Going Beyond Ink on Cotton

In my last post, I talked about the t shirt as a commodity and how it is much more than that, it is really the media of personal expression. This is a pretty high concept and would have difficulty standing on it’s own. Long gone are the days of having shirts printed for a promotion or advertising and having them readily embraced by the market. If you’re a well known brand, or have an exceptionally hot topic, it may be possible to have a successful promotion with little effort, but this is usually not the case now.

Indeed, for decorated apparel to really work it needs a couple of things to happen. The first is to have graphics that are so striking that they will stop the average person on the street. The graphics don’t need to be complicated, but they do need to impress. The need for great graphic design is critical. Simple clip art is rarely enough anymore.

The image needs to be printed crisply and cleanly. Registration and image quality have to be right on. Mediocre execution of the imprint is a sure recipe for not getting noticed. This is what separates the really great decorators from the sea of average printers out there.

Secondly, you need a story behind the image. Remember that the person wearing your shirt is wearing it for a reason. They identify with the message that’s on the shirt. What is that message? To use t shirts as media you need to be communicating the story and CONNECTING the story with the person wearing the shirt. This means they have to have some connection to the experience behind the graphic.

This is really easy to accomplish with an event like a festival, walk-a-thon, 10K run, etc. Pick a theme for the event and create the graphics to accompany it. The better the graphics, the better the connection to the event and the experience of the event.

If you’re doing images for advertising, it’s a bit more complicated. It’s not about a blatant commercial image, it’s more about the professionalism of the company and what they stand for. This is your chance to dialog with the business and see if they have a compelling vision of who they are and what they bring to the marketplace through their goods and services. You can learn a lot about a company and your own business through this process.

This is only the beginning. Creating compelling graphics that stop the viewer on the street and start a conversation is an art in itself. Anything you do now will be a starting point on a journey to become expert in this craft. But the starting point will be more than your competition is doing and it will also begin to differentiate you from the commodity mass of printers out there.


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