CUSTOM T-SHIRT & APPAREL DECORATION
Express yourself in full-color with digital direct-to-garment (DTG) printing
GRADIENT FILLS & COMPLEX REGISTRATIONS
Gildan Ultra Cotton, Black (100% cotton)
Perfectly aligned, detailed multiple image color transitions
Contrasting photo inlay image
Halftone-free blue to white gradient text transition
FULL COLOR PRINTS ON 50/50 BLENDS & TRIBLENDS
Allmade Triblend, Rebel Blue (50% recycled PET, 25% organic cotton, 25% TENCEL)
Vivid CMYK multi-color art
Soft, durable print even on high-poly triblend
100% POLYESTER PERFORMANCE & SPORTSWEAR
Augusta Sportswear Reversible Basketball Jersey, White/Gray (100% polyester)
100% DTG Printed, front & back, inside & out
Precut heat transfer vinyls also available for this decoration style
Direct to Garment (DTG) Printing
Full-Color Process CMYK (On Fabrics)
Heat Transfer Vinyls & Plastisols (Hats, Bags, Etc.)
High Polyester Content Printing
"Halftone Free" Gradients & Fills
Small to Medium Size Runs
Interview with Brad Barnas founder of Northwood Printing
What did you do previous to founding and running Northwood Printing Company and how specifically did the company founding come about?
If you go back far enough, I’ve been a heavy industry machine operator, an industrial chemist, a technical sales rep, a pharmaceutical chemist, a dish care soap researcher, a brew master, an AP chemistry teacher, a high school principal, and a stay-at-home-dad. Just by looking at the job titles you can follow my life as a college student, young engineer, husband, and then father. For context, my spouse is a career chemical engineering manager.
When our children were younger, they liked watching large trains go by. It was something fun and easy to do, since we lived in a rural area east of Pittsburgh. Our family would visit places to see trains, and we would buy shirts with printed railroad logos from trackside gift shops. In the spring of 2016, we thought it would be fun to make our own shirts with train logos, but we wanted them to have a vintage look like the trendy, expensive shirts from the mall. So we designed a few and offered them for sale online. Sales gained momentum quickly, and we had expanded to over 160 designs before our business ever grew beyond the kitchen table.
We hired a local printer to make our shirts for us because we couldn’t keep up. As this business relationship matured, I took a distant but keen interest in how their digital clothing printing machines worked. Last year, our printer decided to move on to other larger projects and asked us if we wanted to buy their equipment outright and take over the business. We secured a loan, and started operations in December 2018 as Northwood Printing, but we’ve been an ecommerce brand since 2016.
How did you learn what you needed to design, manufacture and sell your products?
Believe it or not, as an engineer you do a lot of drawing, particularly on computers. So the transition from drafting and CAD programs to illustrations and Photoshop wasn’t that big of a leap. They are just different forms of art with different computer tools to get things working. As far as manufacturing and sales, I leaned on all my experiences gained over the years in manufacturing and working with people in education.
You can have great designs and neat ways to make things, but you really need to be collegial and relatable as a person to be trusted by clients. You have to know how to understand what others want and need, and then have the technical expertise to deliver it. We can’t imagine this company even existing without having years of business knowledge and observation about what to do and not to do influencing every decision and product.
Has the degree Northwood Printing has been a family business helped you to grow the business?
Among other things, operating a family business is one way to keep initial expenses fairly low while maintaining contact with all of your family. In the early stages of any business, there are long, irregular hours; family members not only understand this, but are willing to help. As we work together, our family sees the business grow and develop like I do, and they begin to formulate helpful suggestions about the company itself. They are involved, curious how things work, and engaged with what is going on. Plus, we can talk about life and have fun while we work. It’s a great setup if you can have it.
Do you feel the same level of excitement over new projects as when you first got started with the company?
I wouldn’t say “excitement” as much as I would say “less fear”. When starting out, we took any job we could get and we would just figure out any details regarding whether or not we could print the order later. There was no time to be excited with such a steep learning curve. Luckily, we had a lot of friendly help from resources along the way, and now we’re to the point where we can celebrate some of the larger or more interesting projects that come along. One good thing from it all was that since we all started at the same time as a family, no one person had inherently more knowledge about operations than another. We all had equal input, and it got us up and running much faster.
What differentiates your printing from other types of printing such as screen printing?
The kind of printing we specialize in is called digital direct-to-garment (DTG) printing. The quickest way to understand DTG is to imagine a giant LaserJet printer that holds shirts instead of paper. Our process starts with images created on a computer. These images are split by software into five distinct layers based upon the following colors: Black, white, cyan (blue), magenta (red), and yellow.
These color layers are then sent to the printer, and each is reproduced by spraying tiny precision-controlled pigment microdroplets onto the fabric. As these various combinations of colored microdroplets come in contact with each other during printing, they mix together like paint to create thousands of color possibilities right on the garment. It’s a very low waste, environmentally friendly process since the only ink being used is that controlled by the DTG computer.
Screen printing, which we also do but to a much lesser extent, would use the same computer image. But unlike DTG, different parts of the image -- based on final color – would be recreated on different framed screens. A screen is like a strong picture frame with a thin sheet of plastic containing regular, tiny holes tightly stretched out to the edge of the frame.
The holes let ink flow through the screen to fabric beneath it. We use the image and a special UV process to block some of the screen holes, which controls where the ink may flow. This way, we rebuild the image frame by frame, color by color, using inks and a squeegee to push it through the holes onto apparel. Even though the processes are vastly different, the finished images in most cases look a lot alike.
What are some of the key areas that help differentiate you from other printing businesses?
Digital DTG printing setup is low-cost and very fast. Oftentimes, we can get going on and complete printing projects in just a few hours when we have clothing on-hand. Additionally, we are much better suited to handle complex art prints, meaning images taken from a camera or one that has subtle color transitions or more than 8-10 colors overall. Since we can typeset right on the computer, jobs like sports team jerseys with different numbers on each print is no problem.
What are your projections for growth over the next couple of years?
We are looking toward steady, organic growth in the 10-20% range over the next 1-2 years. This type of growth is more long-lasting in our opinion than paid advertising growth, which can explode and disappear quickly. We do social media ads, but our main focus is on face-to-face conversations and client relationship building for the long term.
Have you developed long term relationships with some of your clients?
Absolutely. We do a significant amount of B2B work, and these are almost always extended, ongoing relationships.
Are all of your shirts American made and if not what percentage are?
This is an interesting question that must be answered in parts. First, all our products are designed and printed in Pittsburgh. But the fabrics that client designs are printed on will vary widely by customer. For example, we have clients that specify only union-made, 100% USA garments will be used in their products. We have another ecommerce customer that will only sell their printed designs on shirts made partly from recycled plastic bottles and specifically cut and stitched for a fair wage in Haiti. Complicating the matter are the clothing wholesalers, which often time make fabric and cut in the US, but stitch in the Far East or South America.
It’s a real alphabet soup of source regions, but we’d estimate that about 20% of our total printing is strictly made in the US end-to-end. The important thing to keep in mind is that a customer’s choice in fabric is strongly connected with the expressed intent of the art printed on it. Today, clients say as much with their choice of shirt as they do with the design placed on it. It’s an integrated package now, shirt and print, and we’ll continue to be sensitive to the needs of every client’s message being sent out of our shop.
Is most of your business in the vicinity of the Pittsburgh area and are you able to take on jobs elsewhere in other states?
About 30% of our business is directly from the Pittsburgh area, the rest is US or international. Shipping is so good these days, we can realistically serve any customer reachable by mail as long as it isn’t cost prohibitive.
Do you work particularly with any fundraising organizations for fundraising projects with your apparel and printing services?
We love working with community and fundraising projects, but tend to not get too many orders since we are unable to outright donate free finished goods as of yet. As a young business, we’re primarily focused on cash flow and survival in 2019-20. That’s just part of being a fiscally responsible new company. However, we do have customers that contract with us at a reduced price and then sell online such that they may donate some profits to specific causes. We also help out local schools and clubs with small print jobs, so we’re at least doing some altruistic printing locally, just not a lot of it at this point.
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