Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Back to Mr. Nice Guy - How may I help you?

Ok, I realized that speaking truthfully is risky from a business perspective. Just like I rant on about how my customers often don't provide me with decent artwork I must be sure to see that they can just as easily tell the world how shitty I am to work with. I'm not sure that I would work with me if I read this blog. T-shirt printing isn't such a skill that people should learn it before they learn to make a living or even before they learn to drink beer. It's a craft that every now and again someone is forced to do for the group or event that they are involved in. It's good-natured fun, not rocket science and I shouldn't expect the customers to know any more about doing artwork than you could expect them to know about how a mechanic fixes their car. They drive in to an auto shop and say "fix it".

Who am I to think that people should be able to provide artwork or communicate specifically about a t-shirt print job? It would be nice, but it's not gonna happen. This job is basically about hand-holding and customer service. The customer doesn't want to know any more than they have to and I don't blame them. I don't like it, but I don't have to do it if I don't want to, so if I am going to do it I need to be Mr. Nice Shirt instead of saying "NO" everytime I get a stupid quote. I should explain why I can't do things instead of just saying go to my competitors. I should lower my price when everyone ask for a discount below my already low prices. Or better yet, I should raise all my prices so that I can lower them for everybody. I should promise to do artwork for people and not charge them for it since they don't want to pay for artwork. I could just raise my prices on the printing for everybody and then I could give artwork away to those that need it.

I could, but I won't. I don't have time to do the good jobs and the jobs for the customers that do have artwork if I did that. If I spent time explaining why I'm saying "No" then I won't have time to say "Yes" to the guy who has a real job. Being Mr. Nice guy is kinda like taking spam seriously and it just doesn't make sense from a business standpoint. I'm going to try to be nicer and try not rag on the fact that I have to answer redundant questions for a living, but I hope that people realize when I say "No" it is simply a way to save time for both of us in the long run.

The Angry Professor - Teach your kids art...

I often hate my attitude when I get bad art and stupid questions, but I try my hardest to be understanding and sympathetic to the fact that many people don't review the pricelist and or can't provide graphics in an easily screen printable format. I would have also liked to be something more professional in my career than a hack printer putting crappy artwork on t-shirts for a living, but this is how I pay my bills and it's too late to turn this ship around at this point. In college I remember a few professors who were upset at answering stupid questions, yet they were stuck teaching remedial math, while the other, higher tenured professors were doing research and dating the grad student helpers that worked with them on special "astral physics" projects. In fact I think they added that department just so more women would come into the Science building, but I digress.
Being a professor is as close to comparing my job to a respectful career as I can come up with, frankly it is more like being a janitor, but I do have to interact with customers and janitors get to work alone and have an office/closet. So when I get mad it is only because I feel like I am wasting my time and no one has any respect for the artwork that is required to patch, copy and paste together the crap they give me into some kind of printable design. The reason they have no respect is that nobody wants to pay for artwork, yet they can't do it themselves. These people are very much like the entitled type of students who marched into college without having studied in High School, but were determined to be doctors, lawyers and leaders of the free world (myself included). Heck if it wasn't for college I would've never learned what I was supposed to have learned in High School. These types of professors didn't like their job and I don't blame them, but you didn't want to feel their wrath.

I've become this giant fish in a small pond. I pull my hair and roll my eyes each time a new email is slid under my door asking for a better grade. I regret fixing problems for people who should've gotten the answer correct, but for their simplistic adding mistakes. I stomp when a customer wants a job by the end of the week, but they haven't completed the artwork required or made any of the decisions that are necessary to even place the order. Why, why, why am I forced into this demeaning servitude even though there is no such thing as tenure in the t-shirt screen printing world? There is no "3 months off" in the summer. There is no retirement fund or union to protect my interest. There is only a never-ending flow of competitors and cheaper companies out there stealing my good jobs. And a bunch of crappy companies that make printing seem easy who I gladly send my ungrateful bad artwork customers to whenever I can to get rid of them like, and If they think I'm bad or expensive then they can go there and either pay through the nose or get crappy t-shirt with their crappy artwork.

Just teach your kids art PARENTS. Because people surely can't learn this stuff as adults. You get stupider as you get older and apparently if you don't learn how to be artistic as a kid then you just keep creating crap as adults, but as an adult people have confidence, arrggghhhhh. This confidence keeps bringing them back with more bad artwork as if they've "figured it out" by opening the file and changing the resolution, but they haven't changed the quality of the original crap they did to begin with. This is why I hate my job, but this is why I get paid. If they could do the artwork, then they could print the shirts and they wouldn't need me. Just like if you're so smart, then why the hell did you go to college to begin with???? I've got to go now. I have some quotes and shitty artwork to finish. I've got to take a screen shot of a Power Point file and then increase it to 12" wide from a 3" image and hope that somehow it is printable.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Life is a bowl of cherries, listed, organized and sorted in columns and rows.

Learning new things is supposed to be fun, unless you constantly hit roadblocks. Don't get me wrong, I like a challenge, which is why I keep hitting roadblocks. I just can't give up this one project of working on a database on the OSCommerce platform for managing my t-shirt collections. Time after time I think I have it right and then when I check my data or move on to another step I get garbage, jumbled data and formatting messes. I want to move on, but since the OS Commerce platform interfaces with Google Checkout I am drawn to organizing my products there for the long run. Google itself has a lousy interface for shipping and options, but a great search engine. T-shirts are riddled with options and different characteristics that require a rather complex management system to keep them up.

Even changing the look and feel of OS Commerce seems easy, but it's the backside of the operations that need to be created before any of that stuff is relevant. Here is what I'm working on now:

The concept of a no-cost shopping cart is great because then I can upload as many products as I want and not have to worry about charges for this and that, as well as, I would be able to use the cart as a job management tool. None of the current carts on the market deal with everything that a t-shirt business needs, especially the accounting and custom printing stuff, but it seems that a universal cart like the Open Source OS Commerce cart would do the job. I plan to finish this so I can get back to selling, so if you have any suggestions on the best shopping cart for t-shirt businesses on earth please let me know.

Meanwhile, I've gotten my solar panels installed and am currently running office equipment on the battery system I've got up that is converting the DC to AC. I don't think I will have enough amperage to run a full-blow dryer to set plastisol inks, but for the basic water-based t-shirt inks I can now print and run most of my operation off-the-grid. I need to test an exposure unit for making screens to see if I have enough juice for that. I am currently running two high-efficiency light units that should be able to do the job, but it would be quicker with UV bulbs and that would shorten the exposure times.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Discharge Inks Water Based Inks and Discharge Plastisol T-shirt Printing Inks

Forget everthing I said on this blog about discharge and water-based inks for t-shirt printing. I drove to LA and purchased a water based discharge ink and a hybird water based / plastisol discharge ink. This particular ink claims that the use of these inks is not harmful (whatever that means), they do not stink and they can be sold on the finished product without having to be labeled or washed before they are sold. So if I close my eyes, ears, shut my mouth and just print with these inks I can assume that what is written on the fact sheet is true and just enjoy the effects, which is what I did today.

The water-based t-shirt discharge ink had a nice thick consistency and it was easy to handle. It printed through a wide mesh and although it bled a little, it was very bright and knocked the shirt color and provided a nice bone finish. I did several test like this, including printing from the inside of the shirt to allow a half print type effect to show through the shirt on the other side. The finished product didn't stink and although you couldn't see the residue on the fibers of the shirt it was a little stiff. I am sure it will soften a bit when it is dried and from what it says on the fact sheet I can send this shirt to market as it is. Later I'll mix some color water-based inks, which seem to be softer, into the discharge ink and see if it pops. I was haunted by dirty fingers and little spots showed up afterwards on the shirts I was printing. Solve one problem and find a new problem. Theres no way to clean out derelict discharge spots on shirts, I would just need to print or spray something around it to make it a part of the design.

The plastisol /water based discharge ink was thin and I added some color inks to the ink to see if thickening would make it printable or easier to handle. I could've used a tighter mesh, but I wasn't ready for that. I did a split fountain and used the Haight Inc design that was still in the press. To make things interesting I mixed red and yellow and did a split fountain horizontally through the peace sign on fire design. The mixed ink was thick and although the colors brightened up when I flashed the design they were still thickish and it didn't make sense to use plastisol. I left the ink in the screen to see if it set-up since longer working time is the main advantage of plastisol over water-based inks. I can see using a plastisol discharge for one-color prints and longer working times than water based and less bleed. Also for creating a base for lighter, multi-color, plastisol prints that require more detail than water-based inks provide. I could increase the softhand in plastisol and make a rather smooth plastisol print and not have the screen drying issues to deal with that water-based inks create.

I am making some new screens using a different emulsion, water-resistant no phalaytes (whatever those are), with a hardener to use with the discharge inks. Regular photographic emulsion breaks down quickly.

I also have been able to print and test some water based inks that have a super high opacity and I am pleased to announce that they did not require a discharge ink to make them printable on darks. This long awaited surprise that somewhat anti-climatic in that I ran to the store to show off the samples and several people could not tell the difference between the water based inks and the plastisol. Because the opacity is created by the thickness of the ink this made the prints a little thick. So what, it is water-based inks on dark t-shirts, Woo Hoo! I did a wash test after only 1-2 days of dry time and they didn't break down or dull out. The ink is very expensive, almost 4 times the price of plastisol but there is not odor and this means I could do single prints almost anywhere and not require a dryer or any special chemicals to clean the screen.

As such, I am going to put individual one-color screen printing presses in the store for retail customers to print their own shirts and we won't be limited to only white garments. Finally a few break throughs that have a practical application, as long as I don't over analyze the inks and I just go along with what they claim. The other fact is that I am going to have to reshoot many of my screens to create water-based printable screens for use with these new inks. My silk screen supplier should be happy about that.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Makers Faire, Windmills and Drainage

I've been busy on side projects, but no matter what it always comes back to t-shirts. I went to the Makers Fair show hoping to find a cheap way to screen print or make solar panels, but I didn't find any. All of the kits and robots were made to entertain and educate and they all came with pre-assembled solar panels. My son purchased a robotic mouse that follows light and we also bought a simple engine that runs on solar power.

Near the end I found the exhibit with a vertical windmill and scrutinized the design so that I could build one once I got home. The idea is the same as solar panels in that I need an affordable energy source to pile power into a battery bank to run a flash unit and a dryer. Lights aren't a problem, but to get enough energy to run equipment you need more amps. More amps mean more batteries and a bigger inverter. I've got a large battery bank and a decent inverter, but I don't want to rely on standard commercial solar panels, but a windmill will actually work pretty well for my home workshop since it is on Mount Tamalpais and the wind comes through like clockwork.

I'll link to the design and other info later, but it isn't just putting itself together so I moved back to my drainage project for cleaning screens and inks. This relates to the second project I did with my daughter at the Makers Faire. There was an exhibit that allowed people to print their own shirts for $15. They were using basic water based inks, which don't produce any odor and were allowing people to dry the shirts with a blow dryer. The screens were rather large, which kept the ink from running into the corners. The designs were one-color, which eliminated the need for flashing. The inks weren't very opaque, but it didn't matter for kids and crafts.

Only small amounts of ink were used at a time and to keep the screens from drying the helpers would immediately get a squirt bottle and clean out the screen. Also they would scrape off all the excess ink after a single print. My daughter wanted to make a shirt and was familiar with the process, so she picked a dark shirt and a light ink. After a brief drying time she also went and tried a second color that didn't show up that great. The real test is whether or not the inks will wash out if the shirt is washed in the next couple of days. I think so. Not their fault, just a reality of the process. It was a fun exhibit and I was surprised it worked at all. The person working the both also mentioned a discharge plastisol ink that may be available from Wilflex. I was heading that way with my own test, which confirms the obvious, but the real test for any ink is if it needs washing before it is sold.

I liked the water based project at the show and have been wanting to build a drain because most likely a screen will need to be cleaned with water and for quick action a filtered drainage system would allow the cleaning of inks with more than a bottle of beanie-do and a rag. I purchased bags of rock, sand and gravel and positioned them in containers, then drilled holes in spots to expedite the flow of water. I'll post some pictures, but I look forward to seeing if some plants will grow in the residue from this system.

Lastly: I was making a few shirts with Rodni, from, at the new Richmond location and he had a design of a burning peace sign. I was determined to add some goofy slogan to his artwork and came up with "San Fran Peaco" which made him upset. I also added to the bottom, "Haight Inc", which had a nice ring to it. The screens didn't shoot out very well so the to part didn't print, but the Peace Sign and Haight Inc printed looked great together. Rodni has put the design in the window of the store an people seem to like the slogan with the design. I also am going to setup a website to promote products specifically from the Haight Street store through