While there are a bevy of websites across the internet that make it easier for small T-shirt designers to bring their designs to market, often times they can't accommodate some of the fashion trends most desired by contemporary designers. With the rise of trends like over-sized imprints and over-the-seams designs, t-shirt designers more and more find themselves at a disconnect with crowd-source t-shirt websites and most print-on-demand houses.
There are a few reason for the disconnect:
1.Many specialty imprints exceed the capabilities of most crowd-source websites. Many T-shirt websites use a print-on-demand model that utilizes digital printers or plot cutters and heat presses that don't modify easily.
2. Even if they can do the prints, unusual prints are more time-consuming and expensive to produce, meaning unless the design is a big hit, it doesn't help the bottom line.
3. Most small T-shirt designers only consider what they'd like to design, and don't give much thought to the production process until long after the concept phase.
So what's a designer to do when confronted with roadblocks put up by their once accessible outlets? When, contemporary problems don't find comfort with contemporary solutions, go old school. In other words, it's time to learn how to screen print and market for yourself.
At this point, a designer may be asking himself, 'Why don't I just hire a screen printing shop to make the shirts for me?' The answer is, that is a great solution, bearing in mind one thing, you're going to need a pile of money to go that route. Screen print shops are geared for mass production, so they need to do either large runs, or charge sizable set-up fees to cover all the make-ready. Compound that with the massive size requirements for the equipment needed to do over-sized imprints in bulk, and you have an equation for high start-up hurdles. The only way an artist can afford to pay them is if he is sure his designs will be big sellers or he has very trusting investors.
Why does it make sense to screen print your designs for yourself when commercial screen printers don't do short runs? There are two reasons: a large part of the expense of paying screen printers is that you are paying for shop time in a place that is not set-up for short runs. It is cheaper and less space-intensive to set up your screen printing studio from the get-go for doing prototypes. Instead of paying money for your market samples, you'll pay in time --your time.
What does a designer need to go from zero to T-shirt design prototyping? Not as much as one might think. For starters, a one-car garage, a few hundred dollars, access to a hardware store and a screen printing supply house, and some good learning materials with sound advice about guerrilla screen printing, can take the designer quite far. After that, a designer simply needs time for developing a skill that most artists pick up fairly easily. Considering the alternatives, that short list is a pretty modest hurdle.
Even if you could find a screen printer to do short runs of your test designs at a low cost, there still is yet another reason for a T-shirt designer to learn screen printing. If you want to get serious about designing T-shirts, the experience of printing may lend you invaluable insights that most likely you couldn't get otherwise. The simple fact is, whenever you design anything, you really do need insight into the production process if you want to excel in that field. How your designs will be produced should not be an afterthought, but instead, an intrinsic part of the design phase.