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.