Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Shopping cart development continues - Woocommerce is my current mate

I've been hacking different shopping carts together for and I hit a wall with the Cart66 set up in that I was only able to set two categories of options. That seems like enough options for any regular type of business, but not for me. I need at least 3 options on a regular basis; one for t-shirt sizes, one for t-shirt colors and one for tee shirt designs. I did quite a bit of work to add some products before I went searching for a new love and I was wooed by Woocommerce.

It is a confusing name and some of the plug-ins and themes are confusing, but it has been an easy transition from Cart66 to the Woocommerce except for having to recreate the products. Woo also interfaced with the credit card processor that I am using, so I did not have to start over for that.

I have also worked on expanding the Alstyle t-shirts being offered through and at Ekay in Los Angeles. The 1301 is a popular t-shirt for young men. Specifically the t-shirt known as the Triple A, AAA 1301, is a durable garment and it's thickness and full cut are something that the hip hop crew and skateboarders like. The Alstyle t-shirt line has tear away tags that can also be removed for printing in your own logo, so a lot of people who are starting out with making their own line of t-shirt like this benefit. The problems with this brand is that the inventory is spotty from time to time, so you can't always get all of the t-shirt colors and sizes that you need when you have a big order.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A T-shirt Shopping Cart is a form maker and I am a form reader

Besides processing credit card information in a secure way, a shopping cart is essentially a form maker. The "Order" button allows a user to take an action, which adds bits and pieces of data into a form. Once the information is securely packaged, including the credit card information, then the data is passed through to me online. As the t-shirt sales person I read the information and either fill the order, modify the order or delete the order depending on the inventory and validity of the credit card processor response. It is helpful to have formatted data in a form that allows me to do my job like a checklist instead of like a crazed maniac trying to decipher emails filled with bad artwork and vague references to t-shirts.

The problem with a shopping cart is that if you project all of the ways in which a person can answer all of the questions that need to be answered, then most of the time the person is gone before they finish submitting the t-shirt shopping cart form. Here are two examples of mediocre forms linked to t-shirt databases. and These forms work and they are tied to a larger database of information, products and pricing. My personal opinion is that if someone simply emails me back the basic information for a potential t-shirt order, then I can confirm the order and process it without a fancy cart.

This is an example of what I typically need to process a t-shirt order:

Brand, Style Number, Color, Quantity for each size.

Repeat until complete.

Name, address, zip code, phone number for shipping, email is whoever sent it to me.

I can then make the order and create a link for processing the payment.

A shopping cart will do these functions for me, but at what cost? If I can't keep the information up to date and the formatting of the t-shirt shopping cart is too difficult, then the shopping cart will bog down the entire system. I agree that a shopping cart should take the credit card processing information, but I can arrange that separately or have a shopping cart just for people to sign up and put in their credit card data as a registered customer. Once they are in the system then I can accept formatted emails and process their orders quicker than spending all of my time building a perfect cart.

There are systems for payments that provide a secure environment to process payments, but I don't trust them any more than they trust me, like Paypal or Amazon payments and possibly a bunch of others that I haven't tried. Also there are systems to allow users to sign in through their universal login, like Facebook and so on, but I don't like my activities to be tracked so that I am constantly being hit by advertisements. It's like they are in my brain with these friggin' advertisements these days, Jeez. Stop it already. There isn't an easy answer, but if there way it would simply be send me a properly formatted email as listed above and then I can fill your order or provide a link for you to fill your order in the most efficient and affordable way possible.

The above described process makes me want to go towards Wordpress for the registration system, but Google also has some interface that may allow people to join circles and communicate in a group after registration. With Wordpress there are so many fake users that I don't even have the time to delete them all, much less their comments. With Google I may be able to allow customers to access a spread sheet and fill in their order and we know how much people love spread sheets. Still it is the communication and form that are important here, so for now I am just going to encourage that my website users look through my products and then send me a formatted email, like above, that I can quickly review and respond back with a link to place an order. It's barbaric I know, but this is a default instead of jumping from one cart and proprietary system to another.

Pretty websites vs. functional information

Everything is pretty these days and large company websites usually have smooth design elements, because they paid for them. The same thing used to be true with rock concerts, until punk rock came along. When a band was coming to town you would hear about it for weeks on the radio. The concerts were large and extravagant affairs with a little band way down on the floor for everyone to barely see while the music was blasted throughout the arena. In the Eighties small club punk rock took hold and the bands were right in your face, as well as, the flyers and posters of the upcoming shows. Around town there would be hand drawn xerox copy flyers with ransom note fonts and scribbles about random stuff that may or may not relate to the upcoming show on the flyer. These were real community affairs in that the group of people who were interested in the shows knew what was happening, without all the paid advertising.

The internet was supposed to be something like that with information and it is, sorta. Information is funneled through one main source, Google, and if you put something online then it is supposed to be able to be found if it is searched for in a specific way, which means long tail text strings that match what you have on your site. The internet also replaced the phone book in a city by city way with a national phone book.

Problems like fake web pages and spam grew as money could be made from advertising on webpages until the web itself is a phone book that anyone can own a piece of. In order for a larger company to stand out and get recognized on the web it became apparent that they needed to look better than the competition. Also the idea of branding and somehow gaining space through increased visitors could be bought through a good looking webpage also took hold. If a webpage isn't captivating, then why would people stay on it once they get there? Simultaneously web search engines like Google have become more and more complex to the point where it is like a large brain or the Wizard of Oz. The voodoo that is required to get a high ranking on a subject like Funny T-shirts is elusive to many people and companies, thereby making the challenge to have a good looking website even more compelling. My big question is whether or not a little punk rock flyer type webpage, with specific information about a specific subject would be better than a huge fancy webpage with a bunch of junk on it?

Besides the content on a webpage and speed that it loads the page is relevant, but also the popularity of a website is most likely a measure the success for indexing purposes. This is why a page that is fancy with more bells and whistles may outshine a more relevant, but less popular website when it comes to Google. I don't think the shopping cart is anything more than a problem that could negatively influence a webpage or clutter the design, so I am starting to be of the opinion that it should be hidden until it is needed. The problem that arises here is that if it is hidden on a different website than the page with the product information, then it may be a bounce from the website. A shopping cart is nothing more than a form that allows a potential customer to put in information and then that information is transferred through to the vendor for processing, like a fax, but in as data. To keep things simple I have to work on my webpage first and the shopping cart second, which should also free me up to design my webpages anyway I want, just like a punk rock flyer.

Fast T-shirts, Faster Websites

I am trying to determine the speed of some of my websites to see if text based webpages are faster. I went to a Compuware website that promised an evaluation and I am going to evaluate the speed of to a wordpress based site, and then my main website at I will post the results when them come through and reach a determination on what type of website may be the most successful format when it comes to speed. I would like to point out the Compuware itself is very slow and hasn't responded for over 5 minutes, whaddup?
5 Hours now, very slow. I did find out that one of these images makes it seem like something is happening on your website, even if it isn't.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

T-shirt website discussion - Back to basics

Screen printing is an old craft that goes waaaaaay back to the imperial dynasties of the Chinese. I am pretty sure that screen printing was used for many things that we don't even know about and still somehow we go back to these same methods today, thousands of years later. There is no shame in doing something that uses ancient techniques and now I am applying that same principle to creating a few new webpages. I am upset at not being able to decide on which shopping cart is the best for a t-shirt business and since the shopping cart is essentially the website, I have been stuck on redesigning some of my focused websites. is an example of an unresolved shopping cart problem. Today I went down and sat in Sausalito to get some inspiration for t-shirt designs that will relate to the area and decided I just need to put up a site and skip trying to make it have a uniform or modern look and just add the shopping cart later.

Without destroying all the old links, I placed a backup link to the old front page and then wrote in the most basic html ever the code for links relating to t-shirt pages that I already have up. I am not proud of the design, but I am trying to get past the smoke and mirrors of web design and just deal with the fact that all a webpage really is, is just images and text. A shopping cart is a code that links to a payment system after the fact. The fact is that the potential viewer has to find a page and see the image and the text, no more, no less. Large images are becoming dominant as if they are a design in and of themselves. Personally I like the idea of using a webpage as a gallery, but I haven't bought into a large photo as being web design.

My goal for is to develop a niche market for the local crowd and sell some printed designs that truly represent the area in order to support my boating activities in San Francisco Bay. First I need a static webpage that isn't tied to a shopping cart that has all the basic information about my designs. Keep an eye on this page as my example of a web site that will in the end be compatible with some shopping cart or credit card payment system, but the website should not have to wait for the cart, nor be committed to the cart as if it was owned by the server it runs on.

The information I will be providing on these webpages is valuable to the viewer because it will either save them money on t-shirts and screen printing. It's like secret information that you can get elsewhere, but it is better if it is delivered in secretive packaging. This value should get my content indexed through Google, as long as it is relevant to what people want. Now that I have learned that templates may be the equivalent of duplicate content I am afraid to format anything, just like I am afraid to commit to shopping carts. This leaves only one compatible format and that is text based webpages that are sparsely decorated with images.

Speed is also relevant on SEO and indexing, so by having simple pages I should be able to keep the speed of my pages up. I was thinking about how a webpage is sort of like a hot rod and speed enhancements would be a great way to make things faster. But you nothing is faster than basic text and until a search engine decides indexing based on style elements, then a basic web page may even be more successful than a cluttered one. I have no facts to back this up, but with the exception of popularity, a page of only words, just text strings, would have to read quicker than a page filled with a bunch of meta tags and triggers, codes and scripts providing invisible options.

Making an online t-shirt store with Wordpress and beyond

I have only been in the t-shirt business for, a long time, and on the internet for a long time too. Still I find it difficult to integrate the perfect website design and order processing interface. I have searched the world over and used many of the payment systems and web design hosting platforms, but every system keeps dragging me in deeper and deeper into their world of tricks and gadgets that end up costing too much money or are cumbersome and difficult to manage on a daily basis. I've tried Google Checkout (being retired), Amazon and eBay and Yahoo(expensive and restrictive), Volusion and Magento and OS Commerce (each has database management issues), Free carts and Zen carts and Wix carts and form based carts and plugin based carts and widget based carts and Woo Carts until I have become gun shy about buying anything since I have paid and wasted so much time playing with the different carts and payment methods to-date. Compatibility with shipping rules and payment processors is always an issue, size and color options are always and issue, image presentation and preview is always and issue, SEO and web indexing is always an issue, quantity based pricing is always an issue and finally security is always and issue. I can never get around to design because I can never leave the world of functionality long enough to worry about how my pages look.

I have been working with Wordpress lately and still I am restricted to the designs that are available as themes, but now I realized that if other people are using the same theme, then it may be seen as duplicate content on the web. Also, security on the server side is risky since Wordpress has been weakened from time to time through my host. Luckily the orders and credit card information is not stored on the same servers and not available to any hacking breach, in fact I don't even have access to the card numbers any longer. I like the fact that I am not exposed to the risk of handling credit cards, although it is inconvenient when crediting charges. Wordpress as a shopping cart is still blog-like and I am not 100% sure that it is worth the time it is taking to get it operational.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Ethyl Cellulose - Now add a binder and we got lift off

Adhesion is very important when it comes to t-shirt printing, which is why my approach at making an ink that would wash out is ironic, or moronic, depending on how you look at it. Still it was harder than I thought to make an ink that would wash out, even without any binders. My research and craftiness has now taken me down the path of making a natural ink and it appears that the stuff I was using as a base, Ethyl Cellulose, is actually used in inks for printing. Article posted at stated: "It is also found in printing inks, hot melt adhesives, football helmets, and tool handles". This means that my use of Ethyl Cellulose was not far fetched as a printing medium. I have made some concoctions that grew mold or didn't seem to gel, but with this encouraging news I am going to go back to the drawing board and see what type of gooey mess I can come up with. I am afraid to use my old batches of goop and I am going to make a more sterile solution so as not to encourage a growing environment for other things. Ethyl Cellulose only has to be mixed with water and allowed to gel. I purchased the stuff in 1 pound bags at Douglas and Sturgess in Richmond, CA. Ethyl Cellulose one pound bag for sale online here:

Slap Tags that can be made with t-shirt printing

I recently learned the phrase, "Slap Tag", and liked the way it sounded. Although you can easily say the word "sticker" for an pressure sensitive adhesive backed image that can be put around in places for promotional purposes, it doesn't quite contain the process of promoting in it's name. Slap Tag implies the process of slapping a label on something and the sing-song sound of the words together made me repeat it for a few hours. The problem with slap tagging in public is that it is illegal unless you voluntarily give the sticker to someone and they put it on their car or personal property.

I have been playing around with t-shirt transfers and punk rock fonts and recently found that I can make a thick plastisol print and turn it into a removable sticker for car windows and some other surfaces. I am calling these slap tags, with the idea that if they were used in public, it may not be illegal since the sticker itself can be removed easily and would not cause any damage. More to come...

The perfect font - Punk Rock Lettering for transfers

I have always avoided t-shirt transfers for a bunch of reasons, but for lettering the issue of getting the transfers straight would worry me so much that I have never done lettering for t-shirts, unless I could print the whole name. Then I started experimenting with a punk rock font that I could use to make emblems for cars and not worry about how it lines up since it is "Punk" to begin with. For t-shirts the concept should be the same, so I mocked up a bunch of neighborhood and city text designs for Los Angeles to get the idea out there that I can now do lettering. Here are some samples:I call it Punky Town t-shirts, although I am thinking about changing it to Phunky Town. These shirts are going to be listed for sale online here:

The time has come to experiment with the cotton matrix

I have spend a lot of time working with cold casting materials and epoxies to create durable artwork, mostly detailed here at Now I am going to turn my attention towards cotton and printing and try to have the same amount of fascination that I have had with embedded pigments and apply it to screen printing. I love testing things and seeing if they work, so I hope this makes for some interesting projects.

My last experiments with t-shirt printing was to make a label free t-shirt by printing the size information into the shirt with an ink that would wash out. I found that mixing particles in a water-based paste would still leave pigments embedded in the fabric, which I think is the basis of pigment dyed garments anyway. The smaller the pigments the more they should embed themselves and the more difficult it would be to remove the color, even if there isn't any binder holding the pigment in the t-shirt once it is washed. Which means that it could be possible to print with inks that have no binder and still get designs that stay on a t-shirt, for awhile. Eventually it seems like the pigments would loosen and wash out. This would cause a t-shirt print to lighten over time. This very well could be a more organic way to print t-shirts even though it would essentially be an image that could dissolve away.

My base ink was made with a ethyl cellulose and I tested mixtures of gum arabic and some thickener. I was surprised by how well the ink printed and how well it stored in a plastic container with a lid. I am going to get out my concoction, now that it is a month later, and see if it still works.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Here's the deal - no carrier, mas organic

T-shirt printing is typically the physical process of pressing an ink gelatin through a polyester mesh onto a shirt and creating a physical bond between the typically plastic ink and the fibers on the t-shirt. Because the inks themselves are pigments, they are resting on top of the fiber versus a dye which would be embedded with the fiber. A discharge ink is considered a dye because it removes the dye that is giving a shirt a color. In order to put a color on a t-shirt you need to embed a pigment. The pigment themselves are natural in that all color comes from organic materials, but the carriers, the solutions that the inks are printed with art typically plastisol or acrylic. Water based inks are acrylics, generally, with the exception of discharge inks, and therefore they harden around the fiber and the only difference between acrylics and plastisol is that plastisol hardens with heat and hardens quicker. My work is based on literally embedding particles, smaller and smaller, into the fibers so that the physical bond of the color is with the fiber itself and not with the plastic mediums that hold the color in them.

Why, oh why do I find these things to try and turn the world of printing upside down? I don't know what, but I am not happy with the idea that water-based inks are considered more natural than plastisol, when they are just as much as plastic themselves. Printing directly with pigments that create a physical bond inside the fiber of the garment is a direct process that can eliminate the chemicals that are typically considered "bad" for screenprinting. I don't have a name for this stuff yet, but the concept to me is simliar to sand painting and therefore the t-shirts with this type of design should not be considered as permanent. Just like you don't expect your vegetables to last forever, you should not expect your t-shirt designs to last forever.

The harsh reality comes down to the question of will this cost more? T heoretically less materials should result in less expenses and translate into less cost for the consumer. The problem, and this is how we getcha' is that there is more immediate handling of the inks and shirts, so it may be a product that cost more, as far as, time on the press, handling and dry time. Personally, I don't care about the cost from an individual printing my own work standpoint, but from the consumer's standpoint this could be an issue. I like the concept though because it takes me back to my original expertise, which is from photography, and the idea that the pigments make the design is also similar to how the silver pigments in film and photo-sensitized paper is what makes the image appear in photographs. I am now conceiving a print of very fine particles of graphite on a t-shirt, without a gelatin emulsion carrier, being embedded into a white t-shirt with a physical bond between the fibers and the graphite making the print stay. This is a truly archival print and until the cotton or the graphite are disturbed, nothing should break them down besides atmospheric conditions and atomic decay.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Printing shirts so that the design will wash out? - Label Free T-shirts

Every now and then something comes up that is different, like long sleeve t-shirts or discharge inks for t-shirt printing. This year is proving to be the year of the private label t-shirt with many companies selling the same thing, but with a different label. The market is now expecting even the smallest of designers to provide a private label t-shirt, as if they were a large company manufacturing every stage of the final product, even though they are simply printing a design on a manufactured product. The way to succeed in t-shirt printing is to brand yourself and by printing your own company logo or brand into the graphic and t-shirt let's people know that you are what you sell. The problem in the past has been figuring out how to get that label into your own t-shirts without having to make thousands of t-shirts and without manufacturing thousands of t-shirts in advance of when you actually need them.

The context of the wash out design concept is to reduce the life expectancy of the shirt and to limit the period of time that the manufacturer is responsible for the t-shirt. Let's assume that you are in the vintage clothing business and therefore you are selling items that are not new and thus they are being resold. A t-shirt with a private label is the same type of product, but the relabeling process is by itself creating a secondary market for a product that gives it a new and second life. If the design of the original manufacturer can be torn out or washes out, then that should be an acceptable process for relabeling a product, because it has also undergone a change of ownership with the second owner in the same way that a vintage clothing store is reselling clothes that have been owned before and therefore should not be required to list the same information that was required in the clothing's first life as a new product.

As a t-shirt printer the most important information that I need in a t-shirt is the size and cotton content. I work in a pretty limited range of materials, so 90% of the products I use are 100% cotton and a few t-shirts are 50/50 or a blend of some combination of cotton and polyester. When I sell t-shirts as a retailer the most important information is the size and the brand, which sometimes indicates the type of cut of a t-shirt. Still most of my retail t-shirts are 100% cotton and some heather t-shirts are 50-50 blends. If a shirt is sold with a life expectancy of one wearing, then the labeling instructions should only need to be included with the garment for the period of time. The idea here is that a tear away tag with the basic information is sufficient until the garment is sold and a size and company brand information could be printed with ink that will wash out after the first use or when the shirt ends up in the wash for the first time.

In this case the first owner is the printer, who buys and embellishes the shirt with a screen printed design and may or may not remove the care instructions in favor of printing their own brand name. At that point the life expectancy of the blank t-shirt is complete from the manufacturer's standpoint. The new owner is the printer who can choose to brand the product to whatever degree they feel comfortable with. As a retailer I can choose to leave the tear away care label, which should also have the country of origin and size, while advertising the fact that the label can be removed easily by tearing it from the t-shirt. By printing the size with ink that can wash out, then a printer can remove the label on their own and still be able to tell the size of the shirt, while proceeding with screen printing their own design which may include their own company or brand information. As the new owner it would be up to them to decide how much information should go on the t-shirts that they are selling, depending on the life expectancy of the garment for their market.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Another Year and Another Batch of T-shirt Companies

It's hard to choose the players this year from the new crop of contenders, but the overwhelming drive in the market is going to be based on having an inventory of blank t-shirts in the proximity of the customer to reduce shipping cost. The other variables that are starting to create alternatives are cheaper Made in the USA t-shirts that are fitted, as well as, basic t-shirts for your every day low cost t-shirt job. T-shirt contractors are also finding new ways to market their services, so the end result of that type of competition should drive down the price for contract screen printing jobs.

Being the cheapest printer on the block has never been a goal of mine, but if I can put together the right suppliers for the wide range of techniques that are required to compete in the t-shirt industry these days, then I can offer a wider array of services from different parts of the country. Turnaround times are also based on the supply chain of t-shirts to the printer who can do the job the best, but doubling the shipping time and potential cost of getting the shirts to the printer and from the printer to the customer just cost more than the services themselves.

My other option is to station myself, as a t-shirt printer, right next to my favorite suppliers in different parts of the country and price my goods based on transit cost versus cost of the t-shirts themselves.

Basically my business structure makes me a T-shirt Pimp. As a pimp my job is to get to you the T-shirt styles that you need to fill your order and make your customers happy. I'm not biased in a business sense to one t-shirt brand or another except for the fact that there has to be a certain profit margin and demand for any particular brand of shirts to make it worthwhile to sell them. Choosing amongst the legion of brands that are now readily available will help my potential customers reach a decision about what they are going to buy and when all is said and done, we all want our jobs to be easy.

Now comes the tricky part; making a convenient structure upon which to compare apples to apples with and oranges to oranges. 90% of shirt sales are of Mens styles, also known as Unisex, so any brand we are going to list my be based off the Mens style and preferably have a Womens matching style to go with the Mens line, but the Mens style numbers are the first line of comparison. Secondly, the styles within the brands are a bit confusing, but "Standard-Cut" and "Fitted-Cut" seem to be applicable phrases that best describe the style differences within brands. The Standard Cut t-shirts are the "Full-Sized" larger, boxy, thicker types of t-shirts that were commonly on the market in the 80's and 90's, but slowly became old school in the early 2000's as more and more fitted styles came into the market.

Price, Weight and the type of cotton are additional variables, but these can be compared more easily in that they have numerical variables that allow us to make some sense of them, versus the description of a "thicker collar" and "longer look" types of qualities.

The weight of fabric is usually measured in ounces per square inch with 4.0 oz per sq inch being on the low side and 6.0 oz per sq inch being on the high side.

Ring-spun cotton or open-ended cotton. If a description does not say "Ring-spun" which is more refined cotton and of a higher grade of cotton. The alternative to ringspun cotton is generally open-ended cotton which is less refined and therefore not as soft, nor as expensive. Lighter t-shirts are often made with ring-spun cotton because they can knit tighter fabric configurations that allow for a lighter final product. If you are looking for soft you have to get ringspun cotton, which cost more, or work with the lighter fitted t-shirts generally.

Price is always the final determining factor whether people want to admit it or not and basically you get what you pay for these days. The cheapest scenario I can offer is a white t-shirt in the $1.50 range that is open-ended cotton, standard cut, at about 5.4 oz per sq inch, which are the stats for a basic cheap t-shirt. The other end of the scale is a 4.0 oz per square inch fitted ring spun cotton t-shirt in the $6-8 price range. That's the high and the low of it, so if you mix and match these basic descriptive terms you should be able to have an idea of what you are dealing with when comparing one t-shirt to another.

Other variables that can effect the final price is country of origin, which means is it Made in the USA (more expensive even for United States deliveries) or made somewhere else in the world, like Pakistan, Haiti, Central America or even China or Turkey.

Availability is the most important variable that nobody mentions, because most distributors would like to think they have everything all the time, but they don't and often when it comes time to fill an order, the item that was the cheapest has sold out and won't be in for a couple of months.

Tear away tags, sewn in tags or labels that have been heat transfered or printed into the collar of the t-shirt. Hanes for example promotes their tagless t-shirts, but the tag has been transfered or printed inside the collar and they act like it's a good thing, it's not. After we have purchased a shirt we don't really want to be reminded of the brand unless it is a status symbol, which Hanes is not a status symbol. Tear Away tags have grown in popularity because they can be removed and the company name can be printed onto the shirts for the final company using the shirts, like a private label. People often call me and ask for t-shirt that are completely blank, no label, but then I ask, "how would you know what size it is?"

Still as a consumer of t-shirts you will need to purchase actual t-shirts and put them through the wash and wear cycle to get the feelling on what is the right t-shirt for you. I can have two customers tell me exactly opposite things about the same t-shirt when it comes to the final fit, amount of shrinkage, colors fading, printability and the myriad of other characteristics that make every consumer a critic these days. So break out your wallet and buy some samples before placing a large order to make sure that you are ordering the right t-shirt for your customer or job.

Coming up Next: A survey of the available t-shirt brands.