Monday, June 15, 2015

Digitally printed fish shirt

Did you notice that the sunglasses and earrings are also bubble-shaped?

As a person both artistic and fashion-obsessed, I'm always looking for ways to get my graphic designs onto my clothing. As a perfectionist, I've never quite found a way that works for me. But today's outfit is the not-quite-ending of a long story of the many ways in which I've tried.

I think it began in 2009 when I found some opaque T-shirt transfer paper on clearance. I bought it and immediately started inventing ways to use it.

I took advantage of the fact that it was opaque to put it on colored shirts, and the fact that you could cut it out and place it anywhere, to put my designs in all sorts of weird spots on the shirt that you can't do with ordinary commercial shirt-printing.* 
To the right is an example of one of them I did. It's not the best picture, but it's a tall skinny cat with paw-prints around the neckline .
The other one I did was a more ambitious design. I hand-drew a goldfish, traced it in Illustrator to perfect the shapes, and then added a million bubbles in different sizes. Because I felt it needed a little more excitement, I filled all the shapes with rainbow colors. Then I printed out all the fish and bubbles onto my T-shirt paper, cut each shape out individually, and laboriously ironed them one at a time onto a cute purple T-shirt. 
Circa 2009. Me demonstrating how to fall over in high heels.
Before I became The Unfashionista, obviously!
I loved that shirt! I felt so pretty in that shirt! But after a few washes, I learned that the iron-on transfers were not very durable. The fish and bubbles rapidly developed cracks and began scuffing off. Within a few years, I'd relegated the shirt to my pajama drawer, and last year, I finally got rid of it (with great reluctance) forever. But I was still crazy about my fish design. I felt it had promise as a commercial illustration, if only I could find a way to get it out there in the world!

Even though custom T-shirts are much easier to come by these days than they were back when I was on Kem Hall Council, they still suffer a lot of limitations. Most of the printers restrict you to a very small area, on the upper front and back of the T-shirt. My grandiose visions refuse to be constrained to such a boring space.

I was very excited when I found the website, which was the first printing company I'd ever found that actually had the capability to print anywhere on the shirt. Sadly, you can't just go there and put your design into production—you have to get voted to success by the community, and my initial efforts didn't generate enough interest to feel like it was worth trying to promote it any further.

Fine. I'd wait. I'd actually pretty much just given up on the whole idea, when along came digital printing. It was everywhere. And by everywhere, I mean it was also everywhere on the item printed. Clothing that would have previously had a tiny picture printed on a tiny spot on the garment, now had a big picture covering the entire garment. Digital printing is what birthed my "The Great Wave" dress and most of my many cat shirts. It was only a matter of time before custom digital printing came to the masses, and last fall, I finally found it at a reasonable price (though I'd never pay their prices for just any old shirt, it would definitely be worth it for a one-of-a-kind piece of work of my own design) at Artscow.

Pretty soon, I had submitted an order for a 5-dollar tank top during a special sale. And when I received it, I was underwhelmed. It was a little too short for my liking. It bunches up when I wear it. The design had been printed on white fabric, and the underlying white was visible. The colors weren't as saturated as I'd imagined (although that's something you have to expect when going from onscreen design to real-life product), but worst of all, the tails of the fish – even though I'd carefully placed them within the outlines specified in the product designer application – had been cut off! I revisited the site today, and I can clearly see that the bottom of the fish is cut off in the preview, so perhaps they have corrected a flaw in their design tool since I made my order...or perhaps I really was stupid enough to position it badly.

Ah, well, live and learn. Considering the unimpressive results of my first trial, I am not sure I will be getting any more of my artwork custom printed on Artscow clothing, but, much like my experiments in curling my hair, I'm not ready to give up! Next time, on a higher-budget printing site, perhaps.

*You can call me an expert on the limitations of commercial shirt printing, because I once designed and commissioned the T-shirts for my residence hall council in college.** 
**This was because the shirts that we had received the previous year from the same print shop were not up to my perfectionist standards, and apparently I had made my opinion a little too clear, because when we got the new shirts delivered, the print shop representative made a point of stressing, see, we can make things just how you want as long as you tell us what you want. The point of this digression being that I've always had trouble getting custom T-shirts the way I like them, even 10 years ago!

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