At A Good Clip

Clip art graphics not only save time and money, but can be used as the starting point for eye-popping screen prints.

Almost two years ago during Labor Day weekend, John Hansson headed to Vermont with friends from his mountain bike racing team, all of them stoked for three days of riding and camping in the wilderness.

On the way up, the group decided to try out a new series of trails. Just as he reached the bottom of a steep path, Hansson realized he was about to crash into his friend barreling down at 30 miles an hour. So he bailed, falling into a batch of cut tree trunks at the trail’s edge and incurring a nasty 2” puncture wound in his side.

At the local hospital, a doctor packed the gaping wound with almost two feet of gauze. While others might have admitted defeat and headed home, Hansson was undeterred. So it was that, while riding and camping later that weekend, trying not to think about the pain, Hansson noticed his friend’s screen-printed tee.

“It showed an ape evolving into a guy on a mountain bike,” he says. “I asked him about it, and he said he had made them for the team. Then he tells me he’s moving and offered me his equipment, just like that. I said I’d definitely take it, though I had no experience making shirts.”

So Hansson came home with a painful injury … and a handmade manual press and screens he didn’t know how to use. Still undeterred, he took advantage of time off from his full-time job to experiment in his basement. Six months after going back, his mind was made up. “I called Ryonet (asi/528500), told them my story, and they recommended two things to start,” he says. “One was emulsion, the other was clip art.”

Fast forward to 2014, and Hansson operates a storefront in Danielson, CT. He credits the rapid growth of Up Top Screen Printing (asi/529673) to hard work, determination and, yes, clip art. “It’s been a Godsend,” he says. “I was able to focus on building up my shop and not just on artwork.”

When a printer doesn’t have the art skills to design art from scratch, the budget to hire a full-time artist or the clientele willing to shell out for custom art, clip or stock art can be the answer. Beyond its many immediate benefits, it offers potent creative variations that keep customers coming back for more.

A Viable Alternative

Fortunately, the mud and blood of Hansson’s dramatic story aren’t prerequisites for starting a growing screen-printing operation. Thanks to clip art, establishing a prosperous shop is an attainable reality for ambitious screen printers, including those lacking design experience who need to impress customers. Shops can choose from thousands of clip art graphics available in a variety of file types, including raster and vector, and enhance them with creative techniques. Options run the gamut from stylized animals and sports images, to occupation graphics, to food/beverage and holiday themes and more.

J.P. Hunt, partner at Albuquerque-based ClipArtBoom, founded the company as an alternative to what he calls “cheesy” desktop publishing. “Those graphics weren’t production-ready and required extensive editing,” he says. “Our clip art is royalty-free and high-quality. We also wanted to fill in design gaps by offering fashion-forward dance, cheer, gymnastics and lacrosse graphics.”

For Dane Clement, allowing screen-printers to save precious time on each order prompted him to found Great Dane Graphics. At one time, he offered only custom art at his New Orleans-based studio. But in 2005, disaster struck when Hurricane Katrina inflicted catastrophic damage on the city. Clement’s business wasn’t spared. He rethought his business model, and relaunched as a supplier of high-end, pre-separated clip art in raster, vector and DCS 2.0 EPS formats for screen-printing. “With our full-color graphics, screen-printers don’t need a staff illustrator,” says Clement, president of the company. “Our skilled artists spend several days painting just one detailed image so screen printers don’t have to take the time.”

The vast selection of available stock art makes it a practical substitute for top-to-bottom custom work, which often requires long hours of designing and editing, and frequently brings on headaches. Clip art, easily edited in-house, frees screen printers to turn orders around quickly and easily. In fact, says Hunt, no matter how effectual a shop’s production, hold-ups in the fulfillment process do occur. This is particularly true during the art development stage, when unexpected issues take up unpredictable amounts of time. “Clip art that’s high-quality and production-ready emphasizes your creativity and can turn art production, often a weakness in the process, into a strength,” he says.

Nowhere is this more important than in busy, burgeoning shops, where maintaining speed is key to satisfying and retaining customers. To streamline the process, Hansson says he sticks with clip art he can quickly edit in-house, and avoids outside artists’ files which often come in various formats. “If I can’t edit their art, they have to do it,” he says. “Then it’s back and forth, back and forth.

Vectorized clip art is easy to edit, and saves me countless hours. I can avoid a lot of major issues.”

Like Hansson, Judy Waltersdorff, owner of Lion Country Graphics in York, PA, has used clip art from the beginning for the speed and efficiency it offers. “It’s easier to meet tight turnarounds,” she explains. “Even when you work with artists, they’re either quickly whipping up custom art or they use clip art. Also, for a lot of clients, the high cost of custom artwork just isn’t feasible.”

Clip art has becomes so prolific that it has helped drive down art fees over the past several decades, according to Charlie Taublieb, president of Taublieb Consulting in Greenwood Village, CO. Along with increasingly diverse embellishment options, high-quality clip art has allowed decorators to achieve a custom-inspired look for less. “Clip art provides options,” he says. “It’s a necessity for people without an art background, shops too small for a full-time artist and rural businesses with limited access to artists.”

Give It a New Twist

Kudos – you’ve just bought a clip art package. Now you need ideas for making it your own. The trick is to think of clip art as an extension of personal style, just like a fully customized design. Once a shop overcomes limitations in creativity along with equipment and space, the possibilities are endless.

Among the most popular techniques screen printers use to vivify stock graphics are specialty inks, specialty effects such as puff or foil and different textures like gels and crackle. “Some printers take a full-color image and print it in one color for budget-conscious clients,” Clement says. “Others create dimension by printing full-color over halftones. By manipulating the same image in different ways, you show off capabilities without designing art from scratch.”

To add her personal touch, Waltersdorff often includes shading, bevel edges, flare marks, highlights and a worn look, achievable with reduced plastisol. “You can’t just slap it on and call it a day,” she says. “I make it my own, and it sets me apart from the competition.”

Hunt says glitter, flocking, shadow and gradients all “bring life and value to the design. You can’t always predict what the client will like, so present several options.” For shops with sundry embellishment capabilities, mixed media – such as screen printing with embroidery, appliqué or rhinestones – makes for an impressive look.

Those effects will cost extra, but are still more affordable for clients than custom art. Hansson says that for custom work, clients can expect, at the very least, charges for art production and editing, as well as screen charges and print costs based on quantities and number of ink colors. Similar costs do apply for stock art, but since it’s largely production-ready, it’s possible to charge minimal art fees. “If we can get clip art ready for production in less than 15 minutes, we waive any art charges,” says Hansson. “If it takes longer than that, our custom art fee applies.”

Operation costs also include the price for stock art. One full-color clip art graphic can go for about $10, while packages often range from about $80 to several hundred. ClipArtBoom sells single images as well as themed packs for around $300, and Great Dane Graphics sells Stock Art books for about the same price; each contains 250 raster images on four DVDs, with a variety of file types for different embellishment methods.

Only the Best

Because of the limitless possibilities when manipulating clip art, it’s appropriate to pitch to virtually every client. To start, look to one of the strongest – and often most loyal – customer bases: sports teams. “There are so many mascot clip art graphics to choose from,” says Clement. “Schools and Little League teams always want them, and sometimes even college and professional teams go for it. Some want vivid colors; others stick with one color to stay within their budget. If you can make a name for yourself, it’s an abundant customer base. There’s no shortage of them.”

Greg Peirce, director of software development at GroupeSTAHL, which offers royalty-free, high-quality stock art through CadworxLive, says sports teams, occupations, trade schools, churches, family reunions, Greek organizations and hospitals are all promising clients to pursue. “You can also add personalization, which makes on-site fulfillment a possibility,” he says.

While it’s important to consider the target industry in the presentation process, choosing a design often depends less on the client’s specific sector and more on budget and time limitations. For tight finances and turnarounds, one-color prints and smaller print sizes are ideal. Larger budgets and longer lead times mean more complicated graphics, additional embellishments and a wider range of apparel sizes. The secret is balancing customer expectations with the amount of time a shop can afford to spend on one order. “Screen printers should gauge what’s possible by their production schedule,” says Hansson. “For some, if their clients demand it, custom art may make sense. Or maybe you just use clip art to keep things moving through. You have to figure out where the money is and what your clients want.”

While clip art certainly expedites production, Taublieb, who has over 30 years’ experience advising new and existing shops, says it’s still important to use quality graphics, regardless of budget and schedule. “If a supplier charges $250 for 900,000 designs, you’re not going to get the highest quality art,” he says. “If you try to draw something without an art background, it’s not going to be better than clip art.”

It’s tempting to try to optimize speed and keep costs low by using cheap graphics and leaving out technical manipulation on the final design, but Taublieb delivers a stern warning: Shops that do so won’t be around for long after business moves elsewhere. “Stock art is a great tool, but it still has to be quality work,” says Taublieb. “If you just slap on a frosty mug for a bar, that’s not enough. Think beyond the basics. Shop around and find both complex and conservative graphics.”

Today’s clip art can make designing, editing and fulfilling orders a breeze, and giving a stock art-based design your signature mark can make all the difference between growth and contraction. Waltersdorff turned her personal touch into an integral part of her business model, and has led her team to consistent growth as a result. “I give each clip art graphic extra flash and flare,” she says. “Now, a lot of competing shops’ clients come to me.”