"We sell art, not t-shirts."-Mission statement at Elite Team Supply
I'm willing to bet everyone of you reading this got into screen printing not for your love of screen printing, but for your love of art. Screen printing is an art form, and the t-shirt is our canvas. Especially when starting out, we are everything, including the art department. Whether it's using clip art, text, or completely original hand drawn art, we all started by learning Corel Draw, Illustrator or Photoshop to get our business going. The majority of us bought the same clip art packages, did the same basic art and nothing set us apart. Our company realized very early on that if we wanted to compete and break into the industry, our art was going to be the key. After all, a t-shirt is just underwear until you put art on it!
Art is what sells the shirt. Whether it is a full color sim process job with a mermaid, or a one color with just text, the way that art is laid out, the colors chosen is what sells that piece. Art is what separates you from the other guys. Every time I get asked what makes us different from the other printers by a potential customer, I mention that we are an awarding winning shop, but it is always the same....our art. Between myself, and my main artist Jeff Fiorucci,(who is one of the most talented artist and separators I have ever been around), we separate ourselves with great art, and of course the ability to print that great art (more on that later).
We are all not blessed with great artistic ability, or that artists eye for laying out designs. We've all printed some stuff that we just shook our heads at. My favorite is to look back five years and see how much we have changed. Trends change, our talents change, our staffs change. But if you really want to be on the leading edge, you have to have access to a talented artist and separator. A great artist can make you look really good. A great separator can make you award winning. It is a key part of the system to producing top quality, high end prints, and arguably the most important position in our industry. A small shop can easily compete with anybody if you learn to put out great art.
Once we have that great art, the magic starts with separations. There are great products on the market to automate this step and get you started. I personally prefer "hand pulled" seps at the moment, but our ISS CMYK winner was ran with Ultra Seps and tweaked from there. Either way you go, everything starts with those separations. Outputting those seps is a debate for some, but as long as you have great density on the output, great results will follow. There is also the debate of round vs elliptical dots, but we won't get into that right now, just know we use round.
In the next blog, we will discuss executing great art and what it takes to produce those high end prints. Be sure to use resources like Facebook groups, The Shirt Board, and Linked In to find artist and separators. Not everyone has a budget for high end art, but most artist have loads of pieces already done that they can put together quickly and inexpensively. If you want to do some work on your own, sites like badbonezdesigns, greatdanegraphics, and shutterstock all have great pieces of stock art that you can piece together and add text and backgrounds to. Take some time and play around in Photoshop to learn the tricks the pros know. And remember, sell art...no shirts!
"Quality isn't expensive...it is priceless."
Words have never been so true for us as screen printers. We live in the Wal-Mart world today. The Amazon world. Cheap, replaceable products are available at a whim. They have replaced the old ideology that our country was founded on, that through our hands we can make the best products on earth. With the loss of decent paying jobs, our mindsets shifted to being a price driven society, where quality came second.
The screen printing industry saw this like most craftsman and artist did. With the barrier of entry very low, everybody with a dream to start their own business saw this as their opportunity. I mean, I know the football coach, the PTO president, the guy who runs the baseball league, why wouldn't they buy shirts from me!? With a few internet companies selling the dream, a couple YouTube videos and a one color press and a vinyl cutter and you would be on your way to printing millions of t-shirts...right? We couldn't have been more wrong.
I was one of those people almost 5 years ago. Tired of the rat race, I left a job at General Motors to start my own printing business....because I knew everyone and everyone needs shirts! The struggles I endured (and still do) have forever shaped me. I wasn't prepared for the amount of competition their was. Who knew I had 65 printers within 50 miles of me! Who knew that my area had become a price driven customer base, jumping from printer to printer over five cents, without a care in the quality product and service we could deliver! Obviously, a little research before hand would have sorted this out quickly.
What I found was that this industry which I thought was made of craftsman, getting paid to create was becoming a race to the bottom. The years of competition, the influx of cheap products into our world had made this industry adjust, and that adjustment brought horrible practices. Prices went way too low, we allowed the customer to dictate everything we do (including paying us when they see fit). I see it everyday. "What do I charge for this?" "The customer wants to pay $2.50 for 6 colors, 3 locations, on 12 pieces...should I do it?" What the influx of dream chasers (and I do not mean that in a negative connotation) and the Wal-Mart economy has done is devalue what we do. We cannot charge what we should, because someone is always going to do it cheaper to try and build the business. We have to as industry stop this! We have to take it back!
Alas, there is hope. There is a renaissance of appreciating finer, hand crafted things. Thanks to sites like Etsy and Pinterest, and thanks to the current culinary movement and crafted alcohols, the younger generation is changing their thought process. They want fewer, but will pay more. They can appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into making an artisanal product. People are shying away from cheaply made products and looking for the extra quality and care, the hand crafted specialty item. It is up to us, the craftsman to show off our trade and bring back the value of what we do.
So, what do we do? Start with educating the consumer. Let them in on our "secrets" of how shirts are printed. I am always amazed at the reaction I get when I let people come back and see what goes into their shirts. They can never believe that so much is involved. Make videos, take pictures and post them to your social media site. Promote your business as selling art, not t-shirts. Set YOUR pricing, and stick to it! Do not let the customer dictate the price. If you do art for free, free screens, etc., make it a line item and mark it as $0.00 to show that you do charge, but they are getting a deal for being such wonderful customers!
It's easy to get lost in the price wars, and trying to build a business, but if we don't change the culture of our industry, the small businesses will be gone. Nobody wins the race to the bottom, including the customers. Continue to work on your craft, master it, and charge accordingly!