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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Archive for the ‘T-Shirts’ Category

Commercial Printing: Two Old-School Printing Options

Monday, November 7th, 2016

I had two “Aha!” moments recently about the commercial printing field, and I’d like to share them with you because they reflect the current values of popular culture and the commercial media.

An Actual, Physical, Post-Office-Ready Letter

As a printing broker I’m always looking for new clients, usually by referral because it just works better that way. I was given two names by a former colleague, and after researching their companies, I drafted a letter to send to each describing the services I could offer them.

But when I was ready to send the emails, I couldn’t do it. Their websites had no email contact information. There were just phone numbers. One led to an answering machine, and the other led to a receptionist who didn’t have the potential print buyer’s email address.

I was stumped. What to do next? I considered these two potential clients to be warm leads, since my former colleague had spoken well of both and had said they would be good people for me to know.

Then a lightbulb went off over my head. Send a letter. Of course. A physical, hand-signed print letter. I had the address for both firms. Why not?

What We Can Learn From This “Aha!” Moment

First of all, most people get well over 100 emails a day. I personally do whatever I can to glance at and then delete as many of mine as I can. They all look alike. They all have a subject line that looks the same. I wouldn’t blame my two potential clients for avoiding contact via email.

But a letter is personal, physical, something to hold in your hands.

Those of you who get upwards of 100 emails a day probably do not also get 100 pieces of physical mail in the mailbox. If you’re like me, you at least look briefly at each of the pieces of physical mail that arrive. The more personal they look, the more attention they get. A letter is hand-signed. It’s printed on paper with a pleasing texture and color. It has a presence. It has a duration (it’s permanent, even if it gets wet or torn) unlike the evanescent email.

Think of these things when you need to communicate with someone, even if it is a marketing effort that will reach hundreds or thousands of people:

  1. If you choose a memorable medium for the communication, either letters or print postcards, your message will stand out more than one of the hundreds of emails that reach your potential client’s in-box each day. It will have more impact because it will have less competition.
  2. Making a letter seem more personal involves the paper choice (color and texture). It also involves the weight of the paper (thicker paper gives a message an air or importance, so consider a 70# text stock or thicker, perhaps with a texture or “tooth”).
  3. You can get precanceled stamps through your Post Office. Direct marketers have found that people are more likely to open mail that has a stamp instead of a permit indicia or postage meter mark. It seems more personal. So ask about precanceled stamps.
  4. Signing a marketing letter means there’s a real person behind the machine. It makes the letter more personal, even if you offset print (or digitally print) the signature (I realize this is cheating). You might also consider using more casual, readable, and even “friendly” typefaces for your marketing design.
  5. Finally, consider print postcards as an alternative to letters. The postcard has one advantage over a letter. The recipient doesn’t have to open it. The message is immediately visible.

So if you can’t reach someone through email, and the phone rolls over into voice mail, consider the printed, hand-signed letter or postcard as a viable and perhaps even more personal, direct, and effective option.

Direct-to-T-Shirt Photo Printing

When I first read the term “direct-to-garment” printing in a commercial printing journal, I envisioned inkjet and dye sublimation printing on the clothing of jet-setters, literati, and models. I imagined high-end fashion venues and catwalks.

So when my fiancee and I were strolling on the boardwalk at the beach, I was surprised to see a small t-shirt printing store offering to print photos “directly from your iPhone” onto their t-shirts.

Now this really is a measure of the current zeitgeist (the mood or tone of this particular period in history). It is the marriage of the “selfie” and the t-shirt. Moreover, it reflects the glorification of the amateur photographer. These aren’t professionally shot images of romantic beaches. They are your own photos on your own t-shirts, photos shot by you (maybe even photos of you).

What We Can Learn From This “Aha!” Moment

In sales, they say that to a prospective client nothing is more pleasing to hear than the sound of his or her own name. This is probably true. In this case, we can assume that to a lot of people no image is more pleasing than their own. The coining of the term “selfie,” as well as the proliferation of “selfie sticks” that allow you to hold the camera far enough away from your face to take your own photo, will attest to this.

So if you’re a marketer, keep this in mind. Consider also that people like to wear t-shirts that make a statement. For those who don’t wear suits to work, the t-shirt has become the new “power tie,” an opportunity to make a personal and even political statement about one’s likes, dislikes, values, aspirations, etc.

If you add to this the recent advances in direct-to-garment (DTG) printing, you can basically take the world’s favorite canvas (the t-shirt), use the world’s easiest to master printing press (the inkjet printer), add the world’s favorite image (one’s own face), and make a truly personal statement.

Commercial Printing: B&B’s “Look” Hits It Dead Center

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

I visited a retail clothing store with my fiancée today. I went in because she wanted to see the shop, but I quickly got lost in the way the décor of the store, its wall and floor signage, lighting, wall paint colors, merchandise tags, music, and avant garde employee attire all came together to create a coherent, bold atmosphere. (Let’s call the store B&B, to make it somewhat of a hypothetical example of good marketing and design.)

The first thing I saw upon entering the store was the print catalog, right near the door. I paged through it as I walked past the clothing, and then I saw backlit images on the walls of some of the same models I had seen in the catalog. Clearly, I thought, print is not dead if this vibrant clothing store (which had a huge line at the cash registers) was actively using a print catalog, within the store, to sell the store.

Bold Signage and Clothing Tags

As my fiancée shopped, I sought to deconstruct what I was seeing to better understand its effect on me. The informational signage was printed in a bold sans serif type, either black ink or reversed out of heavily saturated primary colors. Type was set in all capital letters, tightly letter-spaced with minimal leading to present a dynamic look. Interestingly enough, there were also block letters cut out of wood to denote the various sections of the store. These three-dimensional sans serif letters reinforced the look of the large format print signage.

Large format print images of models had been produced with inkjet equipment, I assumed. (They appeared to be continuous tone, with no discernible dot pattern.) Images printed on paper were framed. Others were mounted on lightboxes and were backlit with bright lights.

At my feet I saw a large, round, inkjet printed floor banner that echoed the wall signage. It had been attached to the floor with an adhesive.

Attached to the clothes I saw either black hang-tags with the store’s logo embossed and covered with a registered clear foil stamp or tags without embossing but still using either clear foil or a spot gloss UV coating to highlight the logo. Some of the other tags were printed in black ink on thick chipboard, offering a more environmentally friendly look.

Dramatic Lighting and Interior Design

Spot track lighting brought out the vibrant primary colors and the pastels and increased the apparent saturation of the color scheme. Collections of yellow and fuscia clip lights balanced the groupings of colored clothing items and accessories, often arranged by color rather than usage. And simple white (almost childlike) “drawings” adorned the walls. They appeared to be made of clear or colored foils glued to the wall paint. It would not surprise me if they had been cut out of vinyl using an automated plotting printer with a knife controlled by digital information from a design file.

It was clear to me that bright color depends on bright light, and the saturated pinks, purples, and greens in the clothing, lighting fixtures, and signs gave the room intensity and an avant garde feel.

Insistent Music, and “In Your Face” Employee Dress

Instead of the Hip Hop I was used to hearing in the neighborhood, the speakers of the music system pounded out electronic dance music. It seemed to match the intensity and immediacy of both the interior design and the bold imagery in the print catalog, with lifestyle photos interspersed among the photos of models wearing branded clothing. And the mohawks, piercings, and tattoos of the employees along with their varied dress (some with screen printed shirts covered with bright fashion images) suggested the forward-thinking, experimental clientele the store sought to reach.

The Website Reinforced the Experience

When I got home I checked out the website. I assumed it would be good, and I was not disappointed. I saw the same typefaces, colors, and bold looks. And there were some of the same models I had seen in the print catalog and the large format prints in the store.

The Catalog Revisited

After I got home I looked through the catalog again. It seemed to be as much a magazine as a catalog, showcasing articles by stylists and designers as well as lifestyle photos to reinforce brand identity and to ensure reader affiliation with the brand. I have always read that print catalogs lift sales, and I could see why. The catalog presented fashion as “power” or “mojo.” It reflected an understanding of trends and popular culture. And it gave the shopper a free reference point he or she could use to extend the experience of the retail store once having left the premises. The photos exuded attitude, sex appeal, and confidence. The catalog was a marketing piece, but it was clearly also an art book.

Why You Should Care

It is very easy to create an overall impression that a marketing campaign has been created by a committee. It is much harder to present a simple, unified look that appeals to a targeted clientele. The lighting, signage, music, employee dress—and let’s not forget the print catalog—of this retail establishment all work together to reinforce a mood and an approach to clothing that distinguishes this store from other clothing stores in the neighborhood.

This store exemplifies the successful confluence of print, architectural, and interior design.

Options for Printing T-Shirts

Monday, October 1st, 2012

I wanted to know how t-shirts were printed, so I checked out YouTube (an incredible resource for short “how to” films). I assumed that screen printing and heat transfers would be the major methods for printing on t-shirts, and the YouTube videos confirmed my expectations.

Screen Printing T-Shirts

A screen printing press looks a bit like an octopus. It has multiple arms, each supporting a single screen. Although one name for the process is “silkscreen,” the screens are now usually nylon or metal. Each screen prints one color on the t-shirt, and each color station includes a flat, ironing-board-like support for the shirt. You place the t-shirt around (as opposed to just on top of) this support as though you were “dressing” the support panel. This places only one layer of fabric on top of the support and therefore keeps the fabric absolutely flat once the screen has been lowered.

Once the screen is on top of the fabric, you can pour the thick ink mixture onto the screen and draw the rubber squeegie across the mesh, forcing the ink through the open areas of the screen (but not through the areas masked off by the design). Once this step is complete, the ink must dry. (Usually the solvent is flash dried with intense heat, although UV inks are now often used in screen printing, and these dry instantly upon exposure to ultraviolet light.)

To step back a bit in the screen printing process, the masks used to block out certain areas of the design while allowing ink to pass through other areas are prepared in the following way.

  1. You create the design on a computer using a raster art (bit-mapped) or vector art (line art) program, such as Photoshop or Illustrator. Alternatively, you can scan an image and save it in Photoshop. For this process, you need a positive (rather than negative) image.
  2. A light sensitive emulsion is slathered across the bottom of a screen stretched over a wood or metal frame.
  3. The art (laser printed in black toner on clear acetate) is placed on the glass of a lightbox. The stretched screen with the light-sensitive emulsion is placed over the art
  4. The intense light within the light box exposes the emulsion on the screen.
  5. The screen is then hosed down with water. The water washes away the liquid from the area that had been blocked by the artwork. The non-image areas of emulsion, which had been hardened through exposure to the light, do not wash wash away.
  6. Then the t-shirt can be printed, as noted above (one color per screen, consecutively, with each color in register with the others).

Benefits of Screen Printing T-Shirts

Screen printing ink is thick and saturated. You can print brilliant colors on fabric, and the t-shirts will withstand many washing cycles without the printed art showing any wear and tear.

T-Shirt Heat Transfers

Both laser printing and inkjet printing can be used to create artwork that can be fused to a t-shirt. Special transfer paper (designed for either inkjet printing or laser printing) is used in the process. The operator prints the graphics and type backwards (in a mirror image) so it will be “right-reading” once transferred to the t-shirt. Using heat and pressure (a hot iron against a t-shirt placed on a rigid surface) the operator can transfer the image from the carrier sheet to the fabric of the shirt.

Screen Printing vs. Heat Transfers

It has always been my experience that custom screen printing allows for thicker ink deposits with brighter colors, as well as more durable designs. That said, screen printing is not cost-effective for short print runs since preparation for a screen printing run takes a lot of time.

In addition, many t-shirt printers can only apply one or two colors to a t-shirt with custom screen printing. However, the more skilled screen printers can actually print 4-color process work (including halftone images). It’s just more tricky to produce this level of detail on fabric using the thicker screen printing inks, so the image will not be as precise as a sample of 4-color offset lithography on paper. In addition, some screen printers have the skill to print on darker colored fabrics while others prefer to only print on white t-shirts.

Heat transfers (laser or inkjet) are cheaper than screen printing for shorter runs since they do not require set-up time. It’s also easier to transfer highly detailed artwork to the t-shirt, since the transfer actually sits up on the surface of the shirt rather than seeping into the fibers of the fabric.

However, it has been my experience that heat transfers are not as durable as screen printed t-shirts, and the inks are not as brilliant as custom screen printing inks.

The Future: Direct to Garment Inkjet Printing

One final method is gaining traction as the technology improves. It is called “direct to garment printing.” The process omits the transfer sheet. Instead, inkjet or dye sublimation equipment prints the artwork directly into the fibers of the garment. This means the image is less likely to crack than a heat transfer image sitting on the top of the t-shirt fabric. And unlike screen printing, this digital process can be infinitely variable. You can print a different image on each t-shirt.


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