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The Fine Print: Let's talk about tees!

Working with Ethically and Socially Responsible Suppliers in the Decorated Apparel Industry

Global Supply Chain

The decorated apparel industry is undergoing a transformation. As we understand the scope of our impact on the environment, communities, and economies across the globe, we realize we must be conscientious. Responsible stewardship is not a task that’s easily taken on alone. That’s why we choose to work with manufacturers and suppliers that champion corporate responsibility in these matters.

SanMar Corporation is one of these businesses and we’re proud to say, one of the chief suppliers of our blank apparel products. What makes an apparel manufacturer a responsible global citizen? Corporate responsibility of course starts at home where facilities exist. If a company doesn’t care about their neighbors locally, they can’t be expected to care about their impact on the world at large.

That means giving back to the community in ways like investment in employee career goals and being cognizant of a healthy work to life balance. It would be difficult to retain a quality workforce without offering a chance for individual fulfillment and realization of potential. A business that treats its employee’s right enables those employees to product high quality goods. End users like, as screen printers, can in-turn create products that our customers will love.

Custom T-Shirt Printing

Whether it’s t-shirts for fundraisers, school spirit jerseys, uniforms for employees, or t-shirts for an event, our relationship with SanMar enables us to receive high quality imprintable goods from a company we trust has diligently and ethically sourced their goods. Furthermore, whom we know continuously self-audits for environmental impact in its supply chain.

Responsible sourcing starts with people, the welfare, health, and prosperity of employees. In the apparel manufacturing industry, much of the production is done offshore. But this doesn’t mean the same high standards of human welfare that would be employed on American soil aren’t enforced offshore with manufacturers we choose to do business with. Providing safe and rewarding economic opportunities that strictly adhere to labor laws is a must.

Textile Worker

SanMar Corporation is an Accredited Participating Company of the Fair Labor Association (FLA), a Quality Certification Alliance Accredited Company, and a member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition. As a consumer, you should be concerned that your products are ethically sourced no matter what it might be, whether food, electronics, or apparel. The FLA is a voluntary and collaborative association with its goals aligned to addressing abusive labor practices by giving companies the tools and resources needed to combat it. The association also encourages a culture of transparency and accountability for companies around the world that participate in the supply chain. The Sustainable Apparel Coalition similarly focuses on how manufacturers in the textile industry can identify and rehabilitate environmental impact as well as social impact on communities where they do business.

Environmental Impact

Longevity in the business also ensures that relationships are meaningful. When you work with a supplier that is in the game for the long term, corners are not cut and operations are designed to flourish for the benefit of everyone involved. To build any long term relationship of value, the right partners must be selected from the onset and rigorously held to high standards.

We feel very positive about working closely with SanMar Corporation for our imprintable apparel needs because of the family values they operate under. These include actively recruiting and hiring military Veterans as one of their initiatives. They’ve also been a pioneering force allowing telecommuting for applicable positions keeping hundreds of cars off the road in an effort to maximize work to life balance and reduce environmental impact that results from commuting.

Social Responsibility

Charitable works are expected from companies that label themselves as socially responsible. In Honduras, SanMar works with an orphanage and a medical facility that organizes twice annually medical brigades to provide surgery and therapy to citizens with hand issues. Furthermore, the corporation works with a supplier in the community whose goal is to improve the lives of garment industry workers with the development of a sustainable community consisting of 50,000 homes to improve the living standards of employees and their family members.

To encourage staff to give back to the community through participation in charitable events, SanMar matches any employee’s charitable contribution up to $250 per year. In times of disaster, the company increases this contribution so that the employee’s donation is stretched even further.

Working with suppliers, SanMar has been able to effectively increase sustainability by increasing the quality and life cycle of their garments. Consumers are becoming more aware of the impact that non-sustainable products have on the environment and are demanding more transparency concerning the products they buy. To that end, they have been accredited by the Quality Certification Alliance or QCA.

Textile Manufacture

The QCA improves a business’s credibility by establishing them as a leader that proactively seeks improvements in the industry to reduce environmental impact, increase social responsibility, and certifies the supply chain is compliant with safety rules and standards.

Product safety for the end consumer is of utmost importance and the company has adopted the Restricted Substance List originally developed by American Apparel. None of the substances on the list are allowed to be used in the manufacture of goods. Additionally children’s products strictly adhere to the guidelines put forth by the Consumer Products Safety Commission.

It’s our pleasure to have a connection with such an exemplary business that has become a leader in ethics, corporate transparency, and social responsibility on a truly global scale.

Understanding Customers in the Custom Decorated Apparel Business

Understanding consumer behavior

If you want to sell branded apparel or print custom apparel, it’s important to understand where your customer is coming from as far as their mindset as a consumer. When people go through a buying journey people start out as an individual and transform into a consumer. Shifting to a consumer has a direct impact on their ego after consuming a product or service because it reflects upon how they perceive their own competence. This is why it’s so important to control every aspect of their journey when they engage with your t-shirt brand or custom t-shirt printing business. Here are some of the basic factors that make up the psychological process.

Motivation: We buy products that we believe will help us mold our own self-image. To sell t-shirts we need to understand what motivates the consumer. Need is the foundation of motivation, making the consumer want it is the next and perhaps most difficult hurdle. For us, the benefits an individual will receive from purchasing custom t-shirts needs to be conveyed by making those benefits resonate with our customer’s sense of self. We must distill the benefits of our services to align with the customer’s goal. For example, we might have a customer interested in ordering custom t-shirts for a family reunion. We know that personalization brings everybody together and delights the recipient, and the person who came up with the idea to unite the family with commemorative t-shirts is the hero. That’s what the consumer wants to get to, the hero status. In this example, our challenge is to make sure the customer is confident that we’ll be able to deliver a quality product on time for the family reunion, in the sizes requested, and printed beautifully. How do we do this?

Our customer service angle: What is your goal by ordering custom t-shirts? Our benefit features – We’ve printed millions of custom tees, we employ expert screen printers, we employ expert quality control, we offer guaranteed shipping dates, we employ professional artists to review every order, we offer product and design recommendations, and we make our customers look great!

Uncertainties: Your job as a t-shirt brand or even as a t-shirt printer is to lower the feeling of danger. What do people see as dangerous? Overpaying for services and goods is a high risk that makes people wary. People also worry about the functionality of the product such as how it looks and feels when wearing it. The psychological risk is introduced when the customer worries if they will feel badly about their purchase or experience buyer’s remorse.

Online ordering of custom t-shirts gets scary because of competitors and possible past experiences with similar purchases that went badly. The consumer is constantly asking themselves, “Am I making the right choice?” To combat this, we provide as much information about the t-shirt or custom apparel as possible and the ordering process. Include the weight of the apparel product, the color choices available, the fabric content, laundering instructions, and reviews from other consumers that have purchased the same product. In our case as concerns products and print, we have thousands of testimonials that detail the look and feel of the received t-shirts printed by us. We capitalize on that information by including these reviews on the specific products so new customers can see what the general consensus is from other consumers.

Personality: Consumers will ask, “Does this t-shirt and print fit my image?” It’s your job to make your customer happy to be who they are.

Our customer service angle: We listen for clues. Do they reference a gala event, or is it for a sorority? If so, we recommend high end products that will align with their self-concept. We reinforce our authority in our recommendations by sharing stories about other customers whose goals align with theirs. In reference to the sorority customer for example, when recommending a product, we let them know the product being recommended is very popular with other Greek organizations we have as customers. Or, for another example, we had a politician order this product for last year’s fundraiser. Or if for a construction company, this product is very durable, comfortable, and washes well.

Consumer learning: As your customer researches what products and services to buy they need product knowledge and also want to understand the motivation behind the brand. Why do your services/products exist and why should they put their trust in you? Obviously they need to understand how to buy as well, if online, you need to make it as easy and transparent as possible with no surprise fees like expensive shipping sprung at the end of their transaction process. For product choices, they need to know the weight and content of the fabric and how to care for the apparel once received.

Our customer service angle: Does the customer mention previous purchases with competitors? Is price a sticking point? We know cheap often means low quality and like to ask how the customer wants their order of custom t-shirts to be perceived by others. This is not a trick, rather it’s asking our customer to evaluate their own self-image and uphold the standards they’ve set for themselves as far as expectations. We are both affordable and offer very high quality product and printing.

Customers want to be perceived as competent and savvy consumers that made a good deal. People that order for organizations risk their job and reputation so this is particularly important to them.

A post purchase relationship is equally important. This is when the customer will be asking themselves questions like “Did I do the right thing, and did I pay too much?” We try to delight our customers by providing an experience where the service and apparel looks better than expected and exceeds other expectations so their attitude remains positive.

Our customer service angle: We may know the customer is ordering for their company’s annual fun run. We may make a lowest price recommendation and extol the benefits by listing the reasons for its popularity. However we often make higher priced recommendations too because the product is more versatile and comfortable, and also very reasonably priced. By letting our customer know we’ve already done all the hard work for them, there is no reason to worry that they’ve made the right decision.

Online Custom T-shirt Printing – The Story of Why Came to Be

DesignAShirt early years

To round up the last of 2017, we want to share with our customers why we exist as a service, how the design studio came into being, and why we do business in the manner in which we do it. The story of is rooted in the idea of a kind of service that was needed, but few, if any were offering. Particularly at the level that was envisioned by John Anton, DesignAShirt’s creator and owner. That service was the capability to design a shirt online in the comfort of your office or home and have the custom printed t-shirt delivered to your door anywhere in the U.S. faster than any local printer could consistently deliver.

John Anton began his screen printing career in the 1980’s after he completed a Master’s degree in Marketing at ASU. Upon joining the corporate world after graduation, he quickly realized that was not his destiny. Being an entrepreneur with the freedom to innovate and operate a business defined by his personal convictions of how to treat customers and employees was the only path that made sense. He was going to make a mark on the world on his own terms.

At that time John already had great interpersonal skills which made it easy to establish relationships and networks to promote the value of custom apparel for advertising and building communities. But what he didn’t possess was the skill to actually produce the custom clothing. Becoming dissatisfied with length of time he sometimes had to make his customers wait for their orders using the services of a local printer, he decided to take matters into his own hands and produce the orders on his own.

The first screen printing press he purchased for this venture came recommended by a former business colleague that didn’t want the competition so his recommendation was a defective press. Once John realized the boards of the press were warped, he decided the attempt at sabotage wasn’t going to hold him back. Instead he adapted his screen printing method to negate the issues the warped boards introduced and engineered mechanical fixes to ensure his prints looked just as high quality as any printer operating a state-of-the-art press.

That first hurdle actually catapulted John’s artisanal screen printing skills since he had to work harder and think creatively. In the early days he was also working out of his home’s garage working to expand his business. Once the HOA found out, he had to find another location to fulfill his hard-won customer orders. The economy was in poor shape so banks downright refused to offer the 26-year old a loan.

Fortunately his family knew his determination and character and gladly risked co-signing for loans on a warehouse where he could grow his screen printing business. He strategically chose a location close to a major Phoenician thoroughfare, the 202, and ASU campus to make local order pickups convenient for his customers. John also called this warehouse home as he put in a shower and a bedroom. The former bedroom is now his office.

Two big customers changed John’s life and shaped the future which would lead to One was former ASU basketball coach, Bill Frieder, who trusted John to produce 5000 shirts. The other was Mike Carter of the Thunderbirds who needed sweatshirts for the Phoenix Open. These two influential customers allowed John to prove that he could produce high quality custom printed apparel, in large numbers, and deliver on time. It led to an order from Phoenix Children’s Hospital of 50,000 shirts, the largest order to date during the early years.

In 1987 John bought a fax machine which of course seems antiquated now, but at the time is was unheard of for a screen print shop to utilize this kind of technology and it quickly set him apart. By researching and implementing better ways to produce high quality printed t-shirts quickly, he revolutionized the Phoenix area screen printing industry by having his art department adopt the use of Corel Draw to produce digitized art ready for screen printing rather than the old school method of hand cutting art.

While screen printing equipment and methods evolved, the manners in which customers were able to interact with screen printers hadn’t changed much. This was so, even though the Internet was changing how people exchanged ideas and information. Placing an order for custom apparel was a laborious chore. Running a business efficiently and offering convenience to his customers is one of the core tenants of John’s business ethic. Consistently streamlining processes and recognizing the value of the pioneering spirit, he decided to commission the development of an online custom t-shirt design studio, one of the very first in North America. This was the birth of It was a risky investment, just after 9/11, but John’s business instincts guided him to the course of the future and that was ecommerce.

In the early 2000’s, software development was not anywhere near as prolific as it is today so to find people with expertise to develop this vision was a struggle. John and his team went through many developers trying to produce software that was intuitive and allowed users to creatively fulfill expectations for, customized apparel with the greatest convenience. The expense was staggering but it made John and early employees of DesignAShirt many of whom are still with the business today, all the more determined to make it work. made its debut online in 2003.

While online t-shirt printing websites are more common now, what has never changed about John and his staff at DesignAShirt is the belief in the importance of never disappointing customers. Care and pride of workmanship goes into every custom print. Even on our automatic presses, screen printing experts, some with decades of experience continuously review the process to ensure each and every print is perfect. Bulk orders may have the same design on each shirt but each shirt is an individually created work of art with the understanding the product has purpose for one our customers.

It remains essential that we make our customers look good and we produce t-shirts and other apparel products that are good for family, good for business, and good for team building. That’s the story of in 2017. We will continue to strive to innovate and make ordering custom t-shirts from our website an experience for our customers that remains memorable.

Why Limit your Custom T-shirt Order to a One-Size-Fits-All Mindset?

Conformist mindset

People order custom t-shirts from Design A Shirt for a lot of different reasons. We print t-shirts for family reunions, fundraisers and events of all kinds. In these situations, purchasing a single type of product is usually okay since the t-shirt fulfills a singular purpose for an event. But what if the purpose of ordering custom t-shirts is more for branding and promotion of a business?

Imagine this scenario. You own a local restaurant and have carefully curated a loyal following of locals that love your food and the atmosphere. They’re proud of your business and appreciative of the contribution your restaurant makes towards the enrichment of the community. Here is an opportunity for you to gain even more notoriety at a very low cost. Offer a way for your customers to support your brand by offering logoed apparel for sale.

Making branded apparel available to your customer base is a great way to engage your customers in a very personal way. Plus, when they wear your t-shirt, it’s as good as a word-of-mouth endorsement to their friends, neighbors, and family. When offering this type of promotional product, you should consider the value of offering different product types and here’s why.

Size and fit matters. A passionate customer might buy a piece of branded apparel from you but what good is that if they get home and don’t like how they look wearing the garment? If people don’t like what they see in the mirror, they’re not going to wear it no matter how much they like your business. Or worse, they could return it for a refund. People love t-shirts, and probably always will, but offering a variety of styles on different products ensures you’ll have something for everyone.

Bella unisex tee fit

There are different types of fits when it comes to custom apparel and it’s an important thing to consider. T-shirt manufacturers don’t all share the same pattern. There is a difference between unisex, men’s, women’s, juniors, and youth t-shirt products, and it’s not simply the size, it’s cut and fit. Some products offer more length as well for taller people.

When considering what types of t-shirt product to offer, consider who makes up your customer base. In the restaurant scenario, that’s going to be all kinds of people unless you operate in a hyper specific niche like vegan cuisine. If that is the case, offering you logoed apparel printed on an organic cotton tee would be a customer conscious decision. A gym might offer some choices for performance apparel. A salon operating near a college campus might offer some high fashion, trendy products from Bella or Lululemon.

You’re an expert in your business but you may not be an expert in what types of apparel products have the potential to appeal to your customers. Having been in the t-shirt printing business for over 14 years, we have the collective knowledge to offer many recommendations based upon your customer base and budget allowance.

T-shirt size and fit differences

Some t-shirt products may be marketed as unisex but that does not mean they will all fit like the Hanes Tagless Tee which a very well-known t-shirt product. An example is the Next Level Premium Fitted Crew. The key to understanding the fit is in the terminology used, “fitted.” Fitted tees taper from the shoulder to bottom hem to fit more snugly around the torso creating a slimmer silhouette. The style is considered more fashionable than the classic tee which is roomier in the torso area. However the classic fit can appeal to wider variety of body types.

Some of our customers may not be aware that mixing and matching products and even different product colors does not usually increase the cost of the print job. If the exact same design and ink colors are used, printing on a variety of different products is normally not a problem. Where it may become an issue is if mixing and matching products that are very different in product fabric content like performance wear and 100% cotton. In these scenarios, a screen of a different mesh would need to burned and used to execute the print which would incur an extra screen charge.

Blending a large variety of sizes can introduce the need for second size of art too. For example, if you wanted shirts that varied from youth size extra-small to adult 3 XL, the same size of art would not translate well across all of these sizes. Sized art that looks great on the youth size would appear undersized on the extra-large adult version and vice versa.

If you have a display where your custom apparel is shown, think about seasonal offerings as well. Offer several types of hoodies or sweatshirts in the fall and winter and men and women’s tank tops in the spring and summer. Classic t-shirts work year round for promotion.

The next time you think about promoting your business with branded custom tees, think about your customer and what types of clothing products would appeal to them. Also think about how you want your brand to be perceived. This should influence your choice for apparel products.

The Best Way to Prepare your Artwork for Custom T-shirt Printing

t-shirt idea

We offer tons of t-shirt design ideas as templates to show our customers what is possible to create for print in our design studio. But most of our t-shirt printing website visitors come to us with their design already in mind or prepared. Although we have artists that review each and every art submission to ensure the image will print perfectly, we realize the importance of educating our customers on the best way to prepare artwork for a custom t-shirt print. Here is a rundown of our professional knowledge on art preparation that will make you look like a rock star of t-shirt design.

Design using PMS colors

Most professional graphic designers work primarily in RGB or CMYK for web or printed publications, however to ensure spot on accuracy of your chosen colors, design your t-shirt using specific PMS colors. The reason behind this is Pantone colors are developed using precise formulas. These formulas were created with consistency in mind. If a screen printer is worth their salt, they will use this matching system and not “eyeball it” to match what looks close. CMYK colors are simulated to create the final output and will not be consistent to PMS so if you are creating a design that will be used across all types of advertising platforms and consistency matters, use PMS colors. Another advantage of PMS colors is a screen printer can simulate multiple colors through the use of halftones with one PMS color. If you’re looking for the biggest bang for your buck, talk to us about this method.

Pantone colors

Design your art as actual size

If you have a specific output size in mind, why not design it with these specs from the beginning? If you know the t-shirt product you’ll want for the print it doesn’t hurt to print out a full-sized image, cut it out, and stick it on the shirt to see exactly what it will look like when printed, that way there are no surprises. We’ve printed millions of custom t-shirts over the course of 14 years and always use our best judgement if we haven’t been given explicit instructions.

Vector art rules

We print a lot of t-shirt art that is submitted in raster format, meaning the image is made up of pixels but for a serious t-shirt artist, vector is the only way to go. Vectors consist of lines that are controlled by points and nodes. The beauty of vector art is that it can be scaled up or down to any size and never lose its clarity. Raster or bitmap images lose information each time the image is resized because it’s being recalculated to adjust to the new size. If you must use raster art, for a photo t-shirt as an example, it must be submitted at 300 dpi or higher to provide a high quality final t-shirt print. If you found the perfect foundational piece of clip art for your t-shirt design but it is in raster format to start with, it can be converted to vector, (we do this all the time as part of our printing services,) but be prepared to clean it up quite a bit in Adobe Illustrator or CorelDRAW.

Vector graphic for t-shirt

Always convert text to outlines

Awesome t-shirts designs will often feature a signature font that might represent the entirety of the design or be a critical part of the integrity of the design. When outputting your file from Adobe Illustrator or a similar vector program, always convert text to outlines so there is no chance your font is corrupted when digitally transferring the file. Converting to outlines turns your font into an image that cannot be altered. If you’re worried about the necessity of altering the design at a later date, like changing the year for future reprints, simply save a copy before converting your text.

Convert strokes to paths

This is similar to converting text to outlines except it has to do with objects in your t-shirt design. This ensures that your design stays exactly the way you created it without the worry that another program will handle strokes differently. Expanding the strokes before converting to paths is also beneficial to keep your design precise.

Be specific in your design and printing instructions

A perfectly executed t-shirt design is just part of the submission. Our design studio offers a great preview of what the final product should look like but specifics that cannot be visually represented should be communicated in the note areas of your order form. Some examples are an unusual placement, if you intend for the design to be off center, if you need a color replaced with another color, if the final print needs to be specific size, specific PMS color requests, two sizes of art for youth and adult sized blended orders, and removal of background. Basically anything you can think of that could possible impact the final print. While we don’t hesitate to reach out to our customers if we’re not clear on something, we don’t know what we don’t know and depend on your communication to provide a product that you’ll be delighted with.

Graphic desing programs

Designing custom t-shirts can be a rewarding experience whether you’re a seasoned designer or just starting out. Some t-shirt designs have become part of our culture and define periods in history. When you design a shirt, it has the potential to be seen by many people and hopefully will fulfil its purpose whether it is about advocacy, business promotion, or a fashion statement for a clothing brand. Submitting great artwork is the first step towards realizing the goal you have in mind for your t-shirt design.