So I had this great (and maybe naive) idea to try out t-shirt design. I had never really considered it before, until back in February when a lovely client asked me turn an illustration commission I already done for her into something that could be printed onto a t-shirt as a little extra. She sent me pictures of people wearing it and I started to think…. hummm maybe I should look into doing that… my illustrations are bold enough… aren’t they?
So after trying a few other no-risk-to-me-financially routes like t-shirt voting sites or print on demand, while both have their place and have positives, I was left with a sense that it was all a little too random and unhealthily competitive, or not quite the quality I’d like. Don’t get me wrong, I think both routes work for many, and even for me in a few cases – on my [JE Tees & JE Pandas] t-shirt design page I do have designs on each platform.
Here was the next hurdle, I’m hardly set up to print t-shirts myself in my tiny flat! Plus even if I attempted to do something that messy, knowing me that would be kissing away my flat deposit. That left only one solution, getting someone else to print them for me.
I wasn’t that happy about the prospect. As an artist, I’ve always produced my own work, even if in collaboration with others, I usually can still do my own bits. It also meant taking a financial risk and investing in a small print run. I knew it would take a while to find a printers I was comfortable with…
Experience with first printer
It was not all plain sailing trying to find a printers. Before I got in touch with October Textiles Ltd. I had tried a printer before them.
Armed with one design I wanted to try something quite ambitious. It had 6 colours (too expensive for screen printing for such a small run), it was two sided and edge to edge all over printing! I don’t ask for much do I? Sublimation printing seemed like the best option. I knew from everything I read that sublimation had issues around seams and underarms, so I was open minded about that…
… however the first printers I chose had a number of misprints, not due to the known seam & underarm issues, but ink and marks were found where there was not meant to be any, each time printed on the wrong size, ink seeping through from the front to the back and some colour banding. It was only after 2 months the first printers admitted that they outsourced the sublimation and they were having issues with the suppliers. While I had my heart set on an edge to edge front and back print, I know I would have to give up in this case with this particular printer. Instead they offered me a credit so I decided to go for their screen printing services with a different design as that is what they specialised in in-house at least. I was sad, but I liked the new design, I received the t-shirts from the first printers this morning. The tees turned out well and I cannot fault my point of contact there, it really wasn’t that person’s fault and they were so good to me about the whole thing.
At the end of the day it was an ordeal and 10 weeks getting something in my hands that actually resembled something I could sell. I was behind schedule in my imaginary t-shirt plan.
While I was waiting on the other printers I knew it was time to look elsewhere for my second screen print design. Not really knowing anyone else that used t-shirt printers, I only had Google to help me.
I searched for screen printers that did short screen printing runs. October was top of my list, I phoned them first. I was struck by how much the lovely lady on other end of the phone knew and how easily she was able to recommend garments or make suggestions and give prices for some of their more popular brands and services. And I didn’t feel rushed off the phone or made to feel I was being judged as a no name illustrator t-shirt wannabe (which I am =P).
Even though I was keeping my options open, October had set the bar high in terms of initial inquiries. So I went down my list phoning them one by one. Each time I was faced with people that acted like I was bothering them, and I even had one just say outright that I should just email instead as it was too hard to talk about over the phone! o_O
October was fractionally more expensive from an initial set up point of view, however they don’t charge for screen set up on the same design after so future costs are good. While money played a factor into my decision, so did trust, professionalism & friendliness. I emailed them with the exact details for a quote. I paid and they had a slot only a week later for me to come and visit =).
As a digital artist, I’ve never really had to consider manufacturing… usually that’s down to my clients. So I’d never had to think about things like site visits to a manufacturers. 1 1/2 hour drive later I arrived at October who are based in Nottingham.
I opened the door and was instantly hit with the smell of ink! I nervously poked my head into the venue and was welcomed with smiles and offers of tea =). We quickly discussed ink options like the difference between discharge & plastisol ink and choosing plastisol which was best for this detailed design on a particular Continental T-shirt. I remember thinking, glad they know their stuff! so they could run off and do a test print. While the team sorted out the screens and a test print I sat in their reception and started to look at some of the samples they had.
Jane, the lovely lady at the other end of the phone, showed me & my husband the ways other people had designed and explained some of the limitations of screen printing, which is something that is important to know for the future I think! And I had to admit I got a bit excited when she told me that people have started to use Bamboo as a clothing material… I mean the idea of my panda designs on bamboo t-shirts how much better can it get! But as bamboo is a more expensive option, it will have to wait.
It was all ready to go. We walked into the main workshop area, and by now I didn’t even notice the smell of ink, weird. The warehouse made me instantly miss having an art space where I could be messy and creative. My work is mainly digital now, it’s all very civilised and clean, but I do really miss making physical things.The moment of truth! The lovely screen printer (who i’m 90% sure was called Gazz) showed us the screen printing screen all set up on the carousel. He placed the butter like ink into the frame and pulled the squeegee, all the time explaining the process and artfully answering all my awkward questions! He lifted up the screen and there it was, my design on a real life item! He carefully placed it onto the conveyor belt dryer. While we waited we talked with Gazz about life, anime & pandas. I tried to protest my innocence about being completely obsessed with pandas but lolz, I was starting a line of panda t-shirts, I didn’t really have a leg to stand on hahahaha. And there it was! First one finished! I had a quick check for the quality and height position… green light!
To my surprise, Gazz said that they would have them finished in less than an hour so I could stay if I liked and take them home with me. Yes please!! While I waited I had a lovely talk with Jane, talking about what I did, different garment options, more about October. It was very insightful!
Armed with a big box full of fresh off the press t-shirts I headed home with a big grin on my face! I was only there for 2hrs but I learnt a lot and realised the value of visiting a manufacturers! I’m a single small insignificant artist with realist expectations about t-shirt design success, yet I feel October took the time to value me as a client no matter my level and it gives me confidence moving forward =). I’d like to thank them for taking the time to let me visit and for letting me annoy them with my camera and questions =).
If you are thinking about printing t-shirts, please do check them out:
When I got home I coaxed my husband to model and I added some tags and bagged one up =)Now if you like the Panda Robots Design, good news, I am now launching a competition on Facebook where you can win one! See my post: