Lured By The Dark Side
I've been selling funny designs on t-shirts using "Print on Demand" (PoD) technology since May 2001. During all that time the major limitation has been the fact that all the available technologies can only print on white or light cloth. Two major PoD vendors, CafePress and Zazzle, began offering dark t-shirts to customers in November 2005, just in time for the holiday sales season.
I had been selling my designs exclusively through CafePress since May 2004. In November 2005 I began experimenting by offering a few of my designs on Zazzle as well. This allowed me to obtain sample black shirts with my designs from both vendors. The following is my review of these shirts.
I ordered my new Christmas cartoon design, "Four Calling Birds" on a black t-shirt from both vendors. What follows are the thumbnails provided by each vendor, accompanied by a close-up photo of the actual shirt with the design as received from the vendor.
CafePress Black Shirt:
The flash probably washed out the shirt image slightly, but you can tell that the shirt artwork looks barely like the original artwork as displayed on the CafePress thumbnail. The colors are much less bright than in the original artwork. This is to be expected up to a point, of course. There is a world of difference between displaying an image in light on a computer screen and spraying colored ink onto black cloth. But CafePress has always advertised WYSIWYG (What you see is what you get), and that clearly is not the case with black shirts, at least so far.
Zazzle Black Shirt:
As you can see, the Zazzle shirt is even more washed out than the one from CafePress. The top blue bird is basically white, and there are small flecks of white throughout the part of the design that was "transparent", where the shirt color should have shown through. It should be noted that Zazzle offers other dark colored shirts, but I've only been testing on black shirts, since black is all that CafePress offers at the moment.
Clearly Zazzle is having even more problems printing cartoon designs on black t-shirts than CafePress. The CafePress shirt might be considered acceptable by some customers, but the Zazzle shirt would be returned by most customers.
I ordered a new text design, "Already Quite Disturbed" on a black t-shirt from both vendors. What follows are the thumbnails provided by each vendor, accompanied by a close-up photo of the actual shirt with the design as received from the vendor.
CafePress Black Shirt:
As you can see, the text shirt came out a lot closer to the artwork as displayed on the CafePress thumbnail. The colors are less bright than in the original artwork, but probably within what should be expected when printing on black cloth. It's not really WYSIWYG, but the main problem with the design is that I should have lightened up the blue text at the bottom for printing on dark cloth.
Zazzle Black Shirt:
As you can see, the Zazzle shirt is once again less accurate when it comes to reproducing color. The colored print appears brighter than on the CafePress shirt, although as you can see that may be due in part to the fact that the Hanes shirt from Zazzle has darker cloth than the Fruit of the Loom shirt from CafePress.
One thing is certain, Zazzle seems to be having at lot more trouble producing blue colors accurately on their black shirts.
None of the these shirts are really ready for shipment to customers, at least not if the customers actually care about WYSIWYG. It should be noted that all these shirts were manufactured and shipped around December 1, 2005. Both companies are obviously learning the new process and hopefully improving the process every day. If you order a shirt from them today, it may well look a lot better than the samples shown here.
I will be returning my shirts for replacement this week. I'll let you know how the replacements turn out.
Clearly these are exciting times in the PoD t-Shirt industry. Dark t-shirts will be major sellers for a lot of designers. But more work needs to be done before these shirts are ready for paying customers.
T-Shirts of the Moment: (Links to the two shirts mentioned in this article.)
Four Calling Birds
Already Quite Disturbed