Should we customize our clothes ourselves or outsource this?
July 16, 2004 7:46 PM   Subscribe

My fiancee is looking into the possibility of selling clothes with custom art/text/etc. She knows about CafePress and such, but is looking for a way to get text/images on black and dark clothes. Shirts, hoodies, pants, etc.

There's always the 'custom-shirts-for-10-dollars' places, but she doesn't want to sell anything that's going to fade in a month, or is otherwise of questionable quality. Have any of you had good experiences with online companies that provide custom printing services? Would it be a good idea to look into purchasing a silkscreen machine?

For the record, I know nothing about silkscreening machines. I've seen used ones sold for a few hundred dollars, but Google also tells me that some of them cost up to ten thousand dollars. What kind of equipment do you need to reliably print onto clothing?
posted by Jairus to Work & Money (11 answers total)
It's less a matter of reliability than it is of volume. Are you silkscreening runs of 2, 4, 20? Or 20,000? If the idea is to do volume, volume, volume, you're going to need the hardware to support that, otherwise you can probably get by with the most ghetto of silkscreening rigs and a little practice.
posted by majick at 7:54 PM on July 16, 2004

Runs of 10-50. Not too many at once.
posted by Jairus at 7:56 PM on July 16, 2004

I have a small silk screen set up I bought for $70 at the local art store, and you can get speedball inks there.

For starting out with low runs, it might be best to go that route for her. Yes, it means taking up more of her time, but for a very low capital investment.

Check with the local graphic supply store, some will make screens using your artwork for cheap - best route to go if the artwork has to register.

Using the silkscreen frames once the screens are made is incredibly easy.
posted by Salmonberry at 8:01 PM on July 16, 2004

Odyssey Printwear in Ohio makes something of a specialty of printing on black. I'm not sure what their minimum is, though.

For the DIY option -- silkscreening is easy and inexpensive in the long run, but initial purchases and set-up requirements can be a pain. Starter kits sold at places like Dick Blick could save some time and hassle. ..But just post again if she wants to start from scratch and go with a cheaper setup (or ghetto, as majick put it), because that's always fun.
posted by Hypharse at 9:36 PM on July 16, 2004

VGKids in Ypsilanti Michigan meets all my screenprinting needs, and specializes in smallish runs. I think their minimum is 25, but with the economy of scale and whatnot it ends up being cheaper to make more than 25.
posted by adamkempa at 9:43 PM on July 16, 2004

I have a couple of very small-run T-shirts that were produced on silk screens, and they're not the greatest. The print seems durable, I guess, but it's very rubbery, shinky, tacky, and thick. If the T-shirt is not competely and utterly pre-shrunk to its full potential, then expect the print to buckle as the shirt's fabric shrinks.

Silk screening can be done very very cheaply, with little except a wood frame, some sunlight, and the graphic source. I don't know what other processes are availble nowadays, but I encourage you to explore them if you want to undertake this seriously. Silk screening (especially cheaply done) just ain't up to snuff.
posted by scarabic at 9:46 PM on July 16, 2004

I now use Cafepress (transfers on white blanks) for photographic or very detailed and colored art. For everything else, it's (pro) silkscreen (or embroidery).

To silkscreen on dark colors, the whole area to be printed is screened in white first, and the colors done separately later, over the white underlay. The print comes out thicker and is perhaps more durable, but you have to pay for the extra color layer.

By having someone else do my screening, I have to:
1) Hand off my artwork to the printer's art team, hoping they understand my concept and instructions. You pay a lot extra for proof prints, as most of the work has to be done already before a print can be made. For small runs, it's an unreasonable expense.
2) Choose ink and shirt colors from their stock/distributors (I can bring in my own stock, but in such small runs their volume discount is better than what I could find myself).
3) Spend too much time choosing sizes, as there's really no flexibility there. Even if you know the physical dimensions of each potential wearer, it's still a guessing game you only get one shot at.
4) Pay a fair assload of money. Cafepress' markup seems cheap compared to the cost of a run of 20 3-color silkscreened items.

By the same token, if I ever wanted to order more, I can skip #1 (& save on #4), as the screen is already cut. One of my oft-used logo silkscreens has been in use for over 10 years.

I must respectfully disagree with scarabic re: quality. Silkscreen on 100% cotton is still superior to most transfer processes, I think.
posted by obloquy at 2:05 AM on July 17, 2004

if your graphic is not too large, a print gocco rocks.

speedball fabric ink vs. createx multi surface acrylic (+extender etc.), one of them was ok and one (I seem to recall it was the createx) was absolutely superb.
posted by dorian at 2:36 PM on July 17, 2004

If color silk-screening on black is such a PITA, wouldn't it make sense to start off with simple white-only designs?
posted by smackfu at 9:04 PM on July 17, 2004

smackfu: If the idea was to build a silkscreening company and base the clothes around that idea, then yes. But the clothes she has in mind are what's important, and so we're trying to find the best way to be able to produce those.

To be honest, I don't think there's any text/images-on-white designs that she has, so it wouldn't really do us any good to start with a method that works well for white, but not dark material.
posted by Jairus at 9:27 PM on July 17, 2004

Oops, if you actually read this, I wasn't being completely unhelpful. I meant white (or some other single color) on black. Easier than screening multiple colors or photos.
posted by smackfu at 5:55 PM on July 21, 2004

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