From Design Concept to Final Product in 5 Days

Last week, a memo circulating at my day job prompted a fun little design project. In an effort to ensure that project-related items were always stored and tagged properly, a checkout system was being created. Since there were multiple samples around the office (taken prior to the policy change), one of my employees thought it would be funny to create a fake “Samples Security” team to “enforce” the new policy.

The initial concept started simply, thinking that we’d just print up some labels with the logo, and wear them around the office. Something like those Junior Officer badges that kids get when a police officer speaks at their school.

I opted for a fairly simple badge icon to start with, with an interesting shield shape and a fun outline around the outside.

I then went digging for official government typefaces and opted for Rockwell Extra Bold. Changing the color of the badge to a deep blue gave it a more public servant-esque feel.

Adding pieces (with permission) from the company’s logo provided some additional depth to the concept, while tying in a very patriotic feel. This finished out the quick design idea for the badges that were worn around the next day.

The response around the office was definitely positive, which goes to show that rapid prototyping definitely has some benefits. I was relatively happy with how these turned out, but didn’t really go back to them. Until… someone in the office thought it would be funny if I had these made into t-shirts.

Finding a way to make it happen.

I have long been searching for a place where I could have one-off custom shirts printed without breaking the bank. A while back, I stumbled across Printful, a California-based custom printing company with some pretty incredible capabilities. Not only are they able to print on a variety of shirts, the list goes on and on from wall art, socks, phone cases and more. For this run, the plan was to run it through a direct-to-garment printer. Again, something I was curious about in terms of print quality and longevity.

I chose a Bella + Canvas 3413 Triblend tee, which has some really great color choices, and I had heard good things about the shirts themselves in terms of comfort and over-all fit. After some design tweaks to realignment and colors, as well as some light distressing, my final piece was ready to use. I’ve added a grey background here so you can see the full logo, but the file I used was transparent around the design.

I uploaded it to Printful’s mockup generator/ordering system to play with the size and placement of the design. The system is intuitive and fast, giving the user a great way to see how the final product will turn out.

Pricing and shipping costs are, of course, subject to shipping location/speed and order quantity, but within 24 hours I had moved from rough concept to completing an order on Wednesday, July 12th. Printful’s user dashboard gave a nice indication about the status of the order, and when to expect shipment.

One minor issue with Printful was the sheer volume of emails received from them. In the span of 3 days, I believe I received no fewer than 10 emails of various types. This felt a little on the overload side to me, but that has since died down to relatively normal levels.

Friday the 14th around 11 am, I received a notice from Printful that the order had shipped out. The product arrived at my office in the afternoon of Monday, July 17th. I’m located in Oregon, so it shipped directly up I-5 essentially, but that is from design to delivery in just five days including a weekend. I was floored that they had arrived so quickly.

Breaking open the package, I was extremely curious as to the quality of the product, and I simply couldn’t be happier. The Bella + Canvas shirt was one I’ll absolutely use again, as the cut is really nice and the fabric is extremely soft. The print was bright and sharp, with the colors well represented on the final product.


A note about direct-to-garment printing.

There is one very important piece of information that I had completely forgotten about direct-to-garment printing. When printing color on a dark shirt, in order to make sure that the color is correctly presented, the printer will first lay down a white background, and then go back to print the color on top of it.

This isn’t an issue with the printing process itself, but mainly with my design process. The design was meant to be a little more “lived-in” by distressing the image. However, the texture that I used had removed too much of the image, that I ended up lowering the opacity instead of reworking the texture. So instead of a section of the image that is now missing due to the distressing, you actually end up with another color in its place.

See how the distressed area is just darker? Couple that with the direct-to-garment base layer of white, you end up with less distressed end design. Future planning for similar styles will require actually removing these sections entirely, which will result in no base layer being printed there either.

Final thoughts.

I am very happy with the final result, and with the knowledge that I gained from the process. It was really great to see the design phase so quickly move to the production phase so I had it clearly in my head as to what I input versus what was received.

Fast turn-arounds and a clear system have led me to conclude that I’ll definitely be ordered from Printful again in the future, and I look forward to seeing what we make together!