you want to be a walking billboard, this size ain't so bad.

Here's the kicker, I indicate that shooting a new screen will cost $30 per color and require a new proof and setup, which will delay the order. Obviously we have their attention now, "Why?", they ask, "I indicated how big I wanted the design in the layout image that I sent to you earlier, 25,0000 emails ago". This "image" of course was a pdf layout or a jpeg of a graphic that is not usable as artwork and although it may have been an indicator of the size, every t-shirt size if different and different brands are different, MOCK-UPS are not an indicator of artwork size. This is why we suggest that a customer send the actual measurements of the design IN WRITING, preferably in inches, not a graphic rendition of how the design will look on a shirt. Don't get me wrong, these mock-ups do help, but nothing replaces an actual measurement for how large a design should be.
Lastly, one computer system opens a file at one size and another computer may open that file at a different size. I don't know why, it's preferences, programs or just random acts by God to frustrate graphic artist and destroy our economy by wasting our time, like SPAM. If God so loved the world he would smite spammers off the planet, but I digress. It just happens. It happens even when I forward files to my own print shop. The only way to double check the size of a design is to indicate how big a file is, in inches. No matter how many times we were told in school that the Metric system was going to take over our world, in the US, that hasn't happened, our rulers still show inches and we think that way in our print shop.
By the way, do they still tell children that the metric system will rule the world someday? All things change, just like the food chart. Have they added candy to the food chart?

Maximum standard print area is 10" wide X 12" high.

For Women's and Youth shirts you may not want to go larger than 9" wide.
We can turn the frames horizontally and print 12" wide, but on smaller sizes the print will not work and may go under the sleeves.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Burnout and Cataloging

The call of the day was for Burnout T-shirts. The picture on the left, found on Alternative Apparel's website, wins the prize for the best photo showing the characteristics of the Burned Out effect when worn. My pointer didn't show up in the screenshot, but you can assume what I was pointing at.

Although Burnout t-shirts are available from a couple of brands, American Apparel, Alternative Apparel, Pima and probably Apparel Agents, I didn't have a style number in my head so I told the customer to search the Am App website. He called back saying that he's searched high and low, but can't find it. Once I have some time I'll do a search and see if it is really that difficult to find those. Basically they are a 50/50 shirt with cotton burned out by either chemical or a heat process, thereby making a super thin and often distressed looking shirt. All the rage, if you want a see-through t-shirt that will be difficult to print since it won't withstand much more heat. I have to assume that this style will also deteriorate quickly since it is also very thin. Lastly, Pima Apparel is very proud of a stitched Burnout effect t-shirt, but I haven't put it to a test yet.

Burnout by American Apparel is called Acid Wash t-shirt, which must be good for the environment and your skin:

"The softest, smoothest, best-looking T-shirt available anywhere in Acid Wash Jersey Cotton."

The Burnout T-shirts by Alternative Apparel is the standard burn-out:

Early this morning I spent the better half updating my state-by-state index to shown some new contact info. The goal here is to useful links to common resources for each state, shipping information and relevant tax data for each state that we ship to, as well as, designs that are cool enough to wear without feeling like you just left a tourist trap with a transfer t-shirt.

I noticed that most of the well-indexed companies for t-shirts are from CafePress, which begs the question, "Why don't I upload my designs and let them do the work?" Well, the answer has been in the past that I don't like transfer t-shirts as they wash out quickly and are inferior to screen printing. Even Spreadshirt, a vinyl transfer t-shirt company, has an attractive interface that encourages individuals to put up designs and sell them without actually having to make the shirt yourself. I'll go into more detail later on these sites and it may be time to try them again. My friend has done pretty well with his designs here:

Also today a setup an order catalog through my mill supplier, but once I checked it out I found that it is missing half of the products, only the good products don't seem to be listed. All of the not-so common brands and products seem to come up fine. I hope this is simply a temporary problem, because otherwise this catalog isn't very useful from a blank t-shirt ordering standpoint. Here is a link:
The approach to a global catalog is something I've been working on for quite a while. If only I could apply the technology to give all of my customers the ability to create a sub site from my listings then I could finally grow my business model beyond the short-horizons type of business that I currently have. The potential is there, but I'm stuck doing hack-work most of the time. Every now and then I get a good customer like "A Fine Frenzy", which I misprinted a few hundred shirts for and I'm looking for a way to sell them, cheap, without offending my customer? I'll post a photo soon. Any who, the point is, I've made several good attempts at creating a broad platform that does what some of these sites mentioned above do, but the technology keeps pulling me back down to what I can accomplish with a few key-strokes and it is going to take more than that to allow everyone access to the vast array of services that I can provide. Luckily I'm getting bored with simply printing shirts for companies, so maybe this time something different will happen.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

T-shirts Org - Bloggin' Cotton

If you haven't noticed this website will be about T-shirts. Over the years I've tried to do many things, but as a business T-shirts just keep pulling me back in. In some ways I consider my business my art, although it doesn't always seem as fun as having a career as an "artist" should be. Nonetheless, this is it, "", a place to dump and pump my knowledge, resources and skill on the topic that I know best, Cotton and Ink.
As you can tell from this photo, t-shirts are ubiquitous, even cotton, huge rectangular blogs of cotton, has a large white (most likely not cotton) cover draped over it. Click on the image for more detail about this particular cotton. I'm surprised this cotton doesn't have a MySpace page.

Today I drove from Southern to Northern California on Highway 5 and this is the time of year when the White Bud is stacked in squares for as far as the eye can see. California Cotton is irrigated and it can be scheduled for picking almost to the minute, at least that's what I hear. I once considered buying a farm, or just renting the land, to try my hand at growing cotton, however, things didn't work out and so the closest I get to the real thing is to watch is grow when I drive up and down the state. I often wonder where does this fur end up, specifically, like what countries get this cotton?

There are gins to clean the cotton and it often sits covered in the fields where it is grown for weeks, like white cubes, fuzzy obelisk waiting to be loaded onto a truck an taken to a new home. I've driven down some roads that had cotton balls the size of tumble weeds blowing around during harvest time hugging the ground like a thick fog. Apparently California Cotton is a high quality cotton and it is milled overseas and it may come back in the form of sheets, but I don't know if it is possible to find out if specific cotton is coming back in the form of thread that could be used as t-shirts. If this is possible I would definitely move on the idea of getting that thread for a line of California Cotton t-shirts.

For now I have to be satisfied with what is currently available, warehoused around the US, in every color, pattern and thickness you can imagine. This site has been developed as a catalog site to offer the most popular brands that are available in order to make a living pushing cotton, but I have also considered using the ".org" concept to make this more of an organization type website and directory for t-shirts, or an Organic t-shirt focus and possibly a "Fair-Trade" t-shirt type environment. I've been working on the shopping cart and attempting to catalog some products using Open Source, which is compatible with Google Checkout, Paypal, but it has taken longer than I thought to get it operational. Reality is I've got to make a buck or two to pay my way in the world and selling t-shirts seems to be my opportunity, as it has been since I was in a punk band in the early 80's and learned to pull a squeegee. Same as it ever was. I've been through almost every facet of the business, except the farm, which I'm looking forward to when I retire, however for now I think it will help to put some of the facets of this business in front of a fresh audience who may also be drawn to the Great American Enterprise of T-shirts.