Help Us Get the Swag That We Deserve
March 6, 2010 6:23 AM   Subscribe

Please walk me through the process of getting t-shirts and mugs printed, so that my nonprofit gets good swag at a good price.

I'm a volunteer for a nonprofit organization—a super-neat magazine—and I have been tasked with reordering the t-shirts and mugs that we send out to our annual fund drive donors. The problem? I know next-to-nothing about t-shirt printing. Hope me, experts, by walking me through the process so my organization doesn't get taken advantage of. My plan is to get four or five quotes from local vendors for the editors to choose from. Yet the vendors keep asking me questions I don't know the answers to.

The facts:
--> Both t-shirts and mugs are black.
--> We're planning to order 24 shirts and the minimum number of mugs.
--> I have been told that the logo would require a four-color screenprinting job.
--> I have seen neither shirts nor mugs in person, but I managed to find a photo of them on-line.
--> The design is comprised of three segments: two text pieces and one logo with four colors.
--> I have the necessary images in three separate EPS files, with additional color-separated files for the four-color logo.
--> Several places wanted to see the artwork before providing a quote.
--> Some have asked that I combine the images into a single file; some have not.
--> I do not know what file format they will need for printing.
--> Some vendors charge $15 processing per color; some charge $100. Buh?
--> One vendor claims that the artwork cannot be printed as-is, but will have to be rendered more "clipart like."
Luckily, I don't really need t-shirt vendor suggestions. I've hunted up a decent panel, and I just need some more knowledge so I can pick through their offerings thoughtfully. When do I believe the vendors and when do I push back?

MeMail me or ask in the comments if seeing the artwork would be helpful. Thanks so much for your assistance!
posted by kwaller to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (2 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure what the question is, but here's what I think is causing your curveballs.

* Places want to see the artwork because some art is easier to replicate than others in screen printing format. Pictures with large blocks of solid color are easier to put on a shirt than pictures with shading, for instance.
* Some places don't mind doing the work for you, others do
* They should tell you what format to provide. Different vendors will want different things.
* Some places are more expensive than others. It's possible that the $100/color people charge less for large bulk orders. This means that the company wants to specialize in creating orders of hundreds or thousands of T-shirts
* I'm guessing, although I can't say for sure, that the vendor who wants "clip art" isn't confident in the employees' ability, or his equipment's ability, to recreate delicate or shaded work. They want the aforementioned large blocks of color.

I would definitely believe the vendors. There's no point, for example, in trying to convince that last vendor to accept the artwork as-is. I'd just cross them off your list.
posted by lore at 6:59 AM on March 6, 2010

It's a good idea to show them the artwork, because you may not be properly communicating the specs to them, so their price may not be accurate. It would also be good to send the printer a sample of the current shirts/mugs, to be sure they're pricing it right. In fact, why not find out who printed them last time and ask for a reprint? That would cut out all these issues, no?

But your request is somewhat confusing. For example, I wonder about your logo. You say it is 4-color, and that you've done separations. That implies to me that it's 4-color process, i.e., how you'd reproduce a photograph with an offset press. Sorry if this is getting too technical for you or conversely, you already know all this. But basically, to reproduce a photograph you split the image up into 4 colors: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. The press prints little teensy weensy dots of each color, and to your far-away eye it looks like smooth color. If you looked at a printed photo, like in a magazine, you'd see the little dots. Now, magazines tend to print at 133 or 150 line screen. Newspapers, I forget exactly, I think it's around 80 line screen. That's why the print quality of color images is so much crappier in newsprint--the little dots are bigger. Now, with screenprinting, I think it's even worse. They only do like 40-something line screen. So what this means is that screenprinting is not a good way to reproduce shaded color. Like lore said, it's much better with solid fields of color. Like, say this artwork instead of this.

The other kind of color used in printing is called spot color, or PMS ink. This means that instead of the 4-colors blending together to form the color you want, there is one ink that is mixed to be that color exactly, like a gallon of paint. Screenprinting is much better at this sort of thing.

You want your artwork to be vector format. This is probably what the printer meant when he said he wanted the artwork to be "clipart-like." You could email him to confirm--ask if he is referring to vector art. That means you want art that is resolution-independent, like a font (can be scaled up to any size, and still print well), as opposed to a photo (zoom in too much and it gets jagged and visibly low-resolution). So you want an Illustrator (.ai or .eps) file. If you have 3 separate eps files, you can combine them together in one Illustrator file (copy & paste). Otherwise, the printer won't know how to arrange the 3 elements. If this is way out of your league, they will probably help you (but may charge you for it).

Personally, I'd recommend asking someone at your company (or the designer that came up with it) if there is a 1-color version of your logo. That will cut down on cost and reproduce better. The logo is the main source of the problems, it sounds like.

I also agree with lore that the $15/color vs. $100/color has to do with volume. The $100/color printer is probably not right for this job, because they have more expensive equipment that is designed for higher volume jobs.

Now, if you have seen the previous shirts and the 4color logo was used, my guess is that they weren't screenprinted, but rather some sort of digitally printed decal or iron-on was used. That's a whole other can of worms.

Let me know if you have any other questions. Mefi-mail if you want to get into specifics. My job is to get stuff printed for ad agencies.
posted by apostrophe at 11:18 AM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

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