Design How Screen Printing

Printed Apparel: Four Things You Need to Think About

Designing and selling t-shirts is super easy! Just ask anyone who has ever stood in a sun-facing booth at an outdoor festival and watched 1,000 people walk right past their apparel without a glance.

Okay, it’s not always that bad. At least it doesn’t have to be. Some of our best apparel clients have been through those hard times and also had total sellout days. Business is fun! Yay, we are businessey!

Thankfully, there are several ways to increase your chances of designing apparel that sells. Here I’m going to focus on a few of the most crucial considerations. If you spot a theme, it’s because the common denominator in all this is to design with the apparel in mind.

Here are some things to be thinking about when designing for your apparel:

Fabric, Fabric, Fabric!

Screen printing on 100% cotton is a dream. If the garment is made well, it’s the best canvas for textile printing. It lays flat, it’s smooth, not too stretchy. It also feels great to wear.

These days it seems everyone wants some sort of blend. Blends are fine, but you should take into consideration that special inks and processes need to be used. This is because the dyes in polyester and other synthetics will release when heated to a high temperature (like when curing ink). What can happen is the dye will seep through the ink after curing, making the image look faded (called “dye migration”). Thankfully, there are special inks that cure at lower temps. Every time a screen printer prints on a new fabric blend, they need to test the print to make sure there won’t be dye migration and it won’t wash out. Keep this in mind when designing your apparel and understand the process will take longer if you want it to be right.

Also consider that the airy lightness of a blended t-shirt can be wasted if you print a huge, blocky design on it. We always recommend designing in finer lines and utilizing design that need less ink coverage.

Here’s a little fabric secret the manufacturers don’t advertise. Polyester doesn’t really breathe and it stains easily. So while that multi-blended tee feels so gooey soft in your hands it will:

  1. make you sweat on a warm day
  2. keep those armpit stains locked in

There’s a reason they wear cotton in the Middle East.

Hoodies and Buttons and Zippers, oh my

Any time you have a raised object on a garment, like a button, zipper or even a thick seam, it becomes a problem to solve for your screen printer (this is why we drink). Screens are flexible, but only to a point. So when the squeegee has to run over the top of a zipper, or really close to a button, it’s difficult to get an even, consistent print through the design.

The good news is, there are solutions for these things. For one, your printer can use a padded platen that has a hollow space to allow the objects to sink in, letting the squeegee run right over them, easy like Sunday morning. Even so, it can be a more time-consuming process, so allow for that and be receptive to suggestions on how to get the best results.

Making hoodies? Awesome. Find a good hoodie and design for it. Sure, you can throw any ol’ design into the middle of a zipper, but there are more fun things to do in life.

What’s the big deal about white ink on dark garments?

Printing white on dark shirts is always a challenge and it takes an experienced screen printer to get it right. While there are super bright white inks that show up well on dark garments, the printer will likely need to make two passes (two layers) to get that beautiful, bright white. This adds time to the process, because they will lay down one layer of ink as a base, “flash” it (cure just enough so it’s dry to the touch), then add a second layer before the final, full cure.

Tip: If you’re going for a vintage look, one pass of white can look awesome.

Another thing to consider when printing white on dark is the level of detail in your design. Tiny details that would show up perfectly in dark ink on light garments can get wiped out with white ink. When laying down that second layer of ink, those tiny details can get thicker and become a little mushy. If you’re super protective of those tiny details in your design, consider printing dark ink or doing a vintage look with one pass.

That old joke about size

Why does size matter? In screen printing, a screen is made for each color in an image. If you’re printing in just one color, only one screen will be needed. However, as soon as you ask for a different size, a new screen must be made.

When determining the best size of a design for our clients, we make a recommendation based on the smallest tee we’ll be printing. That size will then be used for everything from small to 3XL. You can imagine that the image can look a wee bit tiny on that 3XL. Consider whether you’ll be fine with that or will prefer a larger size for those big shirts.

These are only a handful of tips and I will share more in the future. Again, I hope you caught my theme here, which is to design for the apparel you’re going to have printed. In some cases, your design will work fine on multiple garment types, so you just want to be conscious of your options.

As always, ask your burning questions in the comments below and I’ll answer. You can also reach out on twitter, facebook or just email We’re here to help.

Want to learn more about getting apparel printed? Get our Amazing T-shirt Guide!

How Screen Printing

How much do t-shirts cost?

This is one of those great questions that never seems to have one simple and consistent answer. Consider this. If an extra-terrestrial beamed down and asked, “How much do humans weigh?” your answer would probably start with, “Well, it depends…”

Then again, if an extra-terrestrial asks you how much humans weigh, I would be seriously worried about motive.

Getting back to reality, how much do t-shirts cost? Well, it depends, and I write about this in more detail in my book, Amazing T-shirts on a Small Budget. Some of the variables involved are:

  • What style and brand of t-shirt?
  • How many?
  • How many colors in the design?
  • How many locations do you need printed (front, back, sleeve…)?

That’s just for starters. This is the main reason it’s so much better to explain what you want in detail so your printer can figure out the best value for your needs. It’s a little more work for all of us, true. If you want to save work, you can go to one of those internet sites where you just choose a style, punch in your numbers and get a price right away. That’s cool. Easy. But is it the best price you could get? Are the shirts the best style for your design? Will your crew be comfortable wearing those shirts in the hot sun all day long?

Those are more variables that an online pricing calculator won’t consider or help you understand. Pssh, robots. They’re worse than extra-terrestrials with a hidden agenda.

Rock Bottom Prices

Here’s something to think about, a little scenario that happens to many of our clients before they come to us. Let’s say you get 50 shirts for your event marketing team at the cheapest, rock-bottomest price anywhere. It’s almost like they’re paying you to get your shirts printed. Yay!

Then… your staff hates them. They’re too tight (or too baggy, too itchy, too blue, too…whatever). They’re hot (polyester doesn’t breathe well, and now you know). Your boss says you have to order 50 new shirts for your staff. In the long run, how much did you save on your rock-bottom pricing?

Seriously, my heart aches when I hear stories like this. I feel for the people who have to make these decisions for their entire crew, or even an apparel line. It’s not as easy as it sounds!

Jeez Louise. Just ballpark it for me, Sparky.

Okay, maybe you just need a rough estimate of how much your printed shirts will cost. The boss wants to know. Your husband/partner/committee wants to know. Are we spending $500 or $2,000? In that case, most print shops will be able to give you quick costs for a sample shirt, broken down by quantity. Of course, the more details you can give about your potential order, the more accurate the pricing will be.

If it sounds too good to be true…

Be careful about those shops that advertise insanely cheap prices on a sign. I drive all around L.A. and notice those “$1.99 tees!” signs. They can be so tempting. When you dig deeper, you usually find that means $1.99 for all-white Hanes tees (Mens sizes only), printed in one color, minimum 500. Then there are screen fees added on. Then graphic design fees, and so on. And you don’t need 500 tees, you only need 150. Pretty soon your per shirt price is up to $8.00, which is about the same as anywhere else – for better quality shirts, no less.

Pricing Secrets Revealed – Tonight at 11!

Want the lowest price possible on tees? Of course you do! It’s actually pretty easy to get.

  1. Don’t be stingy with your info. Tell your printer as much as you can about what you need right up front.
  2. Don’t just compare cost, look at the whole package. Is it apples to apples?
  3. Is the cost too high for your budget? Be honest! Ask your printer what they recommend. A good screen printer will be happy to help you figure it out.

T-shirt pricing is more art than science. There are some formulas, but the best pricing comes when you ask lots of questions and stay open to suggestions. And remember, a good printer will never ask how much humans weigh.

Want to learn more about getting apparel printed? Get our Amazing T-shirt Guide!

Design Hey, look. Art. t-shirt crafts

Get crafty. Decorate your own t-shirts for supreme holiday merriment.

i smell a craft coming on

“She’s crafty, she’s gets around / She’s crafty, she’s always down / She’s crafty, she’s got a gripe / She’s crafty, and she’s just my type…” – Beastie Boys

At our house, we’re well into holiday craft season. Every year we do something crazy and new like a snowman made out of old cans (it never melts!). This year we dug around the print shop for ideas and rummaged out (surprise) handmade t-shirt decoration.

In addition to screen printing as a t-shirt decorating option, we also do some vinyl heat press work, typically for one-offs or very small orders. The vinyl is cut on a plotter from an Adobe Illustrator file, so it’s very exact. You just peel (weed) away the excess from the parts you want to keep and then press it on the shirt with gobs of heat and a ton of pressure. After a few orders, I noticed how much vinyl was left laying around, destined for the trash.

excess vinyl
Exhibit A, egregious vinyl waste.


As I imagined this pile in the trash I thought, that just can’t happen. We save all our excess ink, so why are we throwing away all this excess vinyl? Crazy town. One person’s trash is another person’s treasure so they say. Whoever they are, they’re right. But what to do with the excess vinyl? Once it’s off the backing film, we can’t put it back through the plotter. Exactness is out the window. But to hell with exactness! What if we could make things without needing to be computer-precise for a change?

I smell a craft coming on.

When decorating shirts for a customer order, I like things orderly and organized. When doing a fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants craft project, we all silently agreed upon the maxim, “When crafting, make as large a mess possible.” Goal achieved. The table was a mess of vinyl, markers, cardboard and beverages. The air was rife with the odor of creation (or maybe that was lemon ginger tea).

We all took very different approaches to masterminding our shirt designs. I went minimalist with 100% vinyl, Gwendolyn created a complex tree accompanied by cursive text and collar embellishment. Jenni laid down her signature happy font with colorful vinyl bulbs and H went full-on marker, inspired by his favorite holiday movie, The Santa Clause 2.

minimalist shapes
My minimalist shapes. Should I be trusted with scissors?
heat press vinyl shapes
After pressing. I can be trusted!



Fabric marker t-shirt
G starts with marker…


vinyl christmas tree
…then builds her tree.
vinyl decorated tshirt
After pressing. The ampersand was a stroke of genius. Get it? Stroke?
Decorating with fabric marker
H decorating without a net!
decorated t-shirt
That’s egg nog, guys. Watch the movie!
jingle joy merry cheer t-shirt
Jenni lays down her signature font and bulbs of joy…
heat pressed vinyl t-shirt
After heat press. Merry!































It was fun decorating these, even if it was one big experiment. The best part was not being so exact for a change. I love the crafty handmade look. We also learned a lot about using the excess vinyl – yes, there’s a right side up thing you have to watch out for – that not only gives us more ideas, but helps us better understand our process for making vinyl shirts for customers. That sounds super geeky, but it’s true.

Try it yourself!

If you want to do this at home, you don’t have to have vinyl or t-shirts laying around like a pro apparel shop. Everything you need is at your local craft store. Try Joann’s for iron-on vinyl (you don’t need to buy the fancy cricut machine, just use scissors) and get some dollar store tees (or again, Joann’s, Michaels, Ben Franklin, etc).

Go crazy. No, seriously. Don’t get hung up on perfection. Just have a good time. Send pics!

How Inside the Shop Screen Printing

Bella+Canvas 3001 Unisex Review

You can have my shirt when you pry it off my cold, dead torso.yellow bella 3001 copy

That’s how strongly I feel about the Bella+Canvas 3001 Unisex tee. In fact, it’s our go-to shirt for screen printing.

Here’s Bella’s description of this awesome tee:

This updated unisex essential fits like a well-loved favorite, featuring a crew neck, short sleeves and designed with superior combed and ring-spun cotton that acts as the best blank canvas for printing. Offered in a variety of solid and heather colors.

This shirt feels super soft to wear, it’s light (4.2 oz) and it’s 100% ringspun, airlume cotton. I love 100% cotton because it’s easy to maintain and breathes better than many blends. Plus, it looks fantastic on me. They don’t mention that on their website, but it’s true. Actually, this shirt looks good on every person we’ve sold it to or printed for. It’s just a great choice of tee when you need something that fits a wide range of bodies.

They also have some fantastic color choices in this tee.

For some reason, the pale yellow (pictured) feels a tiny bit lighter and easier to wear than darker colors like black or orange – but I allow for my imagination to have taken over here because I love the color so much. Some of my favorite printed Bella tees of ours are black.

The counterpart for the 3001 is the Ladies 6004. It’s basically the same shirt, but with slightly shorter sleeves and a tighter fit. Even so, the unisex t-shirt looks great on feminine bodies, which I can’t say for many other brands where frumpy seems to be an okay standard. This one I can actually suggest and still sleep at night.

If 100% Made in America is important to you, you’ve got options. They also have the 3001U, which is the same shirt but 100% made in the USA. There are fewer color choices, but maybe you can sleep better at night. Still, their policy on only working with overseas factories who don’t use sweatshop conditions makes me feel good about the brand in general.

This is a super value shirt, which is another reason I recommend it to our custom print clients. I believe it’s the lowest-priced shirt in the Bella+Canvas brand and for the money it’s far superior to brands like Gildan or Jerzees.

There are also some reasons I love this tee that only have to do with the screen printing process. These shirts are super easy to print on. First, they’re light (4.2 oz), so getting them on and off platens, folding back into boxes and all the other handling we do doesn’t make us feel like our arms will drop off after a run of 50. They also have a tight weave, so the ink goes on smooth like buttah.

We also have very few loose strings, holes and sewing weirdness when we get the blanks in our shop. Their consistency in quality is nice to rely on. We have had some issues with certain colors (you know, the exact ones we needed at the time) being out of stock at Bella and all our third-party vendors, which can be frustrating. So we have to be cautious about recommending it to customers, making sure we get their order in sooner than later.

So let’s sum up:

  • This shirt looks great on me
  • We get great printing results
  • It looks great on just about everyone
  • Super Duper great value

I realize that I don’t really have anything negative to say about this t-shirt. I decided to start off our t-shirt reviews with our favorite tee. Coincidentally, it’s also the one I look best wearing.

Questions? Just email We’re listening!

How Screen Printing Vegan

Hey, is that vegan t-shirt… vegan?

Imagine this was printed on leather. Good idea? Bad idea?
Imagine this printed on leather.

Is that a weird question? I mean, after all, it says, “vegan” on it. Of course it’s vegan. It’s right there in the phrase.

Yup, I get it. Except I’m not talking about the message printed on the shirt. I’m asking what’s behind the printing of that shirt.

Is it vegan?

Before we get into some answers, let’s think about a situation we can all relate to.

You’re at a restaurant and you ask your waitperson if your selection is vegan. They pause, consider, and say, “Uhh, yeah. Sure. I think so. Hmmm. Probably.”

How do you feel about that? Kind of… annoyed? Frustrated?

That’s often how Jenni and I feel when we see someone selling t-shirts plastered with a catchy vegan phrase and ask, “Is your printer vegan? Do they use vegan inks or sustainable methods?” and we’re met with blank stares – or worse, total apathy.

Annoyed. Frustrated. Somewhere a unicorn just died.

Even as we clench our fists and mourn mythical creatures, we’d much rather educate than berate. Better results, ya know? Besides, we’re not perfect. We do our best. Caring is numero uno.

Want to learn more about getting apparel printed? Get our Amazing T-shirt Guide!

Hopefully, you’re one of those vegans who really does care about more than how much cash they can make in the vegan marketplace. As plant-based eaters, I believe we’re also default environmentalists. If we’re going to put our message out there for the world to wear, we should at least try to move in the right direction.

For you, Caring Vegan, I’ve jotted down some information that will help prepare you for your next run of vegan tees. Read on!

No Worms Were Harmed in the Silk Screening Process

We can clear our consciences right off the bat with this little nugget. In silk screening, also known as screen printing, a mesh screen is used as a stencil to push the ink through. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, the screens were made of silk. As you might have already guessed, silk is not vegan. Oh no! What to do?

You can chill on this one. The good news is that, these days, screens are made from nylon, not silk. The term silk screening is still used, because, well, we’re used to it. Also, nylon screening doesn’t sound as artsy-fartsy.

Now that we know the worms can relax, let’s move onto inks. Are they vegan? Are they safe?

Are Screen Printing Inks Vegan?

Now and then, we get this question from some of our lovely customers. I wish more people would ask (or care). In fact, one of our customers spent time calling around Los Angeles with that question, only to be disappointed by printers who either couldn’t or wouldn’t answer. Sound crazy? We thought so.

Thankfully, there’s a simple method we use to find out if the ink we want to use is made with animal products or tested on animals. You ready for this? We call the manufacturer.

Mmm-hmm. Yup. That’s it. Even better, we get answers. Sometimes we have to wait on hold while they find their chemical engineer, or we have to rephrase the question. A lot of people don’t immediately understand what “vegan” would mean, so we educate them and ask more specifically about whether or not the ink contains any part of an animal. We’ve always received informative, respectful answers. It’s just that simple.

So if you ask your printer if they use vegan ink, they may not know what you mean. Hey, that’s okay, this is your opportunity to educate them. If you explain nicely, rephrase your question and they give you flack (or don’t know), consider going elsewhere.

Soft Hand, Cold Heart

So you’re at your local vegan fest, festing it up with your jackfruit tacos and all the Soy Dream you can handle, and you find yourself at a vegan apparel booth. Wow, those are some sick vegan tees. So soft, and you can’t even feel the print. You just gotta have one!

Hold up there. Before you plunk down your vegan cash, let’s talk about how those t-shirts are printed. To get a really soft hand like that, screen printers use either water-based ink (we’ll get to that in a minute), or possibly a method called discharge printing. Essentially what a discharge print does is bleach the dye out of the shirt, then a water-based ink is applied for color. What’s the problem?

Discharge inks are highly toxic. There’s formaldehyde and a whole cocktail of other chemicals that you’re not supposed to breathe while printing (or ever). Why should you care about what some screen printer is breathing? Well, that bleaching cocktail at some point not only vaporizes into the air, some of it gets washed down the drain. Where does it go? Some of it gets filtered and sent back to you as tap water. Some it goes out to the ocean, unfiltered. Some of those animals that you fight so hard to protect live there, remember?

Recently, there have been developments in discharge printing that allow for an enzymatic process. That means “natural” enzymes are used to bleach out the dye rather than toxic chemicals. Still, there a couple things we need to consider:

  1. The dye from the shirt is still released somewhere. Where did it go?
  2. What constitutes a “natural” enzyme? Where do they come from? Animal source? Do you know?

If we’re going to demand that people not use animal products, we should demand to know how that vintage-feel t-shirt is made. It affects both our environment and the animals.

Water Based Ink is So, Like… Sustainable, Man

Water-based printing is great. It looks good, it feels good on the shirt, it even sounds really environmental. After all it has water in it! That must be awesome! The assumption is that, unlike plastisol-based printing, it’s the best thing for the environment. Why, just take a sip of this water-based ink, it’s delicious. *disclaimer: don’t do that.

Before you drink the water-based kool-aid, read about the myths of water-based inks. Then come back here.

So now you understand that water-based ink is not just water and harmless color made from unicorn breath, it’s actually made with solvents and other chemicals. Not that plastisol ink is chemical-free, but the cleaning methods are very different (and the way we do it, sustainable). Water-based printing can be done sustainably, so knowing how things should be done will help you choose wisely.

What About the Shirts?

Well, thankfully, most shirts are typically cotton or synthetic and no animals are used. However, there are no innocents in textile manufacturing. Virtually every method affects our world in some way. Here’s a great source of information on the different fabrics and their impact on the planet:

Vegans Are Environmentalists

As you can see, no t-shirt printing method is 100% perfect for the environment. It’s about making an educated, conscious choice. You can’t please everyone, but having solid answers for your customers is a pretty big deal.

If you care about the environment and the animals, it’s worth asking your screen printer about their methods. If they can’t (or won’t) answer your questions, it’s the same as a waiter not telling you if your meal is vegan or not.

You wouldn’t accept that, so why accept anything less than vegan and environmentally-friendly screen printing?

If this post was helpful to you, I send out content regularly to help you navigate the t-shirt biz. Subscribe and you’ll get regular updates, plus a free copy of my book, Amazing T-shirts on a Small Budget!

How t-shirt crafts

How to Color a T-shirt with Fabric Markers

05 coloring

Who loves to color? Ooh, oooh, oooh, we do, we do!

If you love to color and you want to turn a blank or printed tee into your own work of artistry, you’ve come to the right place. I’m going to show you how easy it is to color a t-shirt with fabric markers. How easy is it? Super easy.

Here are the supplies you’ll need:

  • Printed T-shirt
  • Thin cardboard (letter-size or larger)
  • Fabric Markers

The Printed T-shirtThe printed tee in question.

For the purposes of our tutorial, I chose one of our own white tees with our famous Vegan Zombie printed in black. You can use any t-shirt you want, really. Go thrift store hunting if you want to do it on the cheap! Sometimes we find some pretty interesting stuff that begs to be decorated. You can also dig something out of your closet, or if you’re cheeky, your roommate’s closet. Just make sure it’s clean. Even a new t-shirt will work best if you wash it once before coloring.

Helpful Hint: If you use someone else’s shirt, make sure they are not wearing it at the time. Although in certain situations, that might be fun.

The Cardboard02 cardboard

In our house, finding cardboard is easy. There’s always some kind of cardboard available, if it hasn’t already been taken by our 8-year old to build a Bionicle diorama. A cereal box works great (take out the cereal first). If you don’t eat cereal (what’s wrong with you), you can use a cracker box, the back of a notepad or cut up one of those boxes from your latest Amazon order. You just want something large enough to fit behind the area you’re coloring. If you have a small piece you can move it around as you go. No biggie.

The Fabric Markers

You can find Fabric markers in most craft stores like JoAnn, Michaels and Ben Franklin. You can also get them online. Most markers are about the same in how they work, so don’t sweat that too much. Try to find ones with fatter tips to start out. If you’re coloring a large area you’ll start to get cranky using a fine tip. Not that I would know, of course. Call it… intuition.

Let’s Color!

03 markersGet yourself set up in a well-lit area with a nice, clean, flat surface. I usually pour myself some sort of cocktail before starting, but you can substitute cocoa, tea, or I hear some people even drink water. Let me know what that’s like.

Put your cardboard piece inside the shirt (not behind it). This keeps any ink from getting through to the back side.

When you start to color, you’ll notice the color going onto the shirt is a lot lighter than the cap. That’s okay. It might look like your marker is running out of ink already, but it’s not. You’re coloring on fabric which soaks up a lot of ink, hence the cardboard. Fill an area with color, then let it dry for a few minutes. Go over it again and you’ll notice that it’s much darker now. Yay!

Let it Dry, Already!

If you’re like me, you’ll put your shirt on right away and go parading around like you just invented cereal. While I can’t fault you for this, I do recommend that you let it sit overnight to dry completely. I guess you could use a hair dryer if you’re in a hurry, but I haven’t lab-tested that as of this writing.

The Result06 colored

Here’s how mine turned out. I really loved doing this because I could add shading and make my Vegan Zombie design look more hand-drawn and sketchy.

You can see that the color is not particularly dense. I left mine this way, but you could always let it dry, then go back over it again to darken the colors.

In the side-by-side below, you can see that our full color screen printed version is much brighter and darker with lots of flat color. This is what I love about doing this crafty coloring project, no two t-shirts will be the same, even if I colored them myself.

09 side-by-side

I Want to Do This RIGHT NOW!

It does look exciting, doesn’t it? Like I said, if your significant other, partner, brother or roommate has a t-shirt that looks like it would be fun to color, that’s the quickest route. But since you have to live with them afterwards and you still need to go out and get markers, why not pick up something new (or used)? You’ll sleep better.

I hope you have fun with this. Let me know how it works out for you!

How Inside the Shop Screen Printing

How we screen print your t-shirt in multiple colors

Watch the video above, or if you’re pressed for time, read below!

Screen Printing Basics

Screen printing is a very old and really simple process. A stencil is made with your design on a mesh screen. When the screen is placed on a press, ink is pushed through the mesh only in the open areas of the stencil, where it sits on the t-shirt (or paper). The ink is then cured with heat so it will last through lots of washing and wearing.

Screen Printing Multiple Colors

When a design has more than one color, the colors in the design must be separated so that each can be printed individually. This is different from your desktop inkjet printer, where the colors are all mixed together inside the machine.

Once the colors are separated digitally, a screen is then made for each color. On the press, an ink color is chosen for each color in the design and printed one at a time.


You can always ask us any questions and we’ll explain anything about the screen printing process and how it affects your apparel. Drop us a line at or call 818-835-2585.


Can You Force People to Buy?

Sales Lessons from Children

My 6-year old son will ask me if he can watch a movie. Not once. Not twice. Not a few times. He will ask me continually, for hours, until he gets the answer he wants, which is supposed to be, “Yes! You can watch a movie RIGHT NOW.”

Eventually that’s the answer, because it becomes too much trouble to keep saying, “I’m thinking about it.” At some point I have to start thinking about other things – or at least pretend that I am.

His ability to not take “No” for an answer is partly inherent and partly learned. Partly inherent, because I think all children are born with the intuitive gift of wearing parents down. Partly learned because I almost always allow myself to get worn down and eventually give in, which he knows.

Don’t Sell Like a Child

In sales and marketing, it doesn’t work the same way. Sure, you can wear people down until you get a response, but it’s not usually the response you want, which is “Yes, I’ll buy/try/attend.” Instead of wearing people down so they give in, you end up annoying them so they hang up, unsubscribe or avoid you.

I’ve experienced this in retail from the time I was a teen, working at the mall. We were pushed to attack all customers coming in, pestering them until they bought something or left. “Can I help you?” was never enough. We had to employ religious cult tactics, continually asking leading questions (Are you looking for a poster? A framed print? Is it a gift?), never accepting “I’m just browsing” as an answer.

Which was perfectly wrong, because we chased a lot of people out of our store.

The perfectly right thing to do is to leave browsers alone and let them browse all they want. Browsing isn’t the opposite of buying, it’s a gateway to buying.

Remind them you are there to help every now and then. Eventually, they will know what they want and they will more likely come to you to get it.

Thrilling Your Customers

You can read about this in more depth in my book, Thrilling Your Customers, now available for Kindle, ePub, PDF and in paperback.

Entrepreneurship How marketing

T-shirt Marketing 101

©2014 Sparky FirepantsT-shirts are one of the best ways to get your company’s name into the world. Probably the best.

Of course I would say that, I’m a t-shirt person. If I were a billboard person, I might tell you to plaster your marketing message on Sunset Boulevard. But I’m a t-shirt expert so I’ll stick to that.

Okay, besides having a built-in motivation for evangelizing about t-shirts, I do have some solid reasons (and experience) to back it up. Pull up a chair and let Sparky lay it down for you.


Billboards rank pretty high on the visibility scale. Literally. So that’s wonderful, but one problem with billboards is that they’re stationary. You have to pin your hopes on people going by them and looking up (instead of texting, like 34% of drivers).

A T-shirt is fantastic for marketing visibility because the person wearing it is a moving billboard. Your marketing message is seen at the mall, the grocery store, the gym, and a bar, potentially all on the same day – for the same money. We’ll chat more about money in a moment.

Plus, it’s much more comfortable to wear a t-shirt than steel scaffolding and lights. You’ll have to trust me on that.

More Bang for Your Buck

Do you know how much custom printed t-shirts cost? Most people don’t. That’s because prices can range widely. All the variables in your design, colors, printing method, and quality of shirt make it hard to give a generic example. You can probably guess that my advice to you is to not go cheap. Of course you should squeeze the most value you can out of the deal. Just make sure you get the best quality you can afford. If you wind up with a box of shirts nobody wants to wear, you just blew your marketing budget on expensive dust rags.

When you factor your costs for your t-shirt marketing campaign, think about this: You pay for it once, but it keeps on sending your message for years.

Everybody Wears T-shirts

Quick, name someone you know who doesn’t wear t-shirts.

Okay, I know. There’s always that one stubborn holdout who swears, “I never wear t-shirts.” Hmm. Right. Well, the toilet has to be cleaned sometime, yes? I’ve never personally cleaned a toilet in a VanHeusen button down. I’ve cleaned one with a VanHeusen… okay, perhaps a story for another time.

Whether or not there are these rare t-shirt-eschewing humans walking among us, admit it: T-shirts are frikkin’ everywhere. According to a survey, about 81% of the US population will wear a t-shirt by the time of the next presidential election. So it makes sense that you should put your marketing message on them.

Don’t Just Brand it. Make it Cool!

There are certain brands and logos that people will always wear on a t-shirt. Coca-Cola. Apple. Orange Crush. Vans. Those lucky brands, right?

There are even a few local brands that can get away with a logo-only tee, like that burrito truck that’s always slammed at lunchtime.

If you aren’t one of those brands (be honest with yourself), you can’t just stick your logo on a shirt and expect it to get the same mileage. As a marketing manager, you might get tipsy over the idea of wearing the Harvey’s Insurance logo on your chest. Harvey might. Maybe his mother. The rest of the world, not so much.

So you have to come up with an idea for your shirt that goes beyond plastering a logo on cotton. Make it interesting and fun, something other people would actually wear. That’s a tall order, I know. Think about your customer base and what they might find funny or just cool. Be careful with humor, though. Stay away from religious, sexist, racist, or political jokes. Even if you think your customer base will find it funny, tread carefully there. Your company’s name will be on it, and you don’t always get to pick who wears it.

Which reminds me – yes, do put your company logo on the shirt. Just don’t make it the centerpiece unless you’re an established brand. Sorry, Harvey.

Because We’ve Been There

Over the years, we’ve made too many marketing mistakes to count. We learned the hard way. These days, in our custom t-shirt business, we see plenty of really smart people about to make the same mistakes. Thankfully, we’re always ready to draw from our personal lunch box of stupid and help them make a better choice. Well, we try.

 Questions? Comments? Leave them below or email us at And don’t forget to share this post. Sharing is caring.

How Screen Printing

Water-based Ink Does Not Equal Earth-friendly: A Busted Myth

ink-bucketsSometimes you’ll find a screen printer who touts their enviro-friendliness by advertising, “We only use water-based inks!”

Maybe you care about chemicals that go into our water supply, and maybe you don’t. For people who do care, this kind of claim really shouts out to you. “These are my people! They care about the Earth like I do!”

That may be true. I give a lot of credit to intention. Before we wave our hands in the air like we just don’t care… I also give a lot of credence to the Buddhist saying about the finger pointing to the moon, which is about looking beyond the finger to find the truth. Sometimes the truth is that the printer intends to do the right thing for the environment by using water-based inks. They are moving in the right direction by being conscious about their screen printing practices. That’s very mindful of them and I applaud it. But to be truly “earth-friendly,” we need to look deeper and understand what’s behind the curtain of water.

People sometimes assume that because it’s water-based, it’s automatically earth-friendly. It definitely sounds friendly, like we could drink a tall, cold glass of screen printing ink and not die. Or, we could just wash it all down the sink with the moldy salsa. The problem is that water-based ink is not just water. There are pigments, binders, thickeners, and sometimes, even co-solvents in the ink residue (source:Ryonet).

So even though it sounds enviro-friendly, water-based ink can still be toxic and not good for municipal sewage systems – or the oceans and rivers where the water eventually winds up.

If the ink itself weren’t enough, we have to consider how the screens are cleaned. Water-based inks can be cleaned with water… unless they dry out. Then we need to use much stronger solvents. While they do make solvents that are more enviro-happy, we can’t assume every shop who says they use water-based ink is using them. Or that they’re following other earth-happy shop practices.

Plastic… Phantastic?

In our shop, we use plastisol inks for most of our printing. They are PVC-based, Phthalide-free inks that when cured with heat turn to a solid. We clean our screens with a soy-based cleaner and cotton rags. The cleaner reacts with the ink, rendering it biodegradable and drain-safe (can be filtered in our system). The cotton rags are heat cured, making the plastisol a solid, which can be disposed of – except that we reuse our rags.

Is that better than water-based? It’s not a death match between water-based and plastisol. There are good reasons for using both, depending on the situation. For example, we need to print on spandex with plastisol ink (it’s stretchy). We print posters with water-based ink (you can’t heat cure paper).

Good shops are never perfect, but they are open about their methods (truth) and always improving (intention). Those shops that tout their use of water-based inks should be just as knowledgable and open about their ink’s content and cleaning methods.

Do you care? Then do this!

If you care about the environment, ask lots of questions of your printer before you assume they’re more earth-friendly than others. Try these:

What type of ink do you use? Can you point me to the manufacturer’s web site?

What solvents do you use to clean your screens?

Where does the water go when you clean screens? Is it municipal drainage or you have a different disposal solution?

What are the right answers? They’re the answers that make you feel comfortable about getting your printing done. It’s that simple. But I will say that if a printer refuses to answer them, you should keep looking.

If this sounds like a lot of work just to get some frikkin’ t-shirts printed, you’re right. If you care, you care. If not, you probably stopped paying attention a few paragraphs ago.

The point is, you can never assume that something is environmentally friendly by reading an advertisement. Do a little homework. If you really do care about the environment, it won’t hurt a bit.

Subscribe to our semi-regular emails here!