A tip for you

Use the ink designed for the fabric.

Use an ink designed for your substrate. Sound obvious? Perhaps, but printers still make this mistake every day. Polyester fabrics are prone to dye migration so use a dye-block ink designed for polyester. Some fabrics stretch, so use a stretch ink on them. Not sure what type of ink to use? Ask Stanley’s.

Screens and technology.

I recently saw what claimed to be a training a video for textile screen printers. It was one of those videos that are more harmful than helpful and produced by someone who clearly had no business claiming to be an expert.

In this instance the person was talking about frames and screens. Real industry experts talk about using tension meters to ensure that you have a suitably tense screen. The pretend expert in the video said that while he had a tension meter somewhere in the shop (he didn’t know where) it was okay to press the mesh and just make sure that it was “good and tight”. He also talked about bouncing a quarter on the mesh—the way the old timers did to test the tension.

Take advice from experts, not clowns posing as experts.

It’s this kind of nonsense that promotes the idea that screen printing is some kind of tee-hee, ha-ha, basement hobby. If you’re going to do screen printing seriously then take screen preparation seriously and use the technology available for the task. It starts with understanding the technology and selecting the best your budget can afford. There’s the frame (wood, fixed aluminum, or re-tensionable aluminum), the right mesh count for the job, the right mesh tension using a tension meter, and the right emulsion for the job.

Bouncing quarters on a screen or just pressing and guessing, might have been fine before we had today’s technology, but it’s not fine now. It’s not fine if you want to run a technologically sound shop producing consistent results in a competitive market.


Mount a customer charm offensive.

A charmed customer is a happy customer, is a loyal customer.

What’s the point of a customer charm offensive, and what is a charm offensive? There’s nothing magic or particularly new about it—think about it as nothing more than what should be an instinctive drive to be helpful and useful to your customers beyond just supplying them with product. Customers find this charming—it’s human nature.

In a textile screen shop there are probably a hundred ways in which you can be helpful and useful to your customers beyond just printing their tees, and hence charm them. And a charmed customer is more likely to be a loyal, repeat customer.

If you put your mind to it you can probably think of many ways in which your particular shop can charm its customers. I recently saw something that you might not ordinarily think about passing on to your customers. I’ve always been a fan of attaching tickets to garments with useful information, a little history perhaps, explanations of how to properly care for the garment, explanation of how the garment was produced in an environmentally responsible way, etc. etc.

But how about a ticket that explains how to make a Tee “vintage” soft, as many wearers nowadays like them. Apparently all you have to do is make a brine mixture of a quart of water and half a cup of salt. Soak the Tee in the brine for 3 days, wash it with just a dash of detergent, and then tumble dry. The result is said to be a tee with a soft “vintage” feel.

Customers might find this helpful and useful, and be charmed. And, as we know, a charmed customer . . .

A tip for you

Consider a dual-cure polymer emulsion.




Doesn’t matter if you’re experienced or new to the industry, you may be interested in why a respected industry expert favours a dual-cure polymer emulsion. He says that a single coat on each side of the screen will hold up well, yet reclaim easily. But, as always, experiment for yourself.

If it’s worth running this shop, it’s worth doing properly.

There can be many reasons for wanting to own a textile screen printing business, and it doesn’t matter what your particular reason is, as long as you understand that it’s a business to be taken seriously. This might seem like stating the obvious but it’s not.

Like many other small businesses, there are two necessary skills to owing and running a textile screen shop. There is of course the technical skill but then there is also the management skill. In many screen shops, particularly start-ups, the technical skills are there, and even when they’re not quite up to snuff, the emphasis is on developing and refining the technical skills. But therein lies a potential problem.

The early years in the life of a small business (the first year in particular) can be challenging. In a screen shop it’s when so much time is spent on the technical side of the business that the basic management side can be neglected. By basic management I mean cost control, pricing for profit, cash flow management, marketing and sales, staff hiring and management, and a whole lot of other things that can keep you awake at night. Wearing a lot of different hats is common among small business owners, but it’s particularly hard on a new business owner on a steep learning curve.

The answer? Get help. Find a mentor. Engage an accountant or bookkeeper to look after the financial stuff, get help in those areas you know little about or don’t have time to address. As you get various aspects of your shop under control and operating properly, you can start moving onto the others. Perhaps you can dispense with some of the help then. But don’t start out trying to be a superhero.

By the time your discover that there only 24 hours in a day, that you need sleep to function properly, that out-of-control workaholics have lousy family lives, and that finding help to plug the gaps you can’t handle can save your health and your business, it may be too late.

Don’t neglect the reading.

Oh, and make part of your relaxation away from work reading about business management and the technical aspects of textile screen printing. Blogs, books, newsletters, technical journals, business magazines—you can learn a lot of useful stuff from them.This might not sound like relaxation but you’re not going to be able to stop your brain thinking about the shop even when you’re not at the shop so you might as well let it absorb information useful to the shop—it will all help.

If a shop is worth running, it’s worth doing it properly.


A tip for you

Just because it’s water-based ink doesn’t make it “safe”.




Some people will tell you that water-based ink is safe because, well, it’s water based. Not so. Water based inks can contain “undesirable” elements. Don’t assume anything when it comes to what’s “safe” and what’s not. Investigate!


Expose your screen shop!

Listen, any monkey can screen print . . .

The internet is full of posts and videos promoting the idea that screen printing is simple. It’s all about D.I.Y.—any monkey can do it. Want to print your own Tees? No problem, just follow these few simple steps . . . get a wooden frame, some mesh, and a pot of emulsion . . .

I wonder how healthcare professionals would feel about this? Want to do your own colonoscopies? No problem, just follow these few simple steps . . . get a broomstick, a small spy camera, and a pot of grease . . .

And it’s not so much that the D.I.Y. crowd will lure away your customers, it’s more about promoting textile screen printing as a simplistic hobby-like activity. This undermines the industry’s standing as skilled occupation deserving of decent pricing for it’s product. For a long time pricing has been a thorny issue in the industry and it may in part be due to a lack of respect for the product and the skill exercised in producing it.

So how do you address this? One way is by promoting the truth about the skill and equipment it takes to produce a decent print on a Tee. And the best way to do that is to demonstrate to your customers (and anyone else interested) the entire process of producing a print—give them a shop tour. Show off your skills. Help them realize that there’s much more to producing a decent print than the D.I.Y. crowd will have you believe.

Perhaps this could be the first step to putting an end to the prevailing impression that any monkey can screen print so why should you get paid anything but peanuts?

Avoid junk accumulation

Accumulated junk.

Here is a tip for your business and home . . . Don’t accumulate stuff you don’t really need.

Not only is it silly from a financial perspective, bad from an ecological perspective, and a source of clutter stress, but it’s guaranteed be a major headache when you move.

We all move businesses and homes sooner or later and it’s then, during this high stress time, that you want to avoid having to make decisions about shipping or chucking. It’s the very worst time and circumstances in which to have to make these decisions.

The answer is to commit to an ongoing process of acquiring and keeping only what you really need and use. Chuck out, sell or donate the stuff you don’t need. Do this regularly. Do this in your home and your business. When moving day arrives, you’ll be very pleased that you didn’t leave the ship or chuck decisions to the very worst time—right before your move.

And in the meantime, between moves, you’ll live a less cluttered, less stressful, existence at home and at the business.

Customer delight

Delighted customer, happy to pay you!

A recent article by Gregory Ciotti for Shopify, “Customer Delight is About Giving Little Unexpected Extras”, made a point that cannot be repeated often enough. In fact, it’s so important yet still not appreciated by so many small business owners and staff, that it wouldn’t be unreasonable to line everyone up at the beginning of every day and make them chant, “Customer delight is about giving little unexpected extras!”

If, after this morning routine, anyone on staff doesn’t get the message, they should be terminated. And, as Ciotti points out, delight doesn’t necessarily mean falling over yourself to please a customer; it could mean having your business set up in a way that it meets customers’ expectations (and exceeds them whenever possible) without the customer even ever having direct contact with anyone in your business.

This means that customers get to decide what constitutes “delight”; research suggests that customers regard these as delightful experiences (in descending order):

  • Proactive help (teach me how to get more out of your product)
  • Consistently good service
  • Information about new products and services
  • Built personal relationship
  • Fast and friendly interaction
  • No unpleasant surprises
  • Service beyond expectation

How does your business stack up in delighting customers?


A tip for you

Think about your online strategy for 2018 and beyond.

Earlier this year a tip indicated that Generation Z (1996 and younger) will be 40% of all consumers by 2020 and 79 percent of them show symptoms of emotional stress when separated from their personal electronic devices. This is a reminder that as you approach the new year and think about future online marketing plans, you should be taking this into account.

Taking a break

I’ve seen a number of articles recently encouraging small business owners to schedule a break—as in take that vacation you need. This is an important mental and physical health topic. As a textile shop owner you may not want to admit that you really need a break and you may deny the negative impact on your health; don’t be foolish.

I’ve addressed the topic in my small business book. Let me quote one passage for those of you who don’t take vacations because you don’t believe that anyone else can be trusted to run your business for even a couple of weeks . . .

“You may want to take a cue from Karen, who needed a break badly while running her retail ceramics gift store in Calgary. She was in a predicament. She was determined to take a rejuvenating trip to Canada’s east coast but had no one to run the store for her. And so, she decided to close the store for three weeks. Closing a small business for a few weeks to take a vacation may not be unusual—but how she did it certainly was.

Driven by a concern that customers would be angry and perhaps wonder if she’d gone out of business, she hired a graffiti artist to paint a cartoon mural in her store window: a graphic depiction of her doing vacation things (sitting on the beach, eating lobster, etc.), along with the dates she planned on doing them. It worked as intended. Far from being angry or concerned, customers were amused and told a rejuvenated Karen so after she returned.”

There are creative solutions to your I-can’t-take-a-vacation dilemma. Your health demands it.

Stanley’s holiday hours

Taking it easy over the holidays.

Stanley’s (all branches) will be closed for the holidays from December 23rd (Saturday) to January 1st (Monday). Normal business will resume on Tuesday, 2nd January 2018.

And as we approach Christmas and the rest of the holiday period with all its frantic shopping and all the other stresses, here’s something from Dr. Seuss to think about . . .

“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

  • Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas.


This is distressing . . .

The distressed cap look.

It’s a bit of a paradox — fashionable elegance apparently requires inelegance. I’m referring to the increasingly common sight of jeans abraded, ripped, and torn until, in some cases, there’s more leg than denim on display — the epitome of inelegance, one would have thought.

But this is the distressed trend in fashion. Textile screen printers have been printing “distressed” designs for many years but “distressed” now encompasses garments too, not just prints. As a smaller textile shop accustomed to catering to a local market and willing to do labour-intensive work frowned upon by big production-oriented shops, you may be able to create a niche in your local cap market. Distressed fashion now includes caps.

All you need to distress a cap (a vintage style cap works best) is a Dremel tool with a wire brush attachment, coarse sandpaper, a pair of scissors, and a thread un-picker. You can then do to a cap in a few minutes what regular wear could take years to achieve.

It doesn’t matter why people would pay good money for a new cap that looks like an old cap, but while they do, you may as well take advantage of it.

A compromise in the screen printing versus direct-to-garment debate

The screen printing versus direct-to-garment debate rages on.

The direct-to-garment versus screen printing debate rages on among textile printers. The most common points argued are speed (screen printing is much faster), detail (d-to-g is more detailed), substrate (d-to-g doesn’t cope well with dark substrates), durability (screen printing lasts longer), and so on.

Well, while this debate continued, technology has been has been tackling the issue. The result is a hybrid printer. Images magazine reported on six different hybrid machines on show at Fespa 2017. For example, M&R’s DigitalSqueegee machine appears to take care of all the d-to-g versus screen printing arguments by combining the best of both technologies.

Here’s how it works . . . The garment is adhered to a pallet in the usual screen printing manner. It rotates under a screen where a white “underbase” is screen printed in the usual manner. Then it passes into a chamber where all the other colours are applied digitally on top of the white in one pass of a print head. It rotates out of the chamber and the garment is removed from the pallet and passed through a conveyor dryer in the usual manner. Done!

If you Google “DigitalSqueegee M&R” you’ll find a one-minute video of the process. They claim that it can produce 725 prints an hour.

Will this affect the average Canadian textile printer in the short or even medium term? Probably not. But it’s something to keep an eye on because typically, while new technology is initially only affordable by the bigger players, as time passes the price drops to where it is affordable by others too. This is when it can become a game changer.

A tip for you

Have you considered focussing on a particular customer type?

Continuing with the theme of finding and edge in the market, have you considered focussing on a specific industry or service with your printing? For instance, what about beauty salons? It’s a huge industry that uses uniforms, T-shirts, towels, and robes. Focus in business can be powerful.

A story with a message

Here’s Graham at Stanley’s Calgary branch a few days ago . . .

Keep it clean.

“We had a customer yesterday who desperately needed a repeat of a  gallon of red plastisol ink he’d had before. Usually this is no problem at all. As long as we have the Wilflex colour’s name or the 5-digit code, we can mix the exact match and have it ready in a few minutes. But in this case there was a problem.

He could no longer read the bucket label because of sloppy house-keeping procedures — it had been destroyed by first messing ink all over it and then probably trying to wipe it down with a solvent cleaner, who knows? Anyway, when this happens we have to try to identify which red it is from past records or try to colour match it by eye. This is time-consuming and sometimes difficult depending on the colour.

The lesson? In order to prevent contamination of colours and avoid ending up with buckets of mysterious, unnamed colours, remember that cleanliness is next to godliness when working with plastisol inks.”

Well said.


A tip for you

Select your Polyester ink carefully.


Polyester doesn’t just mean a single type of fabric anymore. There are different types of Polyesters on the market now. Light-weight inners, light and heavy-weight outer garments, single or multiple layers, weatherproof outerwear, suitable for sublimation, and so forth. These different Polyesters along with the usual Polyester bleeding issues, require the right ink. Select your Polyester ink carefully.

Mixed media could give your shop a boost

As we have mentioned here many times before, your textile shop is in a competitive market. Being a “me-too” shop is not the way to gain a competitive advantage. This is why “get-ahead” textile shops are always looking for a way to differentiate themselves from the competition; looking for something different to splash all over social media.

Something that can give your shop an edge is mixed media — printing combined with embroidery, rhinestones and printing, applique, tone-on-tone, to name just a few combinations.

Joint venture with someone to produce mixed media.

One doesn’t see a lot of this and the reason might be that printers assume that they’ll have to acquire equipment and expertise to accommodate the additional mediums. And while it’s appropriately cautious to not invest in equipment for something that’s experimental (at least initially), it doesn’t mean that you can’t experiment with mixed media. All you have to do is sub-contract or joint venture with others who have the equipment needed to produce the aspects of mixed media designs that you don’t have.

Think about it — some in the textile industry are talking about an increasing demand for mixed media decorated garments. This might give you an opportunity to get ahead of the competition and leave it to the “me-too” crowd to catch up.


Re-labeling as a specialty

Re-labelling of Tees and other imprintable  garments is not new. But it requires unpicking, removal of the original label, insertion of the replacement label and re-sewing. This has always been quite the labour-intensive process and demands a compelling reason to remove the original label to justify it. Later when direct-printed or transfer-applied labels came along it made the task a little easier but there was still a lot of unpicking and re-sewing seams involved.

All of this gave rise to specialist re-labelling services.

Then tear-aways came along and made the whole re-labelling process a lot easier. In the UK, embroidery and print shops have been demanding tear-away labels from manufacturers in their stock styles. This allows embroiderers and printers to bypass re-labelers by simply tearing out the original label and direct-printing or transferring a printed label.

But tear-aways have not meant the end of re-labeling specialists because while some only want their label to identify their brand, others at the upper end of the market want it to be an integral part of the aesthetics of the garment. The latter group are keeping labelling specialists in business.

How much does labelling play a part in your shop and brand?


A tip for you

Don’t overdo the squeegee strokes.




If you have a manual press and you’re relatively new to textile screen printing, you may be struggling with the number of strokes of the squeegee you need to get a decent print. You don’t have to “work” the ink into the garment. One stroke should do it but if you need additional coverage you can do a second stroke but do it in the same direction of the first stroke.

The humble Tee can still stir things up

Tees can still pack a powerful message.

CBC reported about ten days ago how a Tee with the simple message “The Future is Female” caused a much bigger stir than it was intended to do.

A student in Guelph, Ontario was told by one of her teachers that the Tee was inappropriate because it might make some boys feel uncomfortable, Yes, I know, poor little snowflakes!

Well, the student was upset enough about it to talk with her parents. Then she wrote a letter to the teacher, gave it to her, and posted it on Facebook. The result was swift and support for the student and her T-shirt took off. Fellow students, including boys, are buying the Tee and the principal told her that she was free to wear the shirt and stand up for her rights.

Here is one quote: “We at the school board would also like to applaud this student for her message on what this shirt means to her, explaining the intended movement behind the shirt and how it stands for many things, including equality, empowerment, and support for female health and well-being worldwide.”

Besides affirmation that this simple garment we print on every day still carries a punch, there is the business side of it. Find a message that resonates, stir things up a little, and you could have a winner.

A tip for you

You can’t print like this.

This is a particularly good tip if you’re new to screen printing. Keep ink off your hands while printing. Plastisol has a sneaky way of finding it’s way to where you don’t want it to be, particularly when you’re inexperienced. It finds its way onto container sides, lids, work surfaces, squeegee handles, frame edges, and then onto your hands. Once on your hands it’s only a matter of time until unwanted smudges begin to appear on your garments. So, be fanatical about cleanliness.