Bob Dylan said it best. The times they are a changin’.

As people, we are the accumulation of our experiences. In this industry, I sure have had many wonderful examples of that.

My career in the decorated apparel industry began by accident. I was looking for a way to pay for architecture graduate school so I wouldn’t have to take out a student loan.

I handled the design end of things, and I hired friends for the sales.  This was back before the advent of personal computers, cell phones or other handy wizardry. Art used blue-line boards, Letraset rub-down type and a lot of patience. Scaling anything required a proportion wheel and a copy center. Sales was in-person.

Everything took time.

We contracted the printing to a local shop. They created the screens using my blue-line boards with a stat camera. It was always slow, meticulous work. (By the way this is where the term “camera ready” comes from.)

About a year into that an incredible tool came on board…the business computer. That changed everything.

Direction swerve!

I taught myself how to use Photoshop and Freehand during a Christmas break. I never went back to grad school and started down a different career path.  I started work in January with that same shop that printed my shirts.

Those first steps as an art director led me down a rich and rewarding journey. I made a ton of mistakes. I learned how to manage my time. I met my incredible wife as she worked for a client. I invented projects and tried new techniques just to learn how to do them.

As my responsibilities grew, I learned how to manage people. I made some industry friends that I still cherish today.

Constant growth forced me to learn to adapt to challenges. I constantly suggested new paths to take, so I earned a promotion to vice president of operations.

That’s when the real fun started happening.  As much as I like creating, solving problems is more rewarding.

I went down a greener road towards continuous improvement and sustainability. Eliminating waste. Creating value.

Employee development and training initiatives helped set the culture tone. Setting and achieving goals became my mission. I saved that company over $60,000 in one year through our sustainability efforts. Earned them an SGP Certification too. (The first apparel decorator to do so)

Then the bottom dropped out with the recession in 2009.  Lots of shops struggled during that time. In December of 2010, one month from my eighteenth anniversary with that company, they let me go.

Devastation. Eighteen years with one company is a long time.  I felt betrayed and abandoned.

What I didn’t know was that was the best thing that could ever have happened to me.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?

I started my consulting and coaching business the next day. I started my blog. I started writing for the trade magazines such as Impressions or Printwear. I started speaking at trade shows.

Taking those lemons and making my own special blend of lemonade proved to be the catalyst I needed. My career took off as I started down the on-ramp to a longer journey.

I spent most of 2011 in shops around the country coaching and teaching. I went to Visual Impressions in Milwaukee for a two-week efficiency improvement consultation. I ended up staying for five years as their COO.  Earned them a SGP certification too. By the time I left our team dropped the cost per imprint by nine cents an impression.

Another incredible road traveled.

Involvement with Wisconsin leadership groups taught me different industries have the same challenges. Giving back to the industry brought me new opportunities and friends. Thanks to PromoKitchen, PPAI, SGIA and SGP.  Serving with these groups has taught me more than they could know.  Always learning…

I left Visual Impressions in the spring of 2016 after my five-year contract was up. Started coaching shops again. Big or small, east or west, I’ve helped plenty.

Guess what?

All that was prep work for my newest leg of my decorated apparel industry journey.

One thing that I always longed for was a great production tool to help make sense of the craziness. Something to make better decisions. That’s easy to use. That’s logic based and has powerful automation, analytics and metrics.  The “easy” button for proactive planning.

I’ll bet that you want that too.

Lets face it, there are a lot of software platforms out there, but they are all order gathering based. It’s great to develop sales.

After that, what happens? Few do much for the production end of the stick, which is where most shops struggle. If you are still at the shop at 10:38 pm and frustrated because orders have to ship tomorrow, I’m sure you can relate.

What is your daily capacity? How efficient is your production? What happens if you take that rush order for Friday? Who is the best production crew in the shop based on metrics? How can you make your shop more efficient and profitable?  How does this year compare to last year? We’re busier, but we aren’t making any more money.  What happened?

I’ve listened to these challenges and more over the years.  These questions have been at the top of my mind for quite a long time. I know they are on yours, because I hear them constantly still.

What if there was a dashboard tool that made sense of it all?

Good news. It’s coming.

This Florida guy has moved to the desert to work in Phoenix with the brainiacs with InkSoft. I’ll be coaching shops still, as I’m starting a Professional Services division. You’ll see more and better content with videos, webinars and of course my blog. But the crown jewel I’ll be championing is the Inksoft Production Manager tool.

It is going to rock.

But, it’s early. We’re starting from scratch and the development has begun.

We would love your input. What are your scheduling issues? What matters to you most? When you fire up your computer in the morning, what would you want to see first thing?

List your top challenges and send them to me at

If you’d like to subscribe to the update feed for the new InkSoft Production Manager software, please click here and enter your info. As news as developments are released, you’ll be the first to know in the industry.  Get to the head of the line early.

Like I’ve been doing for the past few years, I want to help make your shop better. InkSoft is giving me a larger platform to accomplish that.  I’m here to help.  Please reach out.

Change is a good thing. I’m still on my journey!


Here’s what Bob says:

“Come gather around people

Wherever you roam

And admit that the waters

Around you have grown

And accept it that soon

You’ll be drenched to the bone

And if your breath to you is worth saving

Then you better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone

For the times they are a-changing”




Boom!  In a business context, what does that word mean to you?

  • Gigantic explosion of new business?
  • Disintegration, as chunks of your sales channels and market share fly away in a cloud of smoke?


This article is a just a pondering “What if?”.  It is for planning purposes only.  These days everyone is a little touchy, so I want to point that out.

Conversation starter.  Not argument starter.

Here’s the set up.  President Trump has declared that he is going to renegotiate the trade policies of the United States to favor domestic manufacturing above all else.  He hates NAFTA.  He hated TPP.  He is a deal maker and he wants a better deal.

Showing the world who is boss means one thing for US imports:


He’s big on walling off and being divisive.  Soon, it’s going to cost more to ship stuff into the good ol’ USA.  How much more, nobody is certain.  My magic 8 ball is a little hazy at the moment.

Adding cost for landed garments to the United States decorated apparel industry could mean something significant though:

More shirts sewn stateside.  More shirts decorated stateside.


Except there may not be enough companies to handle that work.  Think about it.  How many garment manufacturers for this industry actually make their blanks in the US currently?  

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the United States currently employs only 129,400 people that manufacture textiles.  That’s down from 938,600 in 1990.  Those jobs are gone.  That equipment is gone.  That knowledge is gone.  A lot has changed in 27 years.

Gildan buying American Apparel suddenly looks like an even better move for the Canadian company.  Although nothing is manufactured like it was in 1990.  The use of technology and automation has changed the landscape.  What will they do with that opportunity?

Still, most everything is imported.  97% of all apparel and 98% of all shoes are imported into the US, according to the American Apparel and Footwear Association.  How much of a difference could new domestic manufacturers make?  Will new manufacturing companies even move the needle?

I was speaking with an industry colleague last week.  He was complaining about the looming sourcing challenge facing large apparel programs.  These are the one that currently are sourced on another continent and shipped in.  The production lead time for these extends into quarters.  There is tremendous pressure right now to find domestic apparel sewing facilities that can handle the scale of business.  The thought of large tariffs, the end of TPP and soon the end of NAFTA, has these folks scrambling.  They want better answers now as they fear what’s coming.

Even nearshore manufacturing isn’t safe, as Trump wants to build his Mexican wall funded by these tariffs.  The money for that albatross has to come from somewhere.  He has big problems with Mexico, but will that extend to the Dominican Republic?  Haiti?  Costa Rica?  Other usual trade and manufacturing partners in the nearshore South American region?

Oh, you don’t decorate millions of shirts a year?

You are in the crosshairs on this too.  Look at the shirts stacked up on carts and tables in your shop right now.  Doubtful many say “Made in the USA” on the neck labels.  This problem is going to hit you squarely in the face sooner or later when Trump’s trade ideas go through.

More US Apparel Manufacturing?

If you want to get into the shirt manufacturing and sewing business within the continental US this could be an opportune time.  A great example to follow would be to look at the impact that Shinola has with bringing manufacturing back to Detroit.  Can someone do that for apparel and textiles in North Carolina?  Lowell, Massachusetts?  California?  There may be a lot of political juice to get something going.  I’m sure Dov Charney is foaming at the mouth about this opportunity.  Plus, he’s got a chip on his shoulder anyway.

Of course if domestic shirt production ramps up, someone has to decorate these garments!  Contract decorators may soon see a big jump in business.  Maybe Trump’s unfocused plan could be a good thing?  It’s too soon to tell.  More magic 8 ball unclarity.


Trump seems headstrong to upset a lot of businesses.  Depending on if your business is in the US or not, this may mean something different to you.  Currently most import tariffs are around 2%.  Trump wants to increase this, but he’s been all over the map with the number.  He’s stated 5%.  He’s stated 10%.  He’s stated 20% for Mexico imports.  He’s stated 35%.  If something is from China, it’s a whopping 45%.  Trump hates China evidently.

His modus operandi seems to be declare something outlandish and then back down to a fallback position that is still high, but less inflammatory.  Still high somehow looks “normal”.

Will the real number be that far out?

Plan for the Worst

For the sake of argument, let’s pretend the apparel blanks entering into the US cost 35% more.  Plan for the worst, right?

How will that affect your business model?  It might be positive.  It might be negative.  It all depends on where you sit in the industry.


Either way, there should be some sort of conversation in your shop.   At least crunch the numbers.


What are you going to say to your customers?  Will you need to revamp your pricing?  Maybe all you need to insert is the percentage increase.  Customers are well aware of Trumps plans.  It’s inescapable news content.  But will they understand when it hits them in the wallet?  Hmmm.  I think not.

Maybe if you are already using a Made in the USA blank, you can use this as an opportunity to find more margin.  Those shirts won’t be hit with the border tax.  That is, of course, if the Made in the USA blank is actually cheaper.  Most aren’t.  Which is why 97% are made somewhere else.  It is circular logic.


Outside the US

Also, maybe you don’t live in the United States.  Plenty of my blog readers don’t.  (thank you for reading by the way!)

Will Trump affect your daily decisions? I’d love to hear how something like this would affect you.  (Leave a comment below! – Be nice!)


Vocabulary (no tests!)

Let’s look at some key definitions (all sourced from Wikipedia):

Made in the USA – The Made in USA mark is a country of origin label indicating the product is “all or virtually all” made in the United States. The label is regulated by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC).  See below for the definition of Rule 16 CFR 303.

In general, goods imported into the United States must have a country of origin label unless excepted.  Requirements to label domestic content include automobiles, textiles, wool, and fur products. Any voluntary claims made about the amount of U.S. content in other products must comply with the FTC’s Made in USA policy.

FTC Textile Fiber Rule 16 CFR 303 – The Textile Fiber Rule requires that certain textiles sold in the United States carry labels disclosing the generic names and percentages by weight of the constituent fibers in the product, the manufacturer or marketer name, and the country where the product was processed or manufactured.

This is why shirts have to have neck labels with fabric content and country of origin.  It is this law.

Import Tariff – A customs duty is the indirect tax levied on the import or export of goods in international trade. In economic sense, a duty is also a kind of consumption tax. A duty levied on goods being imported is referred to as an import duty. Similarly, a duty levied on exports is called an export duty.  What you call it depends on what side of the fence you sit.

Nearshoring – is the outsourcing of business processes to companies in a nearby country, often sharing a border with the target country. Both parties expect to benefit from one or more of the following dimensions of proximity: geographic, temporal (time zone), cultural, social, linguistic, economic, political, or historical linkages. 

Offshoring – is the relocation of a business process from one country to another.  Typically it is an operational process, such as manufacturing.  Most often this is focused on cheaper labor costs.  Access to materials and supplies can also factor into the logistics.  While nearshoring application is about trade with a neighboring country, offshoring pushes that trade across the planet.

NAFTA – is the North American Free Trade Agreement.  It was enacted in 1994 and eliminated most of the tariffs between the US, Canada and Mexico.  This agreement opened up the floodgates of business activity, and in 2016 there was a $63 billion dollar trade deficit with Mexico. In 2016, the trade deficit with Canada was $11 billion.  This agreement saw lots of companies set up facilities in Mexico and send their goods into the US for sale.  Consumers saw prices drop.  Manufacturing companies in the US closed their doors, as they couldn’t compete with the cheaper labor.  This is the agreement Trump wants to replace.

TPP – was the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement.  This was pending legislation that Trump signed away with an executive order in early 2017.  The free trade deal was to lower barriers between Japan, Vietnam, Australia and the United States.  Companies like Nike and Reebok were tremendously in favor of this agreement, as this geographic area is their manufacturing base.

Trade Deficits – in terms of how the United States trades business with the world.  America is a consumer nation.  We buy more stuff than we sell because we have the money to do so.  Here are the top trade deficits for the country for 2016:

  • China – $579 billion traded with a $347 billion deficit.
  • Canada – $545 billion traded with a $11 billion deficit.
  • Mexico – $525 billion traded with a $63 billion deficit.
  • Japan – $196 billion traded with a $69 billion deficit.
  • Germany – $164 billion traded with a $65 billion deficit.

So, What Now?

Trump sees these trade deficits as something to change.  He’s a business guy, and not a social justice reformer, so this where he wants to make his mark.  How goods coming into this country will be taxed is the vehicle that he will use to handle it.  The cornerstone of “Make America Great Again” has a lot to do with his vision of international trade.  Trump wants to kick ass and chew bubble gum.  By the way, he’s out of bubble gum.

To me, there are three basic ways your company needs to look at any US tariff increase discussion:

  • Direct impact in a positive way –  Simply put, if the cost per garment blank due to a tariff should go up your business is poised to make more money.  Is this you?  Maybe you’ve taken an inventory position and stocked up.  Maybe you grow your own cotton, produce your own blanks, and decorate your own shirts like Cotton of the Carolinas and TS Designs.  Whatever happens, the surge pricing for blanks won’t affect you negatively…in fact it will benefit you in some manner.  You are already giggling your way to the bank.  Will that last?
  • Direct impact in a negative way – any price increase due to a tariff will be an incredible buzz kill.  The only way to offset this is to increase your prices to your customers.  They won’t like it.  Will there be backlash?  Will this start a round of price shopping?  Do you offset this by eating into your margin a little to keep business and avoid any drama?  Some tough decisions are headed your way.  You hate the guy above with a passion.  You should work on using the lemons to make lemonade.
  • No impact.  Your shop is in the Philippines or Australia.  Maybe England, or somewhere else.  Anywhere but America.  What the US does or doesn’t do won’t affect you at all.  It’s a raised eyebrow, another sip of tea and then back to work doing your own thing.  Those Yanks are crazy.  This is where it gets interesting though.  After listening to the US bark like a mad junkyard dog, the US neighbors just go about their business and ignore the noise.  If you are running a print shop in Manilla, you aren’t too concerned with what happens in Ohio.  Unless of course you are printing for the swoosh.

Ramping Up

The challenge looming of course is that adding apparel manufacturing production will take planning, capital investment and logistics.  You just can’t flip a switch and presto!, shirts are shipping tomorrow.

The business opportunity here is for those that gamble that something is going to happen and are set up for that situation early.  The window from an action to other businesses catching up could be a limited one.  A year?  Two?  Less?  Trump’s idea has to worm its way through the 115th Congress.

Trump has a lot of power cards to play, as the Republicans control  Congress.   The House of Representatives (239 to 193, with 3 seats open) and the Senate (52 to 46 with 2 independents) have clear majorities. Expect lots of positioning, posturing and rhetoric before it is all said and done.  Which in the end will mean Trump’s tariff bill passes.

Can a business lasso a hunk of the market in that window?  Only their sales team will know.  How much growth and market share can you capture if you get a head start?


For apparel blank distributors, there is one obvious question.  Can they increase their inventory position and ship it in early to avoid the tariff hike, but sell it quickly enough to cover the added carrying costs?  My guess is that we might see warehouses a little more stocked than usual.

This is when it pays to have some brainiacs on your payroll.


Lot of Questions Unanswered

Will there be a sudden increase in American apparel manufacturing?  Will apparel companies just offset the tariff with  price increases, as that’s easier?  How long of a window will this industry have before there is a significant increase?

Let’s not also forget that many of the materials we use in our shops are also imported into the country.  Will the cost of production rise when the ingredients for ink, emulsion or thread and other products get hit too?  The supply chain isn’t commenting much.  I would love to hear their side of the story.

Whatever happens, you’ll be better off if you start planning now for it.  Now my magic 8 ball says, “Worry”.


Not a fan of an increased border tariff?  Click here to sign the petition.


“Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer.  Let us not to seek to fix the blame for the past.  Let us accept the responsibility for the future.” – John F. Kennedy

“We contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle.” – Winston Churchill

“Beware of little expenses.  A small leak will sink a great ship.” – Benjamin Franklin


Risky Business: Repetitive Motion


Repetitive motion.  That two word phrase defines the decorated apparel industry.

Regardless if you are a screen-printer, embroiderer, or digital print shop, your workers repeat the same task all day.

Yet, most shops don’t spend much time training the staff how to do things properly from an ergonomic point of view.  In any task, there’s a right way and a wrong way to approach the job.  When it comes down to it, our industry is based on the physicality of our workforce.

Even the most automated shops still require people to run the machines.

Pulling squeegees.  Mixing ink.  Hooping garments.  Loading garments on press.  Cutting with scissors.  Counting shirts.  Packing boxes.  Lifting.  Sorting.  Shipping.  Cleaning.  Typing.

You name it, we do it.

Yet, is it done properly?  Have you set your employees up for success to make sure they understand the proper way to stand?  To sit?  How to lift that box?  How posture comes into play?  How to work a full day and not have a sore back or achy feet?

What if we defined our work group instead of just employees, but as “Industrial Athletes”

I know, quit giggling.  I’m serious.

In a sports setting, great care is emphasized for the players to keep themselves in shape.  To stretch and warm up before participating.  To wear the proper clothing and footwear.  To perform a certain way with proper technique to maximize the efficiency and power, while minimizing the chances of pain and injury.  To listen to coaches as they point out weaknesses and push the team to improve.

I think there is a lot we can learn from sports to apply to our businesses.

What if you thought about your staff as a sports team?  Do you think your overall performance and efficiency would go up if you emphasized the proper technique for each work task?

You already made sure that the equipment and supplies were the best available. What if you focused more attention to the “how” your workers are completing each activity?


Consider the word “Ergonomics” from the Greek origins.  Ergon means work.  Nomics means natural.  In other words, “Work Naturally”.

Think about the culture in your shop regarding health and safety.  Do you have a user friendly workplace?  Answer these questions:

  • Does your shop take responsibility and provide a workplace that reduces the ergonomic challenges associated with the tasks?  
    • For example, are tables raised to prevent back injuries?
    • Do you have ergonomic keyboards or mouse pads with gel cushions for the wrists?  
    • What other examples can you name?
  • Do you have cushioned mats for workers to stand on, instead of bare concrete?  Are they new or ripped up and torn from years of abuse?
  • Do you have large touch screen computer monitors instead of keyboards in the shop?  What type of automation or barcodes have you implemented to reduce typing or data entry? 
  • Do you train your workers to “lift with their legs” for boxes?
  • Do you hand out free PPE (personal protective equipment) such as gloves, ear protection, or safety glasses?  Do you train your staff in how to use them?  Are they mandatory?
  • Do you train at least once a year on ergonomics, injury prevention and safety training?
  • Do you train your staff in the techniques of their job to prevent injury?
  • Do you schedule regular break periods?
  • Do you have a company wellness program?
  • Do you have an employee handbook, and suggest proper attire such as shoes that offer support?
  • Have you noticed a decline in overall job performance or possibly some quality control challenges?  This may be due to a workplace ergonomic challenge.
  • Do your employees report injuries to their supervisors, or are they afraid to say anything?
    • Possible injuries include pain or aches in the hands, wrists, arms, neck, joints, back, legs or feet.
    • Also be on the lookout for numbness, cramping, fatigue, strains, burning sensation, weakness, swelling, stiffness, redness or tingling in an affected area.
    • Look for these too: reduced grip strength in one or both hands, reduced range of motion, tension and/or stress headaches, dry/itchy or sore eyes, and double or blurred vision.
    • If you are reading this article and work in the shop…how many of the above symptoms do you have right now?  Have you said anything?
  • Have you had a record of any workplace injuries in the past?  Strains, muscle pulls, carpal tunnel injuries?  What happens if something occurs?  Do you make any changes to prevent it from happening to someone else?  How often are you reviewing your OSHA 300 logs or supporting OSHA 301 forms?

Prevention is the Key

According to a 2014 study by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 38.9% of occupational injuries involving days away from work were the result of a muscle sprain of some sort.  This resulted in over 420,000 worker injuries and had an average of ten days away from work.

Have you put any emphasis into injury prevention?

Musculoskeletal injuries and disorders are the largest category of workplace injuries and are responsible for almost a third of all worker’s compensation costs.  That’s a big chunk of change.

Think about how we work in our shops.  How often is someone picking something up that weighs 30 lbs or more?  What happens if they twist to load it onto a table or skid?  How often is someone bent over?

In production, workers are constantly twisting with their upper torso.  Printing, loading, catching, and moving around.  Are they working in an athletic position?  Knees slightly bent, feet shoulder width apart?  What happens to the feet when the work is being performed?  Do they stay locked into place, so the entire leg twists?  How much pressure is being placed on the knees or ankles?  Consider the amount of stress that may be causing over time.

How we work is important.

What is the relationship between the worker and the machine or table near them?  Do they stoop over to use it, because they are tall?  Do they have to reach up and over because they are short?  Even a few inches of help could make a big difference for that worker by the end of the day.

So now that you are worked up and worried, what can a shop do to prevent injuries or emphasize worker safety better?

Here are some thoughts:

  • Talk to your staff.  What do they need?  Are they complaining about fatigue?  Discomfort?  If you ask, they will tell you.
    • Also, maybe you have noticed your crew changing something about their workstation on their own to make it more comfortable.  Ask them why?  If something is a good idea in one area, maybe you could expand it for the rest of the shop.
  • Identify where your problems are by getting out on the floor and observing.  You won’t know anything sitting behind your desk postulating.  Watch your crew work.  Who is struggling?  Can you adjust something to make it a better ergonomic fit?
    • Look at three things and consider their impact on the work being performed:
      • The Duration of the activity without relief or a break.
      • The Frequency, which is the cycle time between the repetitive task.
      • The Magnitude, which is how much effort is spent doing the task.
  • Look at your worker’s clothes, especially their shoes.  You want comfortable support.  Flip flops or bedroom slippers aren’t a good choice.  Yes, I’ve seen those.  
    • Personally, I’ve worn low-rise hiking shoes for years, as they are light and offer great support.
  • Eliminate excessive force.  When you have to really exert a tremendous amount of effort to do something, you are risking injury.  Is there a better way?  Maybe that ink is really stiff on a cold morning and needs a stir before using.  Instead of your Goop Scoop, try a mixing blade with a power drill.  Think through your problem and see if there’s an alternative solution.  Work smarter, not harder.
  • Excessive Repetition.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a job is considered highly repetitive if the cycle time is 30 seconds or less.  Well, that just about defines our entire industry in production.  While you want to be conscious of reaching your production goals, it’s important to remember that there are people doing the work.  A good idea to help prevent any repetitive stress injury is to take breaks, and even switch out workers in tasks.  Rotate your crews into different job functions throughout the day.  This keeps them up on training for different roles, and also makes their day more interesting so they are paying attention.
  • Posture is key.  Watch how your staff works.  Are they slouched over?  Do they look uncomfortable?  Awkward posture positions puts excessive force on different body parts and can overload muscles and tendons on an affected joint.  Over time, injuries can occur.
  • Poor work practices.  You should be looking for good body mechanics.  Are they practicing good lifting techniques?  (Squatting down with bent knees, back straight, using the leg muscles to lift.  Not your arms or back.)
  • Be careful.  Have you seen a 120 lb person move a 900 lb skid fully loaded with t-shirts across the shop floor and have to suddenly stop or change direction?  I have.  It’s frightening.
  • Can you change how you perform the work?  Pushing a squeegee exerts less stress than pulling.  Can you adopt a different method?  Maybe use a hand-truck to move that heavy box?
  • Do you promote mentoring?  Have the old guard train the new workers.  People who have been handling these chores for years will often know the best way to stand, sit or move to complete the task easily.  Pair up newbies with veterans and rotate them around as part of their on-boarding.  Specifically list what they are to learn.
  • Poor nutrition, fitness and hydration.  If we consider our workforce to be industrial athletes, how do you think the staff’s personal choices relate to their performance in their daily tasks?  
    • Consider how an professional athlete connects the relationship between their diet and overall fitness, and how our work staff thinks about it?  
    • How many people on your staff would be out of breath just climbing one flight of stairs?  In a production environment, I’ll bet there is a correlation between overall physical fitness with the amount of work completed by the end of the day.  What have you seen?

Many insurance companies offer free ergonomic consultants to come in and review your workplace.  Preventing injuries is less costly than insurance claims.  Check with your insurance agent and see if this may be available to you.

Larger companies often have an HR department than can facilitate worker safety and ergonomic programs.  Smaller shops often just don’t have the manpower, and will have to do it themselves.  All is not lost though.  Gather your interested parties and seek help.  Get a committee together and refine your program by establishing some priority goals.  Do a self audit just by walking around and list the top items you see that could payoff quickly.  Make sure you talk to your staff about what they need.

You can do it!


“Success is no accident.  It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice, and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.” – Pele

“Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.” – Confucious

“Success isn’t always about greatness.  It’s about consistency.  Consistent hard work leads to success.  Greatness will come.” – Dwayne Johnson

Shop Tech Solutions


Not so many years ago, our industry operated with simpler tools.  Squeegees and ink.  Needles and thread.  Maybe a whiteboard or spreadsheet for scheduling.

Remember when you used to plaster parking lots with flyers for your shop?  That was caveman social media.

These days things are far more complicated.

Whether you are the “one-man band” and operate your business by yourself, or your shop has a multitude of employees and is an around-the-clock juggernaut, there is one thing that can help simplify your business:


The use of tech in your business can extend the number of things you are working on simultaneously.  It can make a particular challenge easier.  It can handle a specific task faster.  It can save you money.  Or, it’s just plain cool.

For this article I’m purposely avoiding production equipment and shop operating systems.  I know, I know.  I’ll get to those with another article.

Interested in that?  Check out this outstanding issue of Screenprinting that is dedicated to automation.  Especially my article on page 30 “Five Steps to Take Control of Your Printroom.”

Let’s take a look:


Are your customers sending you orders or requests via text message or even Facebook Messenger?

Do you find that annoying?

“Dadgummit! Why can’t people email like they are supposed to?  How dare they contact me with a method that’s convenient for them!  What are they thinking?”

It is simple.  Because texting is easier. Why talk when you can just type?  For younger users, it’s probably the preferred method.

In our got-to-have-it-now truncated universe, texting eliminates the need for any social norms.  It gets down to the nitty-gritty without any “hey how are you?”.

It just doesn’t fit well with our established industry business model that is based on emails or even talking on the phone.  I’m old enough to remember when emailing started.  Are you?

Text messaging for communication isn’t going anywhere.  In fact, as your customer demographic changes to skew towards a younger generation, text usage will continue to increase.  You can either adapt, or become irrelevant.

That frustration you are feeling now?  It’s just going to get worse without some sort of change.  But there is a solution on the horizon!

Instaply is an app that you can use to redirect this challenge to suit your needs.

The trick here is that you can build the communications backend in Instaply with pre-written messages to handle those after hours requests.  Better yet, you can turn the tables on your customers that prefer to use text messages by sending them their art approvals, invoices or other business files to them via text.  Make that communication channel work for you, instead of against you.

Emails often go to spam filters or sometimes are never opened.  Conversely, 98% of all text messages are read within three minutes of receipt.  You know this is true, because you read text messages instantly too.  We all do it.

What’s really great is that in Instaply you can seamlessly handoff text message conversations to other members of your team.  It’s all recorded in one text stream, regardless of how many members of your staff are handling the questions.

  • “Hey can I get a new quote with hoodies instead of t-shirts”?  Have a customer service rep take over.
  • “What if the logo was blue?” – new art approval coming your way!
  • “Can you send me an updated invoice?”  In the admin, shoot that over to your accounting team.
  • “What’s the tracking number for that shipment?” Get their sales rep or your shipping folks involved.

For the security minded this is a fantastic tool.  Instaply removes that text message chain off of your employee’s phones and into a saved channel.  Those business conversations are kept with the company, not on anyone’s cell phone.  If someone was to leave your company, all of that dialog history stays with you.

There is even a webpage widget that you can apply to your website to install the text messaging communication as the first round of contact.  Many people just want answers, not necessarily to “talk” to anyone.  This solves that problem.  And at $100 a month for your entire company, it’s an inexpensive elegant solution.

Want to learn more?  You can book a free demo by texting “T-Shirt” to (805) 204-7138.  Ask for Don.  He’s a nice guy.

Pantone Lighting Indicator Stickers

Have you ever nailed that PMS color in production only to have your customer call you and complain that the printed result doesn’t match their swatchbook?  How are you ever going to win that argument?  You know you printed it right!

Here’s how.

Can stickers be considered tech?  Make sure your customer is viewing the color in the correct lighting temperature with these easy to apply lighting indicator stickers from Pantone.  Yes, colors can change in different lighting conditions.  The quality of the light can make a critical difference on how color is viewed by the human eye.

There are two types of patches to apply to your sample.  Under ideal lighting conditions, they will match.  If the lighting isn’t quite right, the patches will appear to be different.  This ensures that your work mixing and printing the ink color is being viewed by your customer with the optimal lighting.  If it matched on your end, it will match on their end.

Do things the right way and be confident in your color reproduction.

For graphic reproduction use the D50 series Pantone Lighting Indicator Stickers.  They are $55 a sheet, which may seem expensive to some shops.  However, to ensure proper color communication with a nit-picky or a critical client that may be cheap. 

My Pantone App

Speaking of Pantone colors, have you ever wondered what color something might be in front of you?  Want to double check that you mixed that hue correctly?  Did your client just request you print that logo in 7653 but you aren’t in your office to check your PMS book?

Did you know that Pantone has an app that you can use with your phone to find out?  The My Pantone app works with all devices and for only $7.99 it’s a deal.  

After you download the app it wants you to ensure you are set up properly with using the X-Rite color calibration tool.  This is an extra expense and logical step.  So if you truly are interested in making your cell phone or iPad an accurate tool, then you’ll need to go this route.

But, the app works great without it too.

What’s nice is that all of the Pantone books available are now loaded on your phone.  Sure, they aren’t a directly printed official match, but if you want to view a color easily it may be a way to go.  Phone screen color cast be damned.

Don’t have $130 to blow on a proper Pantone book?  This may be a cheaper, but albeit not perfectly accurate, route for color matching.  For salespeople or customer service reps that just want to view what a particular color looks like for conversational purposes, this may be perfect.

It’s easy to use.  Just take a picture of something with the app.  There is a focus tool that works with your finger to dial in the area you want to review for the color match. I’ve played around with it with some printed pieces I had available.  Like the Pantone stickers above, you’ll need good neutral lighting for the app to work best.  It still gives you some good readings and may be helpful in your shop.

For designers, there’s a great feature that shows five color harmony selections for any color.  This could be a wonderful tool if you are working on a project and need the exact color wheel opposite of PMS 7421.  (It’s PMS 2266 by the way)  It also shows the cross references for any color in all of the Pantone books at a glance.  So when your customer says their Pantone color blue is 70-5-3 C, you can instantly determine that PMS 2757 C is the perfect match.

And that’s not all!

The app also gives you LAB, CMYK, RGB and HTML numbers for every color too.  No need to run to Photoshop to look those up any longer if you are trying to convert.

Just go to your app store to purchase it.  You’ll never know when inspiration may hit.

Ink Mixing Systems

Speaking of color, can your shop accurately mix ink for any Pantone color in just a few minutes?

Plenty of shops, especially smaller ones, just use ink right out of the bucket because they lack the special skill in ink mixing.  Not everyone has an eye for color or has the artist background to know how to mix for color matching.

When someone does request a particular color, either they order that ink from their supplier or they try to stumble through and mix it themselves through the age-old trial and error method.  That’s how that quart you needed for that job wound up being a gallon.  Or more.  And it still wasn’t quite right.

Why struggle?  Why limit the numbers of crayons in your design box too?

Both of the two top ink companies, Wilflex and Rutland, offer online ink mixing systems that can take the burden out of this chore.

These are component based systems.  You start with a digital scale.  Everything is measured in grams, so you’ll need that scale to go to .01 for exact mixes.  Zero it out with your bucket, and then add the right amount of the ink base, plus all of the pigments needed to make the color built on the pre-calibrated formula.

A pro tip is to use inexpensive condiment bottles for the thinner pigments so you can add them by a drop or two easily.  For thicker pigments, just use your mixing blade.

This type of workflow works for plastisol, waterbase and silicone inks.  Just like in music, it’s all about the base.  No treble.

The Wilflex IMS 3.0 system is what I’ve used professionally and it’s very convenient and easy to use.  You can repurpose one color of ink to mix another, which will save you money in the long run.  Imagine using 2500 grams of PMS 186 to mix PMS 202?  Yep, the system calibrates it for you.  You can create and save custom ink mixes and even print bucket labels too.  The new Rio system has added two more pigments to the line-up for even truer Pantone color matching.

Rutland’s version is from the Rutland Group Color Center and is called the DMX system.  This mixes for Rutland, QCM, Printop and Union inks.

Regardless of the ink platform, the tech application here minimizes the headaches and flattens the learning curve in mixing colors.  Plus, you can mix only the amount of ink you need for a job as the formulas are based on grams, not the size of the bucket.  Professionals are specific about their printed color, and with such an easy way to manage your ink workflow, you need to get this technology working for you.

Don’t limit your shop’s color selection because mixing is “too hard” or “too expensive”.

Shop Floor Plans

Ever wish you had a professional planning guide to play around with shop layout and workflow?  Sure, it’s easy to just sketch things out on a pad of paper.  However, nothing beats the thrill of dragging and dropping your shelving, equipment and other things in a computer program.

So, what can a small business use that’s not too pricey?

How about SmartDraw?  I discovered this app when I was looking up something else online.  There is a one week free trial, and then after that it’s 14.95 per month, billed annually.  Which means, ahem, get your planning completed in the first week or so.

When you log in, the site shows mostly residential housing but if you click through you can find the commercial building section.  It is fantastically easy to drag walls out to make them larger, or add a doorway somewhere.  Just click and enter the dimensions of your floorplan.  Add in everything in your shop.

Want to work on your workflow and shop efficiency?  Get some basic measurements down and enter them into SmartDraw.   Flip stuff around.  Brainstorm on how changing your workflow direction might work if you put your shipping department on the other side of the room.  Want to add embroidery or a DTG printer?  Plan where that work area could squeeze in with your existing floor plan challenges.

This app answers the question “What if we did it this way?”


Many shops struggle with growing their social media accounts.  Is there anything that can help?

For Twitter, TweetBuzz is a service that allows you to enter specific keywords, hashtags, names or other user defined keywords.  The service will automatically follow accounts based on these preferences for you.  After three days, if they haven’t followed you back TweetBuzz unfollows the account automatically.  #winning

I have to admit that I was leery about having a service handle this for me, but I like the results.

In just a few months, my Twitter account has grown organically with some fantastic results.  Sure, there’s a bunch of odd looking ducks in there from time to time.  Those weirdos all seem to go away with the programming. But once you get used to refining the keyword parameters your followers tend to shake out much better.

For the first week or so, be sure to include the keywords to “Not Follow” and also enter accounts to ignore.  It’s a robot doing the work, so it grabs everything.  The more selective you are about who to target, the better results you’ll have.

I’m getting more followers that are in this industry.  These people are interested in my content and my blog readership has increased with more than sixty new readers a day.  Which is working towards my goal of developing a bigger audience.

For your shop, this could be your target demographic following you.  Automatically.

Tired of just having a few followers on your Twitter account?  This service is something I know that works.  Go to this TweetBuzz link and see for yourself. 


Buffer is how I schedule all of my social media.  I usually have all of the posts you see pegged out at least two weeks in advance.   When I know I have a busy slate ahead, sometimes I’ll push that scheduling out to a month.

What’s valuable about Buffer is that it measures anything with a hyperlink.   You’ll know how many people clicked on each post you share.  It also tracks likes and comments.  This is a great way to test not only what type of content works to build your online brand, but what day and time to post that content.

You can share up to ten posts on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest for free.  If you want to go over that amount, you’ll have to upgrade.  I was a free user for a long time.   But I liked the flexibility of scheduling things out, so I opted to upgrade to get more posts in the queue.

The beauty of Buffer is that is very simple to use.  Write your post.  Select what social media channel it should drop into.  Then, you can “Add to Queue” which means that it plops it in as the last post to go out.  You can also select “Share Next” or “Schedule”.  There are a lot of options to refine how you share your posts.  Experiment and see what works best to drive the interaction with your audience.

Once you get the hang of it, you can load all of your social media posts in advance in a very short amount of time.  When I ask shops about their social media marketing the number one excuse I hear about social media is “I don’t have enough time to do it right.”

Buffer is a great mechanism to handle that chore.  Try it!


Let’s face it, content creation is hard.  That’s why people don’t do it.

I’ve spoken before about the 90-9-1 rule about content.  90% of the content that’s published is read by people online that follow or are connected to you.  9% of those people will like, share, comment or retweet that content.  Sadly only 1% of the people online are actually creating the content that everyone enjoys.  So that 1% fills the channels that 90% of the people consume.

It pays to be in that 1%.

But you are busy.  And busy is actually an understatement usually.  So, how do you create content that is unique to your brand?

Have you ever thought of an infographic?  These are short, fact-filled graphics that can convey a message to your audience.  Think about the top four or five questions you get asked every month.

  • “What is the most popular t-shirt color?”
  • “What size graphic can fit on a shirt?”
  • “What’s the difference between a raster and a vector file?”
  • “How many stitches is this logo?”
  • Fill in the blank for your shop “___________”.

Imagine if you created an infographic that answered one of those questions.  Then you share it every few weeks or so on your social media channels. (Using Buffer of course)  Post it on your website.  Email it to customers when they ask the same question.  It’s a handy tool.

Then create another one next month.  Soon, you’ll have plenty of evergreen, fact-filled pieces of content to share on a regular basis.

I’ve been using an app called Visme for about a year now.  You can use it for free.  It’s extremely simple to create animated infographics that resonate.  Check out this one I made called “Operation Critical: Screen Prep”.  

What’s easy about Visme is that there are plenty of ready to use templates.  Once you add your own images, logos and flair, you’ve created your own infographic in just a few minutes.  Getting started is a piece of cake, just scribble out in list form what you want to say.  Gather some images and upload them.  Select a template, and then put everything together.

Voila!  Instant market differentiator.

This is how you can educate your customer base.  Put more knowledge in their hands.

Learning Can Be Tech

Ever wanted to learn how to print better?  Lack the funds to take a workshop or maybe you just don’t know how to get started?

Well, you are in luck.  Just released from MagnaColours is a comprehensive ten module online learning tool.  These modules are built to be half-day learning sessions that focuses the attention on particular area of screen-printing on garments.  This is simply brilliant.

Here are the modules:

  • Module One: Printing with high solids
  • Module Two: Printing with medium solids onto non-dischargable fabrics
  • Module Three: Discharge printing
  • Module Four Soft base printing onto light garments
  • Module Five: MagnaMix colour matching
  • Module Six: Pre-press artwork, separations & screen making
  • Module Seven: Special effects printing
  • Module Eight: Quality Control
  • Module Nine: Troubleshooting
  • Module Ten: Toxic textiles

These classes are set up so you can learn at you own pace, when it is convenient for you.  Check this great FREE learning tool at MaganColors Academy


“We must use time as a tool, not a couch.” – John F. Kennedy

“Tell me and I forget.  Teach me and I remember.  Involve me and I learn.” – Benjamin Franklin

“The science of today is the technology of tomorrow.” – Edward Teller


Rocky the Squirrel: Garment Decorator


Here’s lies poor Rocky.  

Once upon a time he ran a Garment (Fur) Decoration Shop (Tree) for all the other animals in his area.  

He used to have a good business and made a lot of acorns over the years.  Rocky wasn’t comfortable with change, as he always liked to do things “his way”.

Recently there has been a good bit of financial pressure in his Tree.  Rocky has been losing acorns steadily over the last year or so.  His wife Matilda has been in his ear about trying something new to grow the business.  

She fancied a bigger nest in that Oak Tree across the pond.  The one with golden leaves in the fall.  You know the one.

Rocky’s biggest challenge is that gaze of Raccoons that work in the forest across from the farmer’s field.  They built up a huge fur decorating enterprise seemingly overnight and have been steadily eating into Rocky’s territory.  One client after another, they all seem to be heading away from Rocky.

“They don’t even do a good job!”, Rocky used to say jealously.  “I’ve seen their work.  Sloppy.  In fact, I heard the Raccoons aren’t even doing the printing!  They are contracting the orders out to those Badgers by the river.  They run everything out of their basement Log.  They just ship the goods in Raccoon branded  boxes!”

But look at poor Rocky now.  He’s a mess.  Business indecision led to his heartbreaking demise.

Here’s his sad tale:

The other side of the asphalt was calling.  

For years he had heard tales of the siren song of what was over there.  New ideas.  New ways of doing things.  New equipment.  New everything.

When he finally had enough of Matilda’s nagging he left to venture over to the promised land.  He was reluctant to go, as he’s always been more comfortable in his own Tree.  

He never completed the trek.  The crime-scene photo above captured his result.

Alert and eyes wide, he thought he was making a safe bet by darting over the pavement.  It looked clear.  Quick, zig-zaggy steps.  Just like usual.  Despite being an older squirrel, Rocky hadn’t lost much in his speed.  Yet, he made a dangerous decision.  

He stopped mid-step and questioned his direction.

“What exactly is on the other side anyway?”  Mumbling, he pivoted to his left, “Maybe I’m better off on familiar ground!  I’d better go backkkkkk.”

That’s when it hit him.  

The truck bumper of change.  Driven by one of those scrawny, devious Raccoons.

Rocky didn’t stand much of a chance.  He was too slow to try something new and got a face full of chrome instead.  Jelly-legged in fear, he was flattened by his biggest rival.  


If only he had stayed the course and just embraced the thought of learning something different.  Even at this late stage in the game, he still could come out ok.  

He’d be eating a big slice of fresh homemade pecan pie that Matilda baked earlier that day.  Coffee cup in one hand, tiny fork in another.  He’d be squeakily describing the enthusiastic magic and epiphany of the “new”.

So if Rocky had made it across, what would he have discovered?  

The Scurry Shares Secrets

Rocky wasn’t one to socialize or ever, ever admit that he didn’t know something.  Squirrels get more prideful the longer they do something the same way.  

It’s true.  

Experienced in traditional fur decoration methods, he always struggled with learning anything different.  He just didn’t see the value.

New inks or threads, techniques, and even suppliers didn’t matter to him.  “Go with what you know” was always safe.  

Rocky always played it safe.

Across the road was a land full of fresh ideas.  All the other fur decorator animals were constantly inventing better ways to do the same old thing.  A lot of them were tremendously successful.

Sure, the old ways still worked.  That’s what made Rocky always so secure in that “his way” was the right way.  

But on the other side of the road the new approaches made the other Trees more competitive and relevant.  This drove the growth that Rocky was missing.  And more acorns.

Heck, some of these animals even benefited from new Eagle programs.   By adopting new sustainability strategies or worker-animal training initiatives, your Tree could get free acorns.  Just for adopting a different way of working.

You just needed to know how fill out that paperwork.  Even in the animal kingdom there was bureaucracy.

Every animal was fighting the same fight against those damn Raccoons.  Because these smarter squirrels banded together, they learned how to operate their businesses better.  

What equipment made production faster or easier. How to decorate new types of fur.  Even different pricing strategies.  

Soon, their acorn piles were the highest they’ve ever been!  As a result, they all had the best trees in the woods.  All sturdy oaks.  You should see their nests.  Some were on multiple branches.

Their trick to fuel the growth was simple.  Inject fresh thinking into their tired old game.  

But How?

They gathered at different watering holes sporadically during the year.  These were nicknamed “Trade Shows”.  There they could visit with each other.  Compare notes. Even test out and view new products for decorating fur.  

There were even classes dedicated to teaching the deepest held secrets!  (All taught by the best Owls)

All you had to do is show up.  Amble around.  Touch stuff.  Listen.

It was the listening part that Rocky found troubling.  Even away from a trade show floor.

Rocky always hated talking to salesanimals.  “What a waste of time”, he would always say.  “They just want to sell me something.”  

The Scurry knew better though.  

They always actively listened to the salesanimals when they trotted over to their Tree. Spending time with them allowed them to learn new tricks.  Plus they always had great samples.  

Who doesn’t love that?

The “Vine of Continuous Improvement” never grew around Rocky’s tree, because he never knew to plant the seed.  The best seeds, and the easiest to grow, all came from these salesanimals.  

But Rocky wouldn’t pay attention.  

“I’ve been decorating fur for years!”, he would squeak when anyone mentioned talking to a salesanimal.  “Geez, what do they know?  If they knew what they were doing, they would still be in the fur game themselves!”

Prideful, Rocky never noticed the other squirrels in his own Tree.  They just shook their heads and scrambled away.  

Rocky never could quite hear what they were chattering about.

Time to Improve the Tree

One of Rocky’s largest challenges was time.  He never had any.  “I’ll get around to that later.”, was a phrase Rocky said at least once a day.

In his Tree, Rocky was famous for starting a project and then bounding off to do something else.  Leaving the first idea half completed and the area a mess.  Scattered around his tree there were at least six improvement attempts.  Zero finished.

The irony of course is that Rocky employed many Squirrels and at least nine temporary Chipmunks.  He never let any of his subordinate staff handle anything though.  

Matilda would always ask why, and he would always say “They won’t do it the same way I would”.

Charles the Marmot even had a degree in Branch Management from Acorn State University.  But Rocky couldn’t see past his whiskers to put that to good use.  Charles had studied across the road.   He had even been to a few gatherings at the “Trade Show” watering hole when he worked for a Tree in the next valley over.

Charles had suggested upgrading their fur decorator to a newer model.  There had been some mechanical and technology advances in the last few seasons.  The newer models outperformed the older ones.  This potentially would make a tremendous impact on the Tree’s production schedule.   Less downtime meant more production completed per day.

Rocky wouldn’t hear of it.  “Our Tree paid this equipment off years ago!”, he stammered red-faced.  

Charles even showed him a comparison spreadsheet. New equipment versus the older version.  It graphed what it cost them in acorns in overtime to keep up the same pace if they kept using the older equipment.  The new equipment would be paid off in almost a year and half at the same rate.  

It was easy math, even for a Rodent.  

That’s how Charles the Chipmunk wound up working for the Raccoons.  Rocky fired him for bringing in new ideas.  And for not agreeing with him, of course.

Charles brought all the new ideas to the Raccoons, which they hungrily ate up with scavenger-like relish.

The truck that killed Rocky was packed solid with orders going to Rocky’s old customers.  It even held six boxes of goods for the fat old Beaver for their annual dam building event.  Rocky had been printing that job for a decade at least.  Not anymore.

Rocky never knew what hit him.  Literally.

Ask the Owl

The one thing that always terrified Rocky was that across the road lived all the Owls.  Owls are scary.

Because to Rocky, they were always asking questions.  Rocky hated questions.

“Who”, said the owl, “are your customers and where do they live?”  Rocky hated that one.  Of course his customers live in his woods!  They are his friends and neighbors!  

“Then why are the Raccoons stealing your business?”  

All Rocky could think about was that they were just sneaky.  “C’mon, they wear bandit masks everyday!”  

But what Rocky couldn’t face was that the Owl always had good answers to go with the questions they proposed.  The Owl knew that Rocky’s biggest problems could be broken down into a few different buckets.  

What the Owl wanted to suggest to Rocky more than anything was to write a business plan and focus on resolving his future-oriented challenges.  

“Failing to plan is planning to fail.” was the old Owl saying.  

  • Hiring New Squirrels – Where to find them, how to train them, what to pay them, how to motivate them.  Plus, are temporary Chipmunks a good idea?
  • Making More Acorns – At the end of the day, how many acorns did you make on that job?  Can you do it better?  What does each task cost?
  • Scaling the Business – Strategic planning for growth.  Matilda wanted a new nest, remember?  The owls would have asked, “What is the purpose of your business?” or “Who is your ideal customer?”
  • Managing Acorn Flow – Acorn problems are always at the top of any list.  Acorns in.  Acorns out.  What’s left over?  Winter is coming.
  • New Ways to Decorate Fur – Especially the newer material made from synthetic polyester-fur.  Rocky’s always came out wrong.  He constantly blamed his suppliers.  The Owls knew better.
  • Technical Processes – How to do things better, faster and more efficiently.  The Owls knew that no matter how good you think you are, there is always room for improvement.
  • Speed as an Advantage – The Owls know that when everyone else takes 7-10 days to ship, and you can do it in 3-5 you will win.  The trick of course is how.
  • Finding New Customers.  Competing with today’s marketing craziness.  How to sell on value, not price.  Play up Rocky’s strengths and creativeness.  Create Trust.

But Rocky never did talk to any Owl with real fervor.  Lip service at best.

He just couldn’t admit that he needed help or even that there might be a better way to run his Tree.  What was even more ironic is that the Owl would have come to Rocky.  He didn’t even need to cross the road.  Owls know how to fly.

Don’t Be Like Rocky!

Sure, you know what you are doing.  Without your skill, hard work and determination your Tree wouldn’t be successful.  

It’s a fact.

Despite all that, there are plenty of reasons to cross the road and search out better answers.  Plant the seed for the Vine of Continuous Improvement today!  Get the help you need:


Click Here to find out how to let me help your Tree.


Watering Holes – (Trade Shows)

ISS Shows – Long Beach, Atlantic City, Nashville, Orlando, Fort Worth

NBM Shows – Ft. Lauderdale, Arlington, Indianapolis, Long Beach, Secaucus, Denver, Charlotte

Embroidery Mart – Nashville, Columbus

DAX Show – Kansas City, Treasure Island MN, Tinley Park IL


PPAI – Las Vegas, Atlantic City

Advantages Roadshow

MAGIC – Las Vegas


Parliament of Owls (Associations or Thought Leader Groups)

National Network of Embroidery Professionals

Embroidery Trade Association




2 Regular Guys Podcast



The Shirt Board

Owls – (Experts)

Charlie Taublieb – printer training

Lon Winters – printer training

Bill Hood – printer training

Erich Campbell – embroidery wizard

Mitch Different – color separation guide

Scott Fresener – printer training

Heat Press Info – Sawgrass 

The Ink Kitchen 

Read Stuff from Owls – (Industry Publications)





Screen-Printing Magazine


“Live as if you were going to die tomorrow.  Learn as if you are going to live forever.” – Mahatma Gandhi

“A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a foolish man can learn from a wise answer.” – Bruce Lee

“You don’t learn to walk by following rules.  You learn by doing, and by falling over.” – Richard Branson


Leaves on the Ground: Social Media Marketing


I was out running through the neighborhood the other day at my usual old guy pace, (i.e. SLOW) when it occurred to me that the leaves from the trees that were scattered on the ground are just like companies’ Social Media Marketing effort.

Your customer’s social media feed is so saturated with posts, that unless your share is so unique it just blends in with all the other leaves on the ground.

It’s a congested pile and it all looks the same.  Everyone is in such an overcommitted rush these days, it takes an awful lot for someone to stop what they are doing and pick up your “leaf” and check it out.

So, what is going to make it stand out?  

The golden rule for this is to know what type of posts your customers enjoy already. The top types are blogs, videos, ebooks, pictures or infographics & podcasts.  Do you create any of those?

If you want to get more attention from your current or even your future customers, here are some ideas that you might find useful:

Mobile First

Your content needs to be created so it works on a cell phone as the primary method of interaction.  This, of course, means your website.  Your ordering platform.  Your blog.  Everything.  

I’d don’t know about you, but most of the stuff I read is on my phone or shared with me in a hyperlink in a text from one of my pals.  Sure, I’ll bet there is some cantankerous old dude out there that still uses a flip phone that can’t access anything, but as time marches on your customer base is steadily skewing younger and more tech friendly.  I know people who have phones that are about as big as a skateboard just so they can watch videos and read articles.

Mobile ready goes for suppliers in our industry too.  Want to win more customers?  Make it easier to order from the shop floor or customer’s office by streamlining the process.  

The reason Uber blasted off so well with consumers is they took the pain away of not only hailing a cab, but paying for it too.  People can instantly see when someone can pick them up and how much it’s going to cost to get to where they need to go.  When you get there, all you do is get out of the car.  The payment portion is already handled, as the user set that up when they created their account.

In our industry are we building that simplicity?  What if you could order 12 more black medium hoodies or another gallon of metallic gold ink that way?   Click.  Link.  Boom.

Imagine how much frustration you could save if you happened to have a press down due to a mechanical problem and there was an instant solution.  You could snap a picture of the part needed with your cell phone, and an app could recognize what it was and show you the pertinent information.  Hit a button and it’s on the way.  

For your customer base, what if you built that same sort of problem or challenge solving tool?  Do you think you’d snag a good bit of market share?  What would it take to do that?

Now think about the social media content that you are pushing out to your audience.  Is it geared to be seen on someone’s phone?  Is it actionable?    

If not, maybe your lack of response make it just look like all of those other leaves on the ground.  Just a lot of clutter.

Can They Tell It’s From You?

In other words, how is your branding?  Stylistically, do all of your posts across your content have that same look and feel?  Don’t forget there are many types of screen sizes and resolutions.  Have you checked to see how they might appear?

Time invested creating a style guide isn’t a waste I promise you.  It is the professional way to create authenticity.  This obviously may mean using your logo, but it could also mean just how you compose your image, colors you use, filters or textures.  Be sure to include what not to do too.

When you think about how Nike or Columbia or Patagonia or SanMar or Cutter and Buck or Gildan or Bella + Canvas or Alternative Apparel or PolyOne, or Ryonet any other company that boasts robust imagery, use of text and good marketing…what can you learn?  

Remember, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.  Pay attention.  You are surrounded by stellar examples of marketing every day.  Check out their social media feeds.  Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.  Now look back at how you do things.  Are you posting clear and concise messaging that shows off your creative chops?

Your brand is the shape, color and texture of the leaf.  Can anyone tell yours from the rest of the pile?  If you removed your logo, would anyone guess it was from you?

“Hey, check this out!”

Another great marketing idea that you should try to grab is what’s called “Influencer Marketing”.  This is basically the idea of celebrities endorsing products.  But who has a gazillion dollars to get a movie star or sports hero to talk about your shop?  Not many companies.  

So what do you have that you can use as an opportunity?

Your own customers.  Nothing says “these guys are awesome” than your customers posting or sharing your work.   A 2015 Nielsen study showed that 82% of consumers rely on people they know above all else.

Smiling, happy customers always resonate.  Got some of those?  Hopefully so.

People naturally will flock to companies that other people have used before.  That’s the influence that you want to show.  


So what do you specialize in?  Schools?  Rock bands?  Corporate apparel?  Resorts?  Bars and restaurants?  Sports?  Beer-guzzling biker dudes?  

Whatever it is, imagine the power you’ll show when your customers are bragging about their order they just picked up!  How much influence do you think a video describing your great customer service during the ordering process or how you turned their scribble on a napkin (show it) into this fantastic t-shirt art (show it), would have?

Any creative effort put into this endeavor would go a long way.  Especially if you make it easy.  

  • Create a branded “Instagram Selfie-Booth” in your shop for customers to snap a picture holding up a sample from their order.  Make it fun!  
  • Hold a contest or just give customers some benefit for posting on your Facebook feed or linking to your Instagram or Twitter account with a hashtag that you create.  #yourshopname.

It’s easy to score major points with your marketing “leaf” when someone else picks it up and hands it off as a trusted friend.  That’s the power of Influencer Marketing.

Live Streaming

Speaking of power, let’s not forget the wave that is upon us now which is live streaming on Facebook or using Periscope, which is Twitter’s live streaming app.  Words are great.  Pictures are 1000x better.  Video is king.  Live video is the ruler of the universe.  For now anyway.

It’s not for the timid.  There could be a mistake.  There will be problems.  People will tune in maybe just to see you sweat or mess up.

And that’s ok.  Because not only are they watching, but other people are too.  Your fans.  Your soon to be fans.  Plus, the friends of all these people if they like, share or comment on the feed.

Are you brave enough to do this?  What would you share anyway?  Are you one of those people that won’t try it because you can’t make it perfect from the outset?

Come on!  Put your big pants on and try something new.  Give them something they can use.

First, identify your customer’s number one problem or pain point.  What is it?  Then, you simply orchestrate the filming of you solving that challenge.  You do this everyday anyway…just not on camera.

Maybe it’s delivering an order in your custom branded truck, with a happy customer (see Influencer Marketing above).  Maybe it’s printing over the zipper on some hoodies.  Maybe it’s doing puff embroidery on some hats.  Maybe it’s digitally printing some custom infant onesies.  Maybe it’s printing shirts after the big win for the team.  What if you showed the steps involved in blinging out that soccer mom V neck tee?

Whatever you do, make sure it is conceived well and makes you look like a star.  You might want to practice a few times.  Look at the results with fresh eyes and imagine your customer is viewing the results.  What are they seeing?  Can they see your logo?  Is your shop a mess?  Are the employees wearing branded apparel (our equivalent of a chef tasting his own food) in the background?  How is the sound?

Of course, the brother of live streaming is recorded video content.  It’s the same idea really, but just not “live”.  I guess that takes some of the highwire act off of the table, but also the sense of urgency to watch it.

Live streaming is the leaf that is blowing around by the wind wanting someone to catch it.  There is a sense of urgency, danger and unpredictability that makes you want to check it out.  

Of course, be sure to set this up if you can when your audience is available to watch.  It doesn’t do you much good to set up a great live feed opportunity at the wrong time.  Can’t swing that time crunch?  Film a video and post when you it fits your audience’s viewing habits.

Develop Better Content

If you really want to be noticed, spend some time developing better content.  If all the leaves on the ground are red, this makes yours gold so it naturally stands out.  Search engines love great content if it is created and tagged properly.  A well thought out headline will work wonders too.

For social media marketing, content is king.  There aren’t many rules, but if you think about these three things you will have a good starting point:

  1. Everyday Content – this is essentially answering questions that your customers may be asking.  How is this printed, or what’s the difference between a raster versus a vector file?  It’s the easiest place to start as you’ll bump into this stuff all the time.  As soon as any of your customers call in and requests you to explain something about your business…bingo, new content idea to share.  Don’t have the time to write a blog article or film the process right now?  Make a list and keep it handy for when you do.  Want to know what people type into search engines for anything?  Click this link and ask the old man.
  2. Authority Content – this sets you apart from everyone else.  It’s show and tell, but on a grander scale.  Create this type of content with a focus on being “evergreen”…meaning you can repost that video or blog article at the same time next year.  This is more advanced sharing, and typically includes some story telling and more in-depth content.  The more information you share in your content, the better it will be received, liked, shared or commented on.  Want to be labeled as the “expert” in an area?  Show people why and demonstrate how.  This requires more effort.  Create a video or an infographic.  Blog articles work great for this too.
  3. Viral Content – this is the hardest to do, as it’s the magic from the genie bottle.  This isn’t just answering questions but sharing insights or something humanly relatable that gets more attention than any other similar content piece.  You may need some help.  The mastery of this content is that it provokes the human emotion that makes the user want to share it with their friends.  This catches on and is shared again.  And again.  And again.  And again.

So your post about how you just delivered that order won’t go viral probably.  But it will get viewed.  People will know that one aspect of your business, although they won’t share it with their friends.

Something outrageously funny or heartwarming might.  People connect with their emotions and love to share.  “Check this out – I know these guys, they are great!”…and boom.  Mic drop as your post goes viral.  

There’s nothing wrong with creating Everyday or Authority based content.  And unless you are super talented, Viral content may be a stretch for you anyway.  

The best thing you can do is to share your story.  What makes you different?  Who are you?  Why are you relevant?  What is your creative voice?  

Be brave.  Share your passion.  That’s a leaf that is always interesting to pick up.

11 Points on the Social Media Marketing To Do List

  1. Develop your Brand Guideline.  This is your style guide.  It’s the rules that are detailed to give you a place to start when creating anything.
  2. Ask questions.  What are your needs?  What do you hope to accomplish?  How can social media be used to achieve them?
  3. Set SMART Goals based on those needs.  Remember a SMART goal is defined as a Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time centered.  For example, if you want your social media to increase your sales by 20% by the end of the quarter, you’ll have to be able to use data from your sales history to show your previous state, be able to gather data as your campaign is going to measure your present state, and then tweak things along the way to influence your future state.  Write out your goals and work backwards on what you are going to do to achieve them.  Who is creating the posts?  What channels are you using?  What is the best time to share?  How will you know if whatever you are sharing is making a difference?  What happens if what you are doing isn’t working?  What happens if it starts to take off?  Make a detailed plan of attack.  Then, launch that sucker.
  4. Speaking of data mining, you can glean great insights from Google Analytics, YouGov Profiles, SproutSocial, social media sharing sites like Buffer or Hootsuite, and even the content sites themselves such as Facebook or Twitter.  You should know your audience already, but using these tools helps you refine what you are sharing, when to share, even how to write the posts if you are careful enough.
  5. Make a Buyer Profile.  When you think of your customer who comes to mind?  Does she look like a soccer mom or maybe he is an executive type?  Is there an age range, geographic area, type of business, gender, ethnic group, or any other demographic that can be used?  List your top ten customers by sales volume or margin.  Can you describe their attributes like this?  Where on social media are they the most active?   Does your company even follow them?   What do they usually like, share or comment on with social media posts?  Articles?  Video?  Podcasts?  Pictures?  Cat memes?  Want to resonate with your customer base?  Pay attention to what they like to consume and emulate that.  Your customers are already telling you what to post.  
  6. Research your competition’s marketing.  That’s right.  Be a spy.  You’ve always wanted to, and here’s your chance to queue the James Bond theme.  Make sure you follow your competition on their social media channels to get an insight on what they are doing.  Who is following them?  What type of content are they creating that’s getting attention?  There are some good tools for this out there too, like SEMRUSH, or SpyFu.
  7. Build your program.  Use a calendar.  Assign responsibilities.  Who is creating the content?  When is it due?  Set marketing meetings on the calendar to brainstorm ideas.  Work backwards from key dates a few weeks out so your posts aren’t created at the last minute.  Use your established SMART goals.  
  8. Be ok with failure.  A lot of marketing is learning what doesn’t work.  It could be the right content shared at the wrong time.  It could be the wrong content shared at the right time.  Maybe it’s just how you word your headline.  Maybe you have a great blog post, but the picture that goes with it doesn’t entice people to read it.  Look back on your results and see if you see a trend.  Experiment.  Try something else.
  9. Be consistent.  If you want to grow your audience, you need to be regularly doing something.  One of the first things I do when I hear about a new shop or start helping a company is check out their social media.  You aren’t getting much value or exposure if your last post was six months ago.  Especially in an age where anything five minutes ago is old news.  The more content you share, the more people may remember you.  I use the 80%-20% rule.  80% of the content I share is from someone else, but has value to people I’m connected with somehow.  20% of the content is the stuff I create like this blog or an infographic.  You want the top of mind; so when someone needs your services you’ve been there all along on their social media feeds and they think of you first.
  10. Strategy, then budget.  When prioritizing what to do for social media, it’s best to think about what you are trying to achieve, on what channels, with some realistic SMART goals attached to it.  Create that, then figure out the dollar amount you’ll need to spend to achieve those goals.  This may mean sectioning off some time for an employee to create the posts, design the image, or film the video.  It may mean how much are you willing to spend for pay per click or even to boost the posts on social media channels to push it out to a bigger audience.  It can get complicated quick, so if you are just starting out, start small until you know what’s working.
  11. Talk to your customers.  What are their opinions?  Ask if you can share the work you are producing for them, or if they would like to participate in your program’s content.  

If you are creating some new and exciting marketing ideas for your shop, please share the links in the comments section!  Better yet, share this post in your social media feed and let’s get this industry humming with some crowd-sourced marketing help!

There are a lot of businesses that are developing some fantastic ideas and we can all learn from each other.


“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” – Maya Angelou

“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.” – Albert Einstein

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin

3 Polyester / Performance Production Secrets


What is one of the number one growth area in the decorated apparel industry?  Performance and Athleisure wear.  The good news is that your shop can benefit directly from this boom by decorating on these trendier tech apparel blanks.  Maybe you already are, and that’s great.  There is better margin in them too; as they prove to be more difficult for some lesser educated or experienced shops to handle.  I’ve talked to plenty of new customers over the years that left their previous decorator because the white ink turned pink on some red polyesters shirts (see the picture above – does this look like your handiwork?), and the printer didn’t take responsibility for the challenge.  

In their clumsiness is opportunity.

However, it’s really not that difficult to get your shop dialed in to print this stuff if you have the right mindset and attention to detail.  Below are a few things to consider when printing on polyester performance apparel.  

First, let’s take a look at the fabric of these shirts.  Polyester performance fabrics are synthetic.  They feel and print differently than a cotton or even a 50/50 shirt.  A good bit of the time they are just 100% polyester, but sometimes there is another percentage of a stretchable thread woven into the garment to give it some added elasticity.  These garments are made for active people doing things, and are being sold for their moisture-wicking properties.  Garments are usually very lightweight, slinky, and if you have ever tried to fold a stack of these…hard to deal with sometimes.  (Mine always look like my kid did the laundry.)  But at the end of the day, they are just shirts.  You just need to dive deep into the proper technique in how to print them.

What Sticks Out

So what’s the biggest issue with printing on polyester performance apparel?  Dye migration by a mile.  This is when the dye of the fabric leaches up through the lighter printed inks in the design, causing a unwanted color shift.  It sucks.  Mainly because this doesn’t happen in front of you, but quite often in the box while it’s on it’s way to the customer.  It’s a time bomb.  You think your print looks great.  They think it’s a disaster.  Get ready for some yelling, followed by some major butt kissing.  

It doesn’t have to be this way though.  Here’s the secret to your success in three easy steps:

  1. Control the heat.  
  2. Use the right ink.  
  3. Be careful.

That’s it.  Ok, article over…right?  Not so fast.  Let’s dive into these a bit and see what they mean.

Control the Heat

Where shops start traveling down the wrong road is not looking carefully at how they are using heat in the process.  It’s the best thing you can do, and the one that’s most ignored.  I think by now most everyone is adept at least using a low-bleed, high opacity ink for polyester. (Uh, right?)  The big speedbump is not thinking it through and looking at the cumulative effect of the temperature and dwell times of the flash units, and the temperature and belt speed of the dryer.  It all adds up.  A lot of ink gets blamed for not working, but instead it was a heat issue that should be called out instead.

In your shop do you emphasize this on polyester print production orders?  Is there any discussion before the job starts?  Does your shop have a special note or call to action to do anything different? 

“WATCH THE HEAT!” or “POSSIBLE DYE MIGRATION ISSUES!”.  Some gigantic alarm trigger on the work order?  Be careful!

Probably not.

Most low bleed inks cure at 270-290 degrees.  Regular plastisol inks cure at 320 degrees.  Now look at the temperature setting on your dryer right now.  350?  375?  400?  Be honest. 

While we know that the temperature gauge only measures the ambient temperature in the chamber, and not the actual temperature of the ink as it’s going down the belt…the only way to know for sure is by testing with a donut probe.  If your shop doesn’t have one of these gadgets, order one today.  I’m not kidding.  

The probe is shaped like, you guessed it, a donut.  The crossed wires inside the probe are placed on the wet ink on the shirt going down the belt.  Want to control the temperature exactly for your job?  Measure this and adjust your dryer so you hit the right number you need.  Remember, these inks cure at the exact moment they hit their cure temp.  Added heat doesn’t cure them any better or give you any sort of boost.  For polyester, you are just exponentially adding more danger to the job with every degree higher than the cure temperature of the ink on the shirt as designed by the ink manufacturer.  Dial that dryer heat down and save yourself some frustration later.

So what’s the second biggest issue?  

Hot polyester shirts falling off the belt and going into a box/hamper, getting placed in a big stack on the catcher table, or worst of all – going straight into a box for shipping.  

Any one of these three scenarios all produce the same result, which is just continually baking the shirts.  If you have ever gotten a weird pattern in your printed ink and can’t figure out where that crazy Shroud-of-Turin-like image came from, this is what happened.  Your Betty Crocker Cardboard Box Shirt Oven was still on.  Ut oh.

The cure for this is to stack the shirts coming down the belt into three or four piles on the dryer table.  As shirts come down, pull the next one from the belt and place it on the next stack in the row.  Have a fan blowing air on these shirts.  Keep working the rows and stacks and the hot shirts will go on top of the cooled ones.  Never hot on hot.  Your number one goal is to get them to be cool to the touch as quickly as possible.  If you can feel any heat at all, do not place them in a box for shipping until they don’t have any residual heat leftover.  

Also, make sure they are cooled completely down before printing another location.  Polyester shirts should never drop off a dryer belt and into a hamper or box.  Either get a better trained catcher, or give them some help.  These shirts aren’t cheap to replace, and neither is a customer leaving you because your catcher can’t keep up.  If you are a one man shop printing polyester shirts that day, bring in your neighbors’s kid or your wife or someone to help on that job.

Use the Right Ink

So let’s talk about ink.  While I purposely don’t name manufacturing brands much, as I try to stay neutral on this blog, I feel it would be a disservice to not mention my favorite dye-migration Force Field, which is the Wilflex Epic Performance Underbase Gray and Epic Performance White system.  Yes, I purposely used the words “Force Field”.

These two, when used together, hit home runs every single time and absolutely control any dye-migration challenges.  They even block out sublimated camo, stripes or other patterns in sublimated patterned polyester apparel.  


The gray is incredibly thick though.  Use a drill or mixer and work the ink in the bucket before using to get the viscosity better.  It prints easier when it’s been a little active.  (Like me in the mornings after three cups of coffee.)  The white is so good you won’t need a highlight white.  The image above is just the UB Gray, Performance White, & Red.  Also, if you have a roller squeegee, be sure to use that in the underbase cool down station after the first flash.  You should be doing that anyway, but for polyester printing it really give the underbase layer a smooth and perfect foundation surface for other colors to drop down on.  These inks are a little more expensive that other inks formulated for the same purpose…but if used correctly you will never have an issue.  

How much is peace of mind worth anyway?

Lots of shops have fantastic results printing with waterbase and silicone ink too.  Waterbase ink has a alien sounding “Bleed Blocker Black” that is used instead of white.  I’ve done some performance testing with red polyester shirts and with a black underbase and white top screen, and printed a great looking result.  Soft hand, with fantastic stretch. 

Silicone works great too, but has a more rubbery feel and you have to absolutely flash after every color.  A lot of the shirts that Nike or the other shoe companies put out are printed with Silicone ink.  This ink is much more expensive than plastisol or waterbase, but has some excellent print properties.  It works with a catalyst, so it’s a two part system with a limited pot life.  For the right production application, this is perfect.

While we are discussing ink, we should talk about design if we can.  For the most part these types of shirts are used for some sort of athletic, sports, yoga, or purpose for people moving and sweating. Or just getting up off the couch to go get another beer because the game is in commercial.  (I’ll have one too!)   It absolutely doesn’t do anyone any favors to utilize this type of performance shirt and then print some gigantic design that covers 100% of the available area.  

Get your creative team to consider the user and work the “purpose” of this type of garment into their design thinking.  Maybe instead of a full front, a center chest might be ok.  What about instead of a huge solid circle of white, the designer just used an outline of the circle, and selected that to be a darker color that won’t even need to be underbased?  Want to control your dye migration?  Start with limiting the chance by minimizing the lightest colors from your crayon box.  Sure, I understand that sometimes you have to use white, yellow or whatever…but if you can rethink how these are being used you are protecting your shop from a possible problem later on.  Your client doesn’t have to know that.  They just want something “that looks cool”.  I’m sure your creative team can handle it.

Be Careful

Bullet List of Tips & Tricks – hey, add your own in the comment section!

  • There are plenty of low cure additives you can use.  These make your existing inks usable so you don’t have to buy new.  Follow the manufacturer’s specific instructions on the percentage to mix in.  It will be by weight.  Don’t guess.  Use a scale.
  • If you use a low cure underbase, the colors printed on top should be low cure too.  Nothing is worse than having a great underbase and the rest of the printed ink sloughing off the shirt after a wash.  Do it right.  See above.
  • Plastisol usually cures at 320.  Low bleed inks usually cure at 270-290.  Use a donut probe and make sure you are hitting your temperature numbers.  You know why now, right?
  • Use screens with good tension (above 30 newtons), with the proper mesh count for usage in the print.  140 – 160 for underbase should be ok.  Not enough ink?  Look at your EOM, or maybe drop your mesh count down to a 110.  230 – 305 for colors. 230 for a highlight white if you need it.  Remember for colors printed over a flashed underbase, the thinner the deposit – the less flash dwell time needed.  This prevents the shirt from getting too hot.  Control that heat.
  • Spackling the shirt with so much ink to “cover” the fabric and hope you build it up enough to prevent the migration, not only makes the print feel like you stapled a cardboard box to the shirt, but will take forever to flash or dry.  Which means that your brain tells you to increase the dwell times to compensate for that.  So you add more heat, and increase the likeliness of the problem you are trying to prevent.   That’s a dog chasing it’s tail.  Stop. It. Please.
  • Optimize your print with perfect pressure and squeegee angle.  You want the print sitting on top of the shirt, not driven into it like a nail.  If you can see your print on the press platen, you have too much pressure.  A thinner deposit cures faster and requires less flash dwell time too.  Yes, it’s a recurring theme.
  • For longer runs, as your production day goes on be sure to reduce your dwell times on your flashes as your boards heat up.
  • Bold strong ink colors won’t have much of a problem with dye migration.  No, you don’t have to underbase the navy or black to print on a lime green polyester shirt.  Yes, I’ve seen artists do that.
  • Be careful with unrecognizable inventory.  If you haven’t printed on that particular brand or color before, treat it like it’s going to be your worst nightmare.  (Because it is)  Print a sample at the end of a shift and let it sit overnight. Better still, schedule it for a Friday afternoon and let it sit all weekend.  If it looks great on Monday, you’ll know you did it right!  If not, retrace your steps and find out what happened.  Next step?  Give it a wash test too!
  • Of course this means that either you’ll have to start that job earlier, or get more time from your customer.  Your choice…but you can do it if you properly plan.  “Proper Planning Permits Peak Performance”
  • A lower cost alternative is to use athletic base polyester inks, such as Wilflex Epic Top Score.  This ink is engineered for athletic apparel.
  • In production watch your team’s transition between printing 100% cotton to polyester and back again.  Also, what happens if you change the dryer temp and belt speed for that job, but you have another press stationed for that dryer?  Be sure those jobs on the neighboring press are being cured properly too.  These failures occur most when shops are extremely busy and nobody has time to think…or when shops are slow and nobody is thinking because they are bored.  Ok then, you got me.  These problems happen when nobody is thinking.  There, I said it.  Pay attention!
  • If you have multiple presses in your shop, try designating one of them to be the “Poly-Crew”, and all of these types of jobs are routed there for production.  It’s easier to schedule.  You’ll have a trained crew that will be the masters of the technique.  Work in other crew members for training occasionally so you can broaden your knowledge base.
  • A lot of buckets of white ink look the same, especially from across the shop.  Try wrapping blue painters tape around the Polyester White bucket handle, so at a glance from twenty feet away you can tell what white to grab.  If your crew has ever used the wrong white for a poly job, you’ll understand the need to this easy visualization to mark the correct bucket.  There is nothing worse that seeing pink in areas that should be white just because the wrong ink was loaded in the screen.
  • Review the garment label for thread properties.  Beware of stretch in the garment.  Especially with how you load the shirt.  Circle designs become egg shaped quickly.  You can’t blame that on the ink either, as much as some people would want to.

So are you a master at printing on this type of garment?  If not, do some research by trial and error and perfect your process.  If you are, shout it from the rooftops!  There is a lot of demand for this type of work, and not everyone does it well.

If you have a Pinterest board, gallery on your website, or other social media platforms be sure to regularly post polyester or performance print jobs so new customers can see that you have the chops to handle their order.  

After all, not everyone is going to do it right like you!

Adjust The Sails


Pessimist.  Optimist.  Realist.

If you had to characterize your business personality into one of these three types, which would you choose?

Did you pick one?  

Why do I ask?  Well, I stumbled on a fantastic quote the other day that I thought would make a great focus for an article.  Have you read this before?

“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.” – William Arthur Ward

When thinking about your company and your business strategy do you find yourself complaining about forces that are thrust upon you?  

New regulations, more competition, employee challenges, supplier problems, customers forever beating you down on prices.  You name it.  And of course, the 500 lb. gorilla in the room and the favorite topic of stand up comedians and TV talking heads everywhere, the new US president, Donald Trump.  How will his new tenure affect your business?  Who knows?

Do you expect things will magically change in your future for the better?  Are you wondering what to do next?  I’ll give you a hint.  Plan on the third choice above.  The one that starts with the word Real. 

Learn to adjust your sails for the wind.  

Below are a few tips that might help you out as you look to make some strategic changes:

Clear Up Confusion – Change Your Direction

When was the last time you took a hard look at your business?  What is your number one goal?  To make a profit of course.  The bigger the better.

Does your shop do anything that seems like busy work?  Do you regularly take jobs that are losers or work with customers that drive you crazy?  Maybe you have some equipment that you bought years ago, like a cylindrical press or a DTG printer…but you rarely, if ever, use it.

Rather than just keep doing the same thing and expect a different result, what if you either:

a) developed a better business plan to handle those areas of concern,


b) scrapped those problems and eliminated them forever by going in a different direction.

Plenty of shops have a great entrepreneurial spirit and try new things.  Have you bought some equipment that you don’t use now?  Do you offer production services that you honestly don’t do very well?  Do you possibly serve markets that aren’t aligned with your primary business focus?

I’m here to tell you that you it is ok to say NO, or change the way you do business with customers.  Increase your pricing or your minimums.  Change your lead times.  Get some help or training to understand the technical aspects of those challenges better.  Sell off that equipment you don’t use.  Hire that salesperson.  Redesign your website.

The point is to do something.  Sitting on your butt isn’t helping.  Be the change that you seek.


Have you somehow lost touch with people that matter?  Your employees, your business partners, maybe even your core customers?

When was the last time you had a meaningful face to face conversation?  Not a work or job related dialog, but good old fashioned “Hey, how are you doing?” connection-driven discussion?

What are their concerns?  What are their fears?  What is really going on in their lives?

We get so busy and wrapped up in getting that next order out the door or other critical tasks that we miss one of the most truisms out there and that is people like to do business with people that sincerely care.  

On a scale of 1 to 10 rate your empathy level towards others that surround your business.  Employees, customers, suppliers, your neighbors.  Do you think that they would give you that same number rating?

Guess what?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  It’s not too late!  

Get up out of your chair and go thank someone.  Stop in and see how someone is doing.  Take someone out to lunch or dinner or just buy them a cup of coffee.  It doesn’t matter.  The goal here to just take some action and reconnect with others.  Do it!

Add Value Rather Than a Discount

When you strategize on building your customer base, is the first idea out of our mouth giving someone a discount or offering up a big sale to attract more business?  Companies that don’t offer much of anything in value are the first ones to slash their prices.  What are you showing the world?

What if you took a harder and more difficult journey instead and thought of ways that you could add value to the customer facing relationship, and either keep your margin or even increase it?

To do this you have to think like your customer.  Don’t spend another minute trying to cram your idea of what you want to sell down their throat.  Instead, spend some quality time discussing what are the most important things that matter to them.  

Is it speed?  As in – can I have it tomorrow or even today?  What would you need to do in order to build that service?

Is it easy?  As in – doing business with your company is so simple and quick that everyone else seems to be traveling in slow motion and mired in quicksand.  What technology is out there that can help with that?

Is it creativity?  As in – your designs and creative thinking are so different than anyone else in your market that people will flock to you and just hand over wads of cash to get it.  If you don’t have these fantastic earth shattering ideas coming from your team, what would you need to get them?  A different team perhaps?

Is it quality?  As in – best in industry craftsmanship.  You lead the pack and everyone else wonders how you constantly pull it off.  There never is a problem.  What do you think it takes to build that mousetrap?

Is it new?  As in – nobody has ever seen this before.  This is the hardest of all, as you will fail more than you will succeed in building the new.  But if your new takes off…winner winner chicken dinner.

What’s Not Working?

Internally what policies or procedures aren’t working?  This could be anything from your employee handbook to how you take credit cards.

You have these rules in place for a reason, as it helps standardize tasks and keeps all the canoes going in the same direction.  However, often we invent these things or adopt a policy and then years later it just doesn’t make sense.  Times change.

Are you sticking by these things because “that’s how we have always done it”?  Are you too stuck in the mud to change your thinking and find a new way that works better?

Sure, I can hear you now.  “I don’t have time for that!”  

However, you still have time to get frustrated on how that challenge impacts your business.  That low murmur from the break room is your staff grumbling about how “nothing ever changes around here.” 

Maybe it is because the person in charge can’t get in front of the change because they don’t know how, don’t believe in doing anything differently, are too lazy or even too invested in keeping their control in place so everything is in a constant lockdown mode.

Which is why none of your antiquated company policies ever evolve.  

So, get out of that rut and list the top company policies that just aren’t working and do something about them.  Discuss everything with your staff.  Get their opinion.  Let go of the control a little bit and find out how a better solution can be reached by talking to the people the policies will impact.  What makes the most sense?

Then write up the “new way” and test it out.  Give it a short period and see how it works.  Not good enough?  Tweak it some more.  After it settles in, make it the new standard.  Problem solved.

Feedback Loop

Speaking of feedback, when was the last time you sent out a “how are we doing” survey?  Last year?  Never?

A lot of companies use these to gauge performance and find out any areas of concern or opportunity.  I wouldn’t limit this task to just customers though.  Feedback from your suppliers and also your employees can be extremely valuable as well.

Of course you can do one that is ratings based.  Many companies use a scorecard for performance too.

However, the more complicated you make it and the more questions you ask, the less survey returns you are going to get.  Nobody wants to take a test.

Can you structure your feedback survey to just one question?  Not enough info?  What about two?

Will it be anonymous?  For employees, the more they are tied to their name, the less critical they will be as they will be scared of repercussions.  For more honest results try to keep it so answers can’t be tied to one person.  There are plenty of tools to use,ranging from Survey Monkey to just a simple notecard that is put in a box.

Here’s one thought though.  What if instead of glowing praise, your results from your survey are hard to read?  It’s a dog pile of negativity.  Would you want to know?  No?  Is that like burying your head in the sand like an ostrich?

Sometimes the hardest to hear truths are the most valuable.  You have to have the courage to ask.  If you do get some unexpected answers, make sure you listen to them and act on the change.  Do something with it.

Get the Help

Not everyone or every company is positioned to fix what they need to get to the next level.  The biggest challenge for a lot of folks is that they need to do something, but just can’t.  

Either they lack the skill, the time or the resources to pull it off.  So what do you do then?

Easy, you bring in a ringer.  This is a company or person that has the knowledge, the skill and the time to help you.  You are surrounded by these people already.  (…ahem, me!…)

They work in your supply chain.  They teach classes at trade shows.  They sell you the equipment, shirts, thread or the ink.  They repair your machines.  They have websites and publish articles on solving problems.  They maybe even work in your shop already.

The first step to make any change is simply identifying what it is.  

Narrow down the challenge by writing it as a simple sentence.  “We are having a problem with _________, and this is caused by ___________.  If we change this __________, we can get better with __________________.”  Or something similar.  Define your problem.

Who can help with this?  How big is the problem?  If you could resolve the challenge today, would you?  

So what are you waiting for?

Marathon Not a Sprint

Lastly, part of the adjustment that might be needed is to review and change how you perceive your week.

Many hustle from one crazy critical “the earth is going to stop rotating if I don’t handle this right now” task to the next all day long.  At the end of the day or week, we are so burned out that we become zombies at home.  Not fun.

Life is a marathon, not a sprint.  We are all in this for the long haul.

You need to make time for yourself.  Eat right.  Exercise.  Spend time with your kids, spouse or grandparents.  Take a vacation.  Laugh.  Read a book.

The constant perception is that we always have to be hustling.  Slow down a bit.  Delegate some of the tasks to others in your workplace and let them try their hand at it.  Call it training, but you’ll refer to it as peace of mind  when you can get more done in a day without actually having to do the chore.

Another great tip is to simply just change a habit or something that gets in the way of something else.

For instance, how many times a day do you check your cell phone?  Try skipping checking an hour or two (or more) a day and see how much more you get accomplished!  What if you just put it on the charger at 6:00 pm and left it there?  Will the world come to an end?  I started doing that a few years ago, and I’m much happier.  People are still ok with me getting back to them in the morning.

Part of adjusting your sails is to find calmer seas and smooth sailing.  Your mental and physical direction are part of that course correction too.

So, here’s to you skipper!  Adjust your sails handsomely now.

For Want Of A Nail


How many times has an order or something gone wrong in your shop and you thought to yourself, “Hey, we are better than this!  How did that happen?”

This type of situation reminds me of that old Ben Franklin parable:

     “For want of a nail the shoe was lost,

       For want of a shoe the horse was lost,

       For want of a horse the rider was lost,

       For want of a rider the battle was lost,

       For want of a battle the kingdom was lost,

       And all for want of a horseshoe-nail.”

When you trace back how your challenges happen it usually comes down to some seemingly small detail that is overlooked or a task that is so common that people just quit doing it correctly for some unexplained reason.  

Apathy?  Lazy?  Untrained?  Too harried?  All four?

Then all hell breaks loose when your client is on the phone and something is amiss.  Not good.

Let’s take a look a few basic things that tend to get overlooked in a production environment:

Instruction Details

The age old problem.  One salient point of the order somehow didn’t make it onto the Work Order and in the process throws the whole thing off.  Now production doesn’t have it ready, and it won’t ship in time.  When the customer service rep is asked about it later they say, “Well, I sent Fred an e-mail”.  

You’ve heard that before from your staff, right?

Deflecting and blaming others doesn’t solve the problem.  If information is missing or something changes like a shipping address or the quantity of mediums for the order, you have to get up out of your chair and go make sure it’s right.  This means talking to someone or even replacing some of the work order documentation.  Do it right then.  The only way to be 100% sure is to check.  Insist on excellence.

Also, the deflection game is a bad habit.  Your customers aren’t going to single out someone in your company and say, “Well, it was Fred.  You know him!”  They are going to blame the entire company as a whole.  If they are mad enough, they will take their business somewhere else.  

Not to mention, they will tell everyone they know about the problem.  Then whatever dumb problem Fred missed is the reputation your entire company is going to be painted with by a lot of people.

I hate to break it to you, but other companies know how to print or embroider a shirt.   Maybe even better than you.  Don’t let the internal finger pointing get out of control.  

Get a sense of urgency and accountability established instead.  Work with a team mindset.  When one order goes awry, it’s the entire company’s problem.  Band together and solve your issues before they make it out the door.

For want of a detail, the order was lost.


Color Matching

How many shops have a Pantone book available within easy reach for their press crews?  

And by easy reach, I’m not referring to the five year old, dog eared copy in the art department which your artist hangs onto like it was solid gold.  (Or worse you hear, “Hey, has anyone seen the PMS book?”)

Why is this important?  

Trust me, your clients are going to check the colors.  Especially when you print over an underbase.  Doubly so if you are one of the dozen or so shops on the planet that can still get away with charging for a PMS match.  If you are charging, it better be perfect.  It better be perfect anyway, but you understand what I mean.

Any brand manager worth their salt is going to look.  It’s pretty hard to explain why you didn’t hit the color and that “we’re close”.  It always sounds lame.   In reality, nobody ever checked…they just printed what was labeled on the bucket.  Don’t try to pass that off, your customer doesn’t believe you anyway, as they have the printed results in front of them as proof you missed the easy lay-up.

Even if the ink color is perfect, plenty of things can influence the final print.  Mesh count and EOM, squeegee durometer and pressure, printing over an underbase, even the shirt color.  Don’t get lulled into sleep with the lazy “we used the right bucket of ink” argument.  

What’s on the shirt is all that matters.

Do you know what is going out the door of your shop every day?  Do you have procedures in place that someone is checking and signing off on the job?  Does your quality control program consist of just crossing your fingers?

What is the number one reason why more printers DON’T check to see if their color matching is accurate?  

You guessed it, the PMS book isn’t easily available.  Nobody wants to walk “all the way over there” so they just think, “Looks good to me…”  Of course when that job is rejected they aren’t personally eating the cost either, so what do they care?  If you don’t demonstrate that it is important enough to provide them with the correct tool to gauge the printed color hue, I could argue you don’t care enough either.  

Get a brand new one (yes, with all the numbers out of order so you have to use the index in the back) and keep it within about five footsteps away.  Make a special place for it at each work group, and use that same set-up on all presses in the shop.  

Ideally every press should have one, but at $123 or so it can get expensive.  I would recommend having at least one for each dryer, so that makes it available for two autos at least, with a manual thrown in there if you can squeeze it in.  

Make sure you are checking at each set-up, in clear natural light (use the flashlight on your phone for a quick tip to see how your light color can shift when checking), and signing off on the Work Order by someone responsible AND the press operator.

For want of a Pantone book…the client was lost.  


Pressure Point

When printing on an automatic press can you see the image on the boards?  If so, you may be using too much pressure.  Walk your floor right now.  What’s on your press boards?

The optimum print has the ink sit on top of the fabric, not hammered home like a nail through wood.  Too much pressure affects registration, print quality and how much ink is being transferred to the shirt.  If you are over 50 psi on your squeegee pressure for the print, how many bananas are you feeding the gorillas a day?  Lighten up. 

Lots of rookie printers use a lot of pressure to cover up for the lack of skill in registering the job.  They think: “Can’t get it to line up?  Mash it until it does.  Of course, this causes some bleeding issues where the different colors touch.  But hey, at least it’s registered.”  

Don’t put up with this.

Squeegee angle, durometer, and screen tension all come into play here too.  If your squeegee looks like a capital L when printing, you might want to check that pressure.  Your goal is to adjust the angle and pressure on the squeegee to use just enough pressure for the ink to clear the screen.  Probably in the 20-25 psi range, depending on the equipment and other factors.  Most newer automatic presses have a gauge right on the end of the screen arm, which makes checking easy.  

Believe it or not, there are some shops that (gasp) even record the pressure on their work set up sheets, along with other print information so they can dial it back in later for reprints, or also for quality control.

Why is this important?  For starters, using less pressure will make the print look and feel much better on the shirt.  Also, you can dramatically reduce the amount of ink used to print, as you aren’t losing all that ink when you pound the ink through the fabric.  You aren’t getting paid to decorate your press platens.

For want of checking a gauge…the print was lost.


Tension Meter

Quick, go to your screen room and ask your crew when was the last time they checked any screens to see if they had proper tension.  

Do they even know what the proper tension should be?  Do they know how to measure?  Do they have a Newton meter that is available?  Or do they just thump the screen with a finger and declare, “Sounds good to me!”.

My guess is that if you are having trouble with registration, especially at the top and bottom of the print, you have some crazy tension issues.  You never check tension either, but instead point a crooked finger at either the equipment, art department or the press operator.

Screens are the keystone to the entire screen-printing operation, but so few shops invest in the right tools to make sure that everything functions the way it is supposed to.  A good Newton meter used correctly, will determine the tension for the warp (vertical) and weft (horizontal) of the screen.  They should be equal.  This can help your team in the screen room make some good craftsmanship decisions about the screens for use in your shop.  If you are using retensionable screens, it may be time to jack them up a notch.  If you are using static frames, it may be time to retire that screen and remesh.  

Remember, you can’t manage what you don’t measure.

Click Here to check out a short infographic I made that gives some basic information about screen tension.

The problem with under-tensioned screens is that they won’t perform like they need to during the mechanical print process.  A slack screen can cause registration issues, off-contact issues, even ink texture issues on the substrate.  If your press crews are struggling keeping a good looking print, I’d start backtracking the problem from the press to the screen room.

For want of a tensioned screen, the registration was lost.


Mmm Donuts

Screen tension isn’t the only production detail that is often overlooked.  Another big challenge is the dryer temperature.  Often it isn’t set correctly or is not accurate.  A lot of things can affect how your dryer cures the ink as it travels down the belt.  Just because your temperature gauge is set to a particular temperature number, doesn’t mean that’s what’s happening in the actual chamber.

The best way to find out if your ink is being cured properly is to measure the temperature of the ink as it’s going down the belt.  Don’t believe your dryer control panel number, check for yourself with a great device called a Donut Probe.  

This handy gizmo looks like it sounds, a donut.  Inside the donut are two crossed wires.  You simply place the donut probe with the wires on the wet shirt ink, and as the dryer belt moves the shirt down into the heat chamber you can see the readings increase on the probe’s control panel.

Did the ink reach the right cure temp?  With the donut probe you know exactly what the temperature was for the ink.  Sometimes this is dramatically different than what is on the read out on the dryer control panel.

Zero guessing.

Check your manufacturer’s spec sheet of the ink you are using and find out what the minimum temperature is to cure the ink.  For plastisol, most will cure at 320 for regular or 270 for low bleed polyester.  Don’t have a spec sheet?  Go to the manufacturers website and download one, or ask your supplier rep.   

One of the challenges is that you may have the dryer set much hotter than you need to cure the ink, but something is affecting the way the unit is curing the ink so it never reaches the correct crock temperature.  

I’ve seen drastic problems with shop doors open on a windy day, and gusts coming into the shop right down the belt.  This instantly lowers the chamber temperature.  Another similar issue is with print crews having big industrial fans blowing air down into the dryer chamber.  Believe it or not, both of these can have an adverse affect on the heat in the dryer.  Even seasonal weather changes with air temperature or humidity can cause problems.  

At the end of the day, you are relying on these dryers to cure the ink properly.  Unless you want to spend a lot of nights awake, staring at the ceiling and wondering if everything you print is being cured correctly; you have to have faith that the thousands of shirts you are sending down the dryer are hitting that mark.  

If you use your donut probe as part of a monthly preventative maintenance program, you can have that assurance.  

Imagine the inside of your dryer chamber is divided into nine zones, similar to a tic-tac-toe diagram.  Zones 1 through 9.  Each month, use your donut probe and record the temperature for the zones on the same day (let’s say the fourth Monday of the month).  Make up a simple Dryer Zone Log Form, or download this one by Clicking Here.  Do this for each dryer.  Now, if you have any curing issues with your shirts, you can refer to the log and see that the temperature has been consistent or not.  If you haven’t been measuring, you won’t know when the problem could have surfaced.

For want of correct dryer temperature, the ink print cure was lost.


PM Plan

There are two types of people regarding planning.  One regularly keeps track of things and schedules maintenance on a regular basis.  The other puts it off, and when things break, calls in the repair guy.

Which one are you?  I can tell you which one is aimed at a lower operating cost and a more efficient shop.  

Putting a Preventative Maintenance Plan together is an essential part of any well run shop.  Every single machine should have a section in a master Log Book.  Printing presses (both automatic and manual), heat presses, embroidery machines, digital printers, forklifts, dryers, automatic folding machines, ink scales, air compressors…really any mechanical device that is critical to your success.  Detail each page with the name of the equipment, model number, date purchased, description and any other pertinent details.  Each time you change a filter, grease the parts, add fluid, change a gear, whatever…record that effort into that Log Book.

This is especially true for leveling your platens or any other task that is crucial for smooth operations.

Why is this pain in the butt documentation so critical?  For starters, it keeps you honest.  If you can’t remember the last time you did something, you have a big problem.  But the main reason is that all machines are mechanical, use parts, and are prone to eventually break.  Keeping a detailed log of what’s going on is akin to a doctor reviewing your medical history when you complain about not feeling well.  Having all that info helps you rule out anything not related as you have proof that certain tasks were performed.

If you don’t have a plan, your shop can still function and operate well.  Until…  One day, usually when a critical job is due, the press won’t work, or the air compressor goes down, or the dryer can’t stay at temperature, or the embroidery machine heads seize, or the digital printer nozzles get clogged, or…  The list goes on and on.  If you are an owner or manager of a shop without a true Preventative Maintenance Plan, the shop isn’t running as well as it should.  All is not lost, however.  Just start one.  Click Here and use this to get going.  Modify it to suit your needs.  Just fill out the info, three-hole punch it, and throw it into a binder.

For want of a plan, the day’s production was lost.


So that’s six things that could going wrong.  Guess what?  There are hundreds, if not thousands more lurking in your shop right now.  

What critical detail are you missing?  Are you consistently discussing the need to handle things correctly with your staff?  Do they know that details matter?  When you do have a problem are you backtracking it all the way upriver to the source and changing something to kill the problem from occurring again?

“For the want of a nail, the shoe was lost.”  For a lot of shops, that sums up how these challenges start.  It’s up to you to make sure you have a box of nails handy.  Otherwise, see ya’ later kingdom.


“It’s the little details that are vital.  Little things make big things happen.” – John Wooden

“Excellence is the gradual result of always striving to do better.” – Pat Riley

“Leadership is an ever evolving position.” – Mike Krzyzewski