By Olivia Cahoon
Thanks to advancements in inks and printheads, digitally printed custom apparel is a viable option in terms of price and quality for clothing retailers. Technology such as dye-sublimation (dye-sub) helps print service providers (PSPs) partner with retailers for print on demand apparel customizable by style, design, and size—with little to no inventory.
Above: American Print on Demand and Shirtwaschas create dog hoodies with Super Exports’ I Can’t Believe it’s NOt Cotton Fabric, a Roland Texart XT-640 dye-sub printer, and Practix heat press for the sublimation process.
Establishing a Niche
Founded in 2017 in rural Peoria, IL, American Print on Demand began as a dye-sub focused operation in a residential garage. With one full-time employee, the company offered small format products with a desktop sublimation printer and a 16×20-inch heat press. “Admittedly, I did not have a clear business plan or vision to start but I knew I was fascinated by digital printing and I saw opportunity,” shares Robert Super, founder/president, American Print on Demand.
Within two weeks, it was clear to Super that small format capabilities were not adequate enough to grow his company from a hobby to a legitimate business. Shortly after, he acquired a Mutoh America, Inc. ValueJet RJ-900X wide format dye-sub printer and heat press.
American Print on Demand landed its first print on demand customer, a brand called Shirtwascash, which strictly focuses on online sales and spreading positivity through fun, custom clothing. Here, the PSP’s initial value was to provide auxiliary capacity to the manufacturing supply chain to help decrease customer order lead time.
After six months of running at this capacity, Super had another realization. To go from a part-time business and land additional customers, he needed to expand the shop’s capabilities into a full cut-and-sew production. This led to a move into a 1,200 square foot facility in Morton, IL.
By the end of 2017, American Print on Demand had three full-time employees and several part-time workers. 2018 presented an increase in its capabilities and offerings. It took over 100 percent of Shirtwascash’s orders and expanded to nine customers of varying scale. This also required a jump to five full-time employees by Fall 2018.
However, its growth came with other challenges. The shop exceeded its capabilities of the 1,200 square foot facility without running water and a stable heat source. In the midst of 2018 holiday production chaos, the PSP acquired more printers, sewing equipment, a laser cutter, heat presses, and moved into a 3,500 square foot facility with 12 employees.
Digitally Printing Textiles
American Print on Demand is a vertically integrated digital apparel print on demand manufacturer that specializes in dye-sub smart apparel manufacturing while also offering full print shop services. The PSP handles printing on simple blanks to elaborate full cut-and-sew products.
“Customers desire selection and we offer this by not hyper focusing on one particular channel, whether that be dye-sub on blanks, cut and sew, or print on vinyl,” shares Super.
The PSP’s first wide format digital printer—the Mutoh ValueJet RJ-900X—was ideal for a small startup business. After its operational capacity plateaued, the PSP moved to a Roland DGA Corporation Texart XT-640 dye-sub press for next-level operability. The shop also recently added a Roland TrueVIS SG-540 printer/cutter to handle new products and fill an application void unachievable with dye-sub printing.
With digital printing, the PSP’s customers use endless SKUs for ecommerce webstores without worrying about quantity or which style, design, or size sells best. American Print on Demand only produces products as orders are initiated and manufactures products directly to end consumers—allowing customers to bypass risks and timing associated with production. This allows the PSP’s customers to focus on what really matters—building the brand and pushing sales.
The PSP also selects high-quality consumables for its textile applications. Currently, it uses JK Group’s J-Teck J-Next Subly sublimation inks supplied by Advanced Color Solutions. According to Super, the nano-technology delivered through a piezoelectric printhead produces a vibrant color profile suitable for polyester textiles and a variety of substrates.
A majority of its sublimation needs are completed with Beaver Paper & Graphic Media, Inc.’s TexPrint ThermoTack adhesive sublimation paper. For printed vinyl, it uses Roland’s high-quality vinyl, which Super considers the best for cost and quality. The company is vertically integrated with Super’s partner textile mill, Super Exports, which performs finishing and manufactures select textiles.
With a variety of technology, American Print on Demand produces digital apparel for colorful and custom designs. “Being that everything is digital it allows the designers virtually unlimited creativity on an array of substrates and for consumers the ability to wear clothing that more closely resonates with their identity. I truly love the artistic capability to create printable products with high-definition imagery and no limitation on colors,” says Super.
Shirtwascash is American Print on Demand’s oldest and largest client. The PSP currently manufactures and fulfills 100 percent of the products sold on the apparel retailer’s ecommerce storefront.
Outside of its usual print on demand work, American Print on Demand recently collaborated with Shirtwascash on a new project—digitally printed, full-bleed custom dog hoodies featuring actual pockets and hoods.
According to Super, while the apparel item is innovative and fun it does present challenges primarily in fit and pattern. “Dogs come in all sizes and shapes so the jump from medium to large dog can be significant. Couple that with dogs having varying leg lengths, chest widths, and length of body, it became extremely challenging to develop a pattern,” explains Super.
To help with the process, American Print on Demand collaborated with two different pattern makers. In addition to functional, the product also needed to be constructible. The dog hoodies involve 11 tight and intricate pieces that require an advanced sewing level to complete. All 11 pieces needed to be considered during the pattern piece finalization process as the initial patterns were nearly impossible to produce. “More prototypes were produced than I care to admit, but we finally landed with a boutique dog wearable that is unlike any out there,” offers Super.
The PSP utilized a combination of Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop to develop cut files and artwork. The dog hoodies are printed on the Roland Texart XT-640 and sublimated via a Practix Manufacturing heat press and onto Super Exports’ I Can’t Believe It’s Not Cotton fabric. A laser vision system cuts out the pieces that are then sewn together in the PSP’s sewing lab.
All challenges aside, Shirtwascash and American Print on Demand are happy with the finished dog apparel. Through a combination of dye-sub and cut and sew, the PSP produces full-bleed custom dog hoodies available from Shirtwascash.
Digital Offers Innovation
With a variety of digital presses and textiles available, American Print on Demand’s core focus is offering a print on demand supply chain with zero upfront inventory costs. The PSP continues to partner with clients in ecommerce apparel sales and develop fully customizable textile products.
“It’s been a wild, challenging journey full of lessons to get to where we are in 2019 but the future of digital printing looks bright for us,” shares Super.
Jul2019, Digital Output