Owner: Greg Kitson
Year Established: 1980
Decorating Technique: Screen Printing, Direct to Garment Printing and Embroidery
Type of business: Contract & Retail Apparel Decorating
Screen Printing and Why a DTG Printer Makes Sense.
Q and A’s: (Interviewer Scott Colman, President ColDesi, Inc.) (Interviewee Greg Kitson, President, Mind’s Eye Graphics)
Hi Greg, to get us rolling, can you please give me a brief synopsis of your background in the Apparel Decorating Industry?
I started Mind’s Eye Graphics in 1980 as a back room operation of a small town family shoe store. By 1984 my one-man screen printing operation had replaced the shoe store and hired its first employee. Today, we have grown to provide custom and contract screen printing to decorated apparel professionals around the world. We offer industry specific technical training and business consulting at our Decatur, Indiana production facility as well as client locations.
Greg, can you give us an idea of what Mind’s Eye Graphics core business activities are? Customer Type, Equipment, Primary Decorating Methods?
Core business is screen printing on textiles. About 65-75% contract work, the balance in end user direct. The majority of our work is screen printing – with most of it being done on automatic screen printing presses. We also do embroidery and direct to garment printing.
I see that your core business has historically been focused on Screen Printing. A short while back you added Direct to Garment Printing. What spurred you to consider Direct to Garment, it’s very different than the concept of conventional screen printing?
We had been watching direct to garment printing since its serious inception about 7 years ago. I think I saw it for the first time at the Long Beach ISS show in 2005. We were like most screen printers at the time thinking it was perhaps a fad, and definitely not for us. As the market matured a bit we started to see the potential for it complementing the work we were already doing. I have always believed in the philosophy that the best defense is a good offense and it is better to learn new technologies earlier than later. We waited a while to let the marketplace settle out and then partnered with a provider we were confident could provide us with good equipment and support for the long run.
Makes sense… So at some point you had an “Ah ha” moment that lead you to this new decorating technique? What was that “Ah ha” moment?
I’m not sure I would call it an “ah-ha” moment so much as a realization that direct to garment was here to stay. We realized that we were not offering our customers as many options as they might like or need and direct to garment allowed us to fill a large part of that gap.
How long have you been doing the DTG process now and how many prints would you estimate you have done?
Our equipment was installed about 2 ½ years ago. I would estimate we print an average of 2-3 dozen per day, five days a week. Our work ranges from high color, short run garments for our retail customers (sports teams, church groups, school groups, etc.) to fulfillment for other apparel decorators who have not made the jump to direct to garment yet. One client actually sells a line of garments that includes 12 different images, in three image sizes on four different colors of garment – with three customizable lines of text on the back of each garment. To date we have done over 10,000 impressions for this client – with orders varying from a few dozen to over 200 garments per order. This is a job that we would never even considered doing with screen printing. It seems that every week we learn more and see more opportunities with our DTG’s. The direct to garment portion of our business has been an education for us, but I haven’t had to worry about sales from the DTG’s not making the loan payment as well as covering other costs – even in the early stages.
How do you determine which decorating technique is best for a particular job?
This is a major factor for screen printers and not an easy question to answer. The answer lies in a number of factors – probability of re-orders, number of colors, range of garment sizes (does the artwork need to fit youth through XXL shirts?) and the like. One benefit of direct to garment over screenprinting is the ability to produce a quick final output for approval as opposed to a mock-up on a computer. It can also help you “close the deal” by letting the client actually see their sample printed, the “wow” factor of direct to garment is high.
We have developed a formula to help our customers determine which decoration method makes the most sense. That is really key – instead of us telling them how we are going to print their shirts, we offer them two solutions from which to choose. A typical decorator can look over the Breakover Illustration and tailor it to his shop.
Wow, you have really come up with a pretty black and white process to help your client choose between DTG or Screen.
Do you have any case studies on designs or customers that you can share with us?
We just did a job for a church group that was returning from a mission trip to Haiti. They needed 27 shirts and wanted a picture printed on them. This job would have been 8 colors minimum to setup – $160 before we printed the first shirt – which would have forced them to either change their artwork or look elsewhere to have the garment printed. We presented them with their options, as well as a DTG-printed sample and we were able to print the 27 shirts on the DTG for a price that made sense to them and in less time than it would have taken to burn the screens and set up the press. Plus, the customer is comforted in knowing that they can get re-orders with no setup fees – definitely a win-win situation.
Thank you for the example, I think this helps fill in some of the blanks… What has been your biggest success with DTG… how about biggest challenge?
Our biggest success has been in doing items that are hard to screenprint, especially tote bags. We often offer these now as a “plus” to other jobs we do. By being able to offer the same image on a variety of garment types or textile items, we can increase our bottom line, while also adding value to our customer. Along the same line, we can offer items like infant sizes, sweat pants, and the like – screenprint the core sizes and garments and direct to garment print the “fringe” items. Herein also lies our biggest challenge – reasonable color matching between press and printer. We have done a good job of figuring out how to tweak our artwork to give a good match between the two methods.
I know that Mind’s Eye Graphics is well respected in the Apparel Decoration industry for quality work and ethical business dealings.
Please describe some of the services that you can provide to other Decorators, particularly other DTG owners?
I know that a lot of the customers that ColDesi sells to are start-up or small to mid size business. These type businesses are some of the hardest working folks in our industry. The problem is that they will sometimes run into orders that are too large for their DTG and they don’t want to source their screenprinting locally for fear of potentially losing their customer. We can fulfill their large screenprint order and also provide them with DTG ready artwork that they can use to fill in re-orders themselves. Basically this allows all of us to focus on our strengths and allows them to compete with the larger local screenprinters without fear of losing his customers. It is a win-win proposition. Another angle we can take is to screen print orders that will need variable data and provide you with a template to use to fill in the variable data information with your DTG. We can also help fulfill larger embroidery orders as well.
Thank you for all of this great information… As a closing, what advice would you give to either a Screen Printer or anyone else considering DTG as part of the business?
First off, don’t be afraid of this technology, it has matured immensely in the last 7 years and is at what I would consider a “plateau” right now. What do I mean by plateau? I don’t expect any radical developments in the next couple of years that will leave you wishing that you had waited 6-12 more months to get started. The first few years were that way. Companies like ColDesi and DTG have come up with very clever ways of handling the inherent issues with digital printing with white ink (ranging from white ink circulation to effective pre-treatment machines).
Once you get the equipment, take the time to learn the technology before going “live” with it to your customers. Resist the temptation to advertise the abilities before you have them mastered. Secondly, take any and all training offered. Be it from the distributor or at trade shows in the form of seminars. Knowledge is king.