The 10 Biggest Mistakes Artists Make When Ordering Merch

I’m Christopher Miles, head of Business Development at Jakprints.

As you can imagine, I see a tremendous amount of merchandise orders, creatives, and fire-drills.  And when it comes to ordering merch, these are the 10 biggest mistakes artists typically make…

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1. They Don’t Plan Ahead.

Leave yourself plenty of time for print production.  Avoid making last-minute decisions that cause rush production charges and higher, expedited shipping fees. Consult your printer about turnaround times and schedule accordingly.

If you’re working with other vendors, designers or artists on the project, work in some wiggle room on your deadlines, too. Something is always late.

2. They Fail to Understand Their Demographic.

Whether you are producing goods for sale or promotion, the goal is to relate to your supporters. If you’re new to the game, find out what your fans want. If you already have a following and a formula that works, stick with it — you are keeping track of all your sales, right? If you do it right, you will have free advertising: literal walking billboards to spread your message for months/years to come.

3. They’ve Fallen Behind on Current Trends.

Sometimes you can add value by simply catching on early to a fad. Selecting garments that are the flavor-of-the-month allows you to demand top dollar for your wares. Tread these waters carefully, know your fan base and what they are doing. Your brand can quickly go “out-of-style” if you ignore the trends your fans are showing.

4. They Aren’t Treating Merchandise Like A Business.

Research and budget the profitability of your projects. Make smarter decisions based on what makes good business sense.  Some of the most iconic t-shirt designs were 1-color prints on a black, short sleeve t-shirt.  Guess what?  They were also some of the most lucrative.  It’s great to expand your options with 8-color or multi-location prints, but start off with simple designs that will at least DOUBLE your profits.  Track your margins and purchase history, know what is selling and what isn’t.  Be accountable for every dollar spent.

5. Good Design Is In The Details.

It’s easy to slap some graphics on an assortment of shirt colors, but why not use the garment color to your advantage and work it into your image.  Use the garment color as the background color in your digital files and incorporate the negative space in your graphic – saving both ink and money.

6. Color Mode And Process Are Overlooked.

Before you start designing your piece, know what Color mode settings are appropriate for your print process.  Full Color printing uses a CMYK color mode while Screen Printing typically uses RGB color mode.  Keep in mind that computer monitors will look different from final pieces.  If color is important to you request a hard copy color proof.  If you have a previously printed garment be sure to provide it to your printer for matching.  It will help to reproduce what you already have if you make them aware of your expectations.

7. Measure Twice, Print Once.

If your timeframe and budget allow, order blank samples to gauge your maximum print size. Be sure to measure the print area of the smallest garments in your order and re-size your print files appropriately. If your garment size ranges are too great for one graphic to accommodate your order may be split and larger quantity discounts would no longer apply. Ask your printer how this would affect your rates and weigh your options.

8. They Refuse to Tap Abundant Creative Resources.

There are lots of sources for inspiration on the internet, as well as useful reference tools. Take advantage of them. Begin by perusing portfolios of graphic designers to get the creative juices flowing. There are plenty of services offering materials free or for purchase; stock photography, vector clip-art and fonts.  Be aware that if you download from the internet, you should be sure to read and adhere to their terms and conditions on commercial use, so you don’t infringe on their copyrights.

9. If You Aren’t a Graphic Designer By Trade, Act Like One.

No. 1 Rule: Follow Artwork Requirements. 

By following printer artwork requirements you are ensuring press-ready files are delivered when placing an order, allowing for quick processing and movement to production. Your projects will look better and your turnaround times will be shorter.

Vector art is preferred and will allow your artwork to be re-sized indefinitely without sacrificing print quality. Raster images (normally made in Photoshop or taken with digital cameras) do not allow for easy re-sizing. Pixel-based file formats, such as tiffs, can be re-sized without affecting your print quality provided that when re-sizing they are not re-sampled and resolution is not taken below the recommended ppi/dpi.

Tip: If re-sampling is turned on, just remember that you are deleting pixels when you make the image smaller and adding them if you make the image larger (this is called interpolation).

Illustrator Tips:

• Outline all fonts and text

• Embed any linked files

Photoshop Tips:

• Rasterize font layers

• Avoid “flattening” your image

• Create a separate layer to show your garment color

10. Order More Than You Need, But Don’t Overdo It.

Screen printing is both an art form and a manufacturing process. Despite your printer’s the best efforts, there will be spoilage.  Spoilage can occur when quality control deems one or more pieces irregular or “not of retail quality”.  Most apparel is ordered specifically for the quantities specified in your order.  If a piece is deemed irregular, it is common for printers to credit you for the damaged pieces if it falls below their threshold for setting the press up again and waiting for the new apparel to arrive.  So if you need exactly 24 shirts for exactly 24 people, be sure to order a few extras of each size and ensure that no one is left without a shirt.

On the other hand, don’t order more than what you can sell in a reasonable time frame. The last thing you want is your capital tied up in dead-stock, turning your risk into a liability.  Sure, the unit costs are cheaper the more you order but as long as your profit margins are at, or above, your projected levels then your investment is a sound one.  Submit multiple quotes in the planning stages of your project to figure out where your price breaks are and what the advantages are of ordering more or less.

One Response

  1. hippydog

    One thing the article didnt really touch on is the BRANDING side of it..

    I would say THAT is the biggest mistake that can be made..

    Picking a bad or half-assed design can (at best) do nothing for you, and (at worst) can hurt you..

    its ok to experiment with different ideas at first, but at some point you DO need to come up with something that is consistant. IE: an actual logo that can be recognized ..

    The faster you get a working brand or logo, the faster it will start working for you (besides being some ‘item’ that a fan will pay for)