Categories
Design Entrepreneurship How marketing Screen Printing

What if you had a free guide that helped you sell more t-shirts?

A while back, I wrote a series of posts about how to get t-shirts printed. There were posts about apparel and fabric, different types of printing, what designs work best on different types of tees, really juicy stuff like that.

Don’t go looking for them, they’re gone. I took them down (gasp!). Instead, I thought that having all that info in one place would be super helpful. So I combined them into a simple guide that covers all the bases about getting screen printed shirts. Besides, I tightened up the writing and added some new tips to make it even more valuable.

Years ago, when I started selling t-shirts online, I would’ve loved to get some secrets to help me sell more t-shirts. I would have saved a ton of money and lost less sleep.

So if you’re about to start an apparel brand, get t-shirts printed for an event, or just want to geek out on all the things that go into making t-shirts, this is for you.

It’s called Amazing T-shirts on a Small Budget: Learn How to Save Money on Your Printed Apparel and I worked really hard on making it for you. I know it’s going to help you get started, or if you’ve already been going for a while, give you some fresh, new secrets.

If you want the secrets, they are yours. Just enter your email address below. When you confirm that you’re a real human signing up, you’ll get a direct link to the guide. Your email address will never be shared. We’re vegan. We hate spam.

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Categories
Inside the Shop Screen Printing Thoughts Vegan

Stop Killing the Planet with T-shirts

Did you know that it takes 713 gallons of water to make just one cotton t-shirt?

Okay, well maybe that statistic is somewhat skewed because no one manufactures just one t-shirt. What it’s really about is the water that it takes to grow the cotton. It’s a lot.

It’s still a scary proposition for our planet and our limited resources. Last night one of our insta followers tagged us in a post about this, and I knew that I had to say something.

Our whole business being what it is, we print thousands of new cotton t-shirts every year. Does that concern me? You know me, of course it does. We try to make as little impact on the planet as possible in our screen printing. Are we going to shut down and stop taking orders of new shirts? Well, no. I don’t think that our going out of business would effectively solve the problem.

I do know that there are things we (and you and everyone) can do to at least slow this crazy train down.

Less consumption, for one. Think about how easy it is to go to any Target or WalMart in your area and buy a cheap graphic tee. Or think about the festivals and markets you go to. Rather than loading up on an armful of t-shirts and tank tops because you just gotta have ’em all, be choosier. Maybe choose one you truly love this trip. Choose one made with premium quality cotton, from a WRAP-certified manufacturer who uses the most sustainable methods. It’s a start.

Reuse your old tees. It doesn’t take Einstein-level thinking to figure out how to put your old worn-out t-shirts to new uses. Cleaning rags, for one. Cut them up and sew new things like bags and skirts and belts. Cut off the collar, twist it up and bam – soft bracelet! Stop throwing things away, people!

Eschew Fast Fashion. Fast Fashion is where garment designers create a limited supply of a new, trendy style for the mass market. If it sells, it may become permanent. If not, they didn’t bet the farm on it and have unsellable inventory. Neat-o, huh? It is for the manufacturer. In three months (or hours) when that style is no longer fashionable, guess what happens? They get thrown out, maybe donated. But what’s the point? Better to buy classic looks that stand the test of time than to bend to every fashion trend. One of my favorite shirts is a striped tee from The Gap that I bought over twenty years ago.

Watch Your Washing. It’s not just the making, but the care of the t-shirts that can make a big impact. Wash in cold water whenever possible, hang dry and leave out the ironing. If it’s wrinkled, hang it in the bathroom while you shower. It not only saves water, but reduces carbon emissions from using less electrical energy.

You knew I wasn’t going to say stop buying t-shirts altogether, right? Listen, they’re comfortable, easy to care for, they look cool, and they can last a long time. Like any other type of garment or product, we need to be more mindful about what we buy.

Hey! Check out this super cool t-shirt designer/printer that only reuses tees: Stay Vocal

Also! You must check out Threads for Love’s Upcycled Collection. We love it!

One last fact: Did you know that it takes 1,799 gallons of water to make a pound of beef? I’ll let you chew on that one while I eat my vegan burger.

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

Categories
Design marketing Screen Printing Uncategorized

Can I relabel my printed apparel?

Super Secret T-shirt Marketing Tip: Neck Tags

Picture this scenario. You’re all set up at the local music festival, selling your fantastically-designed t-shirts from your swanky, well-branded booth. Wait, what’s this? You have a sale! Someone just walked away with your well-crafted tee and paid you real money for it. High five, you!

They get their new tee home and what’s the first thing they probably do? Yep. Rip out the tag. Because… itchy.

A couple years pass, and they’re still wearing that awesome shirt you made. So cool. Someone stops them at the grocery store.

“Hey, that’s a cool shirt, where’d you get it?”

“Uhhh, I don’t remember, it was some booth at Stinkypaloozachella last year.”

And that’s how that works. You made one sale and that was the end of that. Hey, cool story.

But what if that one sale made you more sales over the years without you even doing a thing? The secret, which is actually not so secret and which you probably guessed by now because of the ginormous photo I threw up at the top and maybe also the title, is tagging.

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

Rather than sewing in labels (which can be ripped out), I’m talking about actually printing your own branded label on the garment itself. Not only does it go everywhere the shirt goes, it can’t be ripped out and it’s a subtle reminder to your customer that you exist beyond that sale. If you want to be seen as a premium brand, relabel your tees. It’s one of the best marketing tools you could utilize for your apparel brand. Before you go willy nilly tagging your tees, there are a few things you need to be aware of.

Laws and Stuff

Yes, there are actually laws about t-shirt labeling. I know, right? There are people not using their turn signals when they drive in front of me and this is a thing? But yes, it’s thing and it’s serious.

If you look at a (correct and legal) t-shirt label, you’ll notice that they list a few things:

  • Manufacturer
  • Country of manufacture
  • Origin country of fabric
  • Size
  • Fabric content
  • RN number

By federal law (in the U.S. anyway), those facts must be somewhere on the garment at the point of sale. After the sale, it doesn’t matter. Same as your mattress, you won’t go to jail if you rip off the tag once you own it. True story.

So what if you want to sell your tees without that annoying manufacturer’s label hanging off the neck? Well, you totally can. All you have to do is relabel the tee with that same information. You can replace the manufacturer’s brand name and logo with your own, but you must use your own RN number or keep the RN number the same.

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer (was it obvious?) and I’m not advising you in a legal capacity, but here are some links that will help you with actual legal requirements: 

RN NumberRelabeling Garments

How to Tag Your Tees

The most obvious place to tag your tees is the inside back collar. You’ve seen this on t-shirts in stores, right? It’s fairly straightforward for your screen printer to do. You might consider other areas of the garment to tag, just to differentiate yourself in the marketplace. If your tag is designed well (and I mean very well), you can even put all that info on the outside back collar area and make it part of the whole garment design.

You also have the option of doing a very faint tag or something bold (like in the photo up top). It’s really personal preference, but try to think of your t-shirt designs as holistic. Remember that you’re designing a whole garment, making it premium. If you slap a bunch of info on it to suit a legal requirement, you risk looking cheap.

Other Thoughts

If you really want people to remember your brand, you might consider sewing in embroidered labels on the sleeve or one of the lower sides. See Triple V Clothing, or brands like The Gentle Pit that do this well.

If there’s ever a legit time to make things all about you, this is one of them. Take advantage of your options, don’t let people forget about you once they walk away.

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!

Categories
Entrepreneurship Screen Printing

How many t-shirts do I need?

How many shirts do you buy for your event? As an apparel brand, how many t-shirts should you add to your inventory? Even if you know the total amount of shirts you want, how many mediums do you need? How many larges?

Every person who gets t-shirts printed has to ask these questions. At some point, every person who has had t-shirts printed has gone into a fuzzy-headed stupor over how to figure it out. There are so many variables, how can you know what’s the right number?

Because every need is different, there’s no “right” answer. It depends on a couple of factors:

Your Audience: Who do you imagine will be buying your shirts? Skinny girls in their 20s, or large men in their 60s? It’s very likely you wouldn’t want to order any XS women’s fitted with “Old Guys Rule” on them. Narrowing it down this way gives you some clues.

Experience: If you’ve sold shirts before, look at your sales and see what was left over. It’s likely that you can order fewer of those styles, sizes or designs next time. Or none. But that would be sad, so let’s imagine that you sold out! Yay! High-fiving you.

What if you have no experience? It can be a bit of a crap shoot. However, as far as sizes go, I can tell you that a good starting point size breakdown is to order roughly 15% of smaller sizes, 35% medium, 35% large sizes and 15% bigger sizes (like XL and 2XL). Once you have some sales going, you can see what breakdown works best for your particular brand.

To help you even further, we have a handy t-shirt breakdown calculator that you can use anytime. It’s an Excel spreadsheet that’s 100% free to download. If Excel isn’t your thing, you can easily import it into Apple Pages or Google Sheets. It works the same way.

Give it a whirl right here —-> T-shirt Breakdown Calculator

Categories
Design Inside the Shop Screen Printing Vegan We printed this!

How to Get a Metallic Look on Apparel

Metallic T-shirt

Shiny things are cool. And though I love my shiny things, I never really thought to print in metallic before. One day a regular client of ours texted me a photo of a singer on stage wearing a tee with an extremely shiny silver image on it. I couldn’t really tell what the image was, but based on the blurry quality it was clear that the photographer was having a very shiny time. Our client asked if we could do something like that.

My first thought was Hell yes, go to a show and get sweaty drunk? Then I realized he meant the shiny shirt.

Of course I said “Yes,” even though we had never done it, but that’s kind of our motto around here. Say yes and figure that shit out later. It’s worked so far.

I did some research and it turns out there a few ways to achieve a metallic look on apparel. One is with foil, one is a metallic ink and another option is heat pressed vinyl. There’s also welding a piece of metal to a t-shirt, but I don’t really think that will catch on. So I’ll talk more about the first three.

Foiled Again

Applying foil to a t-shirt is a two-step process and it’s actually pretty cool. First, a layer of adhesive is screen printed onto the tee with whatever design is needed. After it’s cured, a section of thin foil material is heat pressed on top. When it’s pulled away, the foil in the glue-printed areas sticks and the rest is discarded, leaving the design in shiny, pretty foil.

After trying a sample in silver, I thought it looked amazing. Well, amazing in that it definitely achieved the shiny look I had seen in my client’s band photo (which was blurry if you remember). It shined. It was silver.

It has a very vintage look to it. It’s not perfect and flat like a solid color print, there are teeny tiny gaps in places. This could be due to the black heather material I printed/pressed it on.

I sent a sample off to our client, which they loved. A few months later, they made an order with foil, although they went with gold rather than silver. After pressing some trial shirts, I decided to get in touch with them to make sure it was the look they were going for. It turns out that even though they liked the silver, they wanted something with a more consistent, flat (yet still shiny) look (more on what we did later).

Bottom line: Foil can be a super cool look, but it will be on the vintage-y side, more like gold leaf than chrome bumper.

Metallic Inks

You can also use a metallic gold ink. There are a lot of choicesa nd not all get the same effect. The first one I tried was super dull. Like an aging heavy metal band from 1989, it looked a bit tired and washed up. It should not wear spandex.

Another gold was much shinier and had more of the metallic look, but still wasn’t exactly what our client was going for.

Bringing Back Vinyl

Let’s get this out of the way. I’m not a huge fan of putting vinyl on tees. I admit that it can have a very clean look, and my obsessive-compulsive need for clean lines gets a lot of satisfaction in pressing vinyl. I will always prefer putting ink on shirts over vinyl. Ink wears better over time and it just feels better on the shirt. 

That said, putting vinyl on jackets and other items that aren’t going to go through the washer every week is something I can get behind. Which is how we came to use gold vinyl on our client’s tees.

They decided to get some promo bomber jackets for their team (and these bombers are the bomb, bee tee dubs). The black ones would get gold crowns and lettering and the look worked so well I sent them another sample on a tee. Winner winner, vinyl dinner (um, gross). Yup. I did it, I put vinyl on tees. I lived. They loved it.

The look is super shiny, metallic and consistent. Our client is happy, so that’s a shiny happy win.

Foil me once, shame on you…

I haven’t given up on the foil. First, I really love the vintage look. It’s not right for everyone or every design, but I know there are people who will think it’s the very thing they want. I’ve also read about some tricks to filling in those tiny gaps by mixing the glue with colored ink. I will have to go back to the lab and see what happens.

Until next time, shine on, you crazy diamond.

Categories
Design Events marketing Screen Printing We printed this!

Live Screen Printing at the Hollywood Improv

In February, we had the pleasure of printing for Saul Colt and Freshbooks for their February #IMakeaLiving event. Not only did we print souvenir shirts for guests right on the spot, we created an exclusive design for the event.

We also had a few designs of our own that were very popular. And yes, we had someone remove their clothing for us to print on. Again. It must be a vibe we create everywhere we go.

Categories
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 sparky@sparkyfirepants.com. We’re here to help.

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

Categories
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!

Categories
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 sparky@sparkyfirepants.com. We’re listening!

Categories
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: http://www.greenchoices.org/green-living/clothes/environmental-impacts

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?

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