Chapter 4: Artwork (again)

I’ve already spent a lot of time discussing artwork, so this should be a good indication of how important it is. Without the artwork you have a blank shirt, and that is a hard sell unless the shirt is higher fashion and has artistic cuts and lines. I may have a section at a later time which explores high fashion in more detail, but for now we will focus the discussion on the typical, graphics-centered apparel line.

This chapter on artwork is going to discuss the more practical concerns you will face when you actually go to implement your business plan. Where and how will you get the artwork created? What sort of complications might you want to anticipate? And what are some things you may want to avoid when it comes to artistic decisions?

These are some of the questions we will try to answer in this chapter. Please be sure to leave questions or comments so we can expand the scope of this discussion and get valuable input from those with experience in graphic design and art.


Where Do I Get Artwork?

 Chapter Two talked about the artistic vision and the creative process, but the questions we are considering in this chapter are less abstract and more about how to actually go about executing your vision once it has been conceived. Let’s assume you already have at least a solid artistic concept. A lot of people who are trying to start an apparel line do their own graphic designing and produce their own artwork. This is one route you can take, but you may find yourself struggling to keep up with the demands of running a business and producing artwork – it’s best to at least have people that can help you in the creative department.

I also get people who come to me who have a concept but don’t have anyone to do the graphic designing yet. In this situation you will need to go out and find a good graphic designer and outsource the creative tasks. My advice to you is to find someone you can trust, someone with a good reputation in the artistic community, and make sure to have a contract they sign from the beginning so there is no ambiguity as to who owns the right to the artwork. If you don’t’ have the contract, then it is unclear from a legal standpoint who actually has the rights to it and this could lead to catastrophe in the future if there is a falling out between you an your artist. I’ve seen this happen and it is sad because the apparel line owner was left owning an apparel line but not the rights to the artwork.

Make sure to have a contract from the beginning to insure you as the owner have full discretion and rights over the artwork you are selling, no matter what happens to the relationship between you and your artist. Even if the artist is a good friend, relationships develop and change unpredictably, so don’t let something as important as the rights to the apparel line artwork be left to the vicissitudes of human relations. Get the legal assurance, because it lasts a lot longer than tacit agreements between acquaintances or friends. For ideas about how to structure a contract that works for both parties check out this website:

Outsourcing artwork to a contracted graphic designer can be very expensive in the beginning. Furthermore you may find freelance artists are unreliable because their work load is constantly in flux, and you can never be certain when they will have time to take care of your projects. It may take a couple days if they aren’t busy on a job for someone else, but if they have a lot on their plate it could take a month! You will find it very difficult to run a successful clothing line without a stable source of artwork production.

For the aforementioned reasons it is preferable to have an artist that is a business partner instead of a contractor. Having a partner reduces the initial start-up costs and makes it so the artist has a tangible stake in the success of the apparel line. This arrangement is both more affordable and more stable; however it can also be a source of internal division if you do not share the same artistic vision and passion with your partner. This arrangement only works good if it is born out of a deep-seated consensus on the artistic trajectory the apparel line and both parties are highly motivated.

The third option you have when it comes to artwork production is to open source it. This is the business model of the internet age, where it is now possible to draw on the collective talents and skills of those all over the world, and where productive capacities are disseminated in decentralized and dynamic networks.

Before you can open source your artwork production, you need to have a clearly articulated theme that is easy to identify with. The next step is to advertise your artistic vision to as many graphic designers and artists as possible. The goal here is to build a community of artists that make contributions to your collection when and if inspiration hits. If you are successful, you will be able to draw on an impressive creative resource because of the sheer number of people with artistic talent involved. There are many variations on this idea and you will have to think carefully about which one works for you from a business perspective.

There are advantages and disadvantages to using the open source model to acquire artwork. The advantages are that it is extremely cost effective (you only pay the artist per item sold) and the creative potential is almost infinite. One disadvantage however is that it is a large and unstable network. You can’t really count on any one person to sit down and work out a design, you are left hoping that the network has enough inputs to make up for the lack of any single individual effort. It’s hard to motivate any one of the artists to produce because, even though there are a lot of artists, none of them have a significant stake in the success of the apparel line.

The open source model won’t work for you if you already have a very particular artwork style that you want maintained as a standard for all featured designs. As a general rule, if you want to maximize your control over the artwork production and, you will want to avoid both outsourcing and open sourcing; instead you will want to either produce the artwork yourself or rely on a partner that shares your creative vision.

If a partnership is not viable, and if you are not a designer, you will need to find an artist you can trust to consistently produce the artwork according to your standards and in line with your artistic vision. Be careful here, because even though most artists aren’t out to take advantage of you, they have a different perspective and they may have ideas about how the business side of things should be run that you don’t agree to. This is why it is important from the beginning to have a legal agreement and a clear-cut and explicit understanding between you as to the limits of their artistic role. You want to develop a long-term and trusting relationship with your artist, and the best way to do this is by having an unambiguous understanding with regard to your respective roles in the process.

Just as an example of what happens when the role of the artist is not clearly agreed upon at the beginning, I will share a brief anecdote. There was a guy that came into my office with a website project. He had a great idea and just needed to get a graphic designer to start the process. The artist he found was paid a decent wage but ended up taking on responsibilities and tasks that were beyond the scope of what is appropriate to an artistic role. Everything went smoothly for about a year, but when the project was angel funded and there was money coming in, the artist felt that he was entitled to more than the wage he was paid. The owner was willing to give the artist a percentage of the company, but they were unable to agree on a figure. In the end, the artist filed a lawsuit and the website owner was unable to use any of the original artwork produced by the artist.

All of this could have been avoided in one of two ways: either the owner should have made the artist a partner from the beginning, since the artist was taking on a more expansive role; or the owner should have not allowed the artist to take on any more responsibility than what is appropriate for an artist to take on in an artistic capacity. Either way, this illustrates the importance of thinking ahead and not letting boundaries of responsibility become too blurred. It’s fine if the artist is taking on a larger role, just so long as there is explicit agreement from the beginning that prevents misunderstanding and resentment from developing down the road when more money is coming in.


The Business Side of Artwork

 One of the less glamorous aspects of artwork that you will need to think about before making key artistic decisions has to do with considering the cost to print. Nobody likes this part because it involves making cold, financial calculations that can in some cases limit the creative impulses you have. Even though we don’t like to make these types of decisions, it doesn’t make them any less important or necessary to starting a successful clothing line.

When people first come into my office to place an order for printing, they usually have the artwork they need printed in one form or another. However, one thing they usually haven’t thought about is the ways in which the cost of the design they need printed will depend a lot on the graphic characteristics of the design itself. Unfortunately, this is something that was not taken into consideration when the artwork was being created and they now need to go back and recreate it with certain restrictive parameters in mind.

The factors of the artwork that directly affect the printing cost include number of colors, gradients, size, and number of locations. There are other factors but they have minimal impact on the cost of printing. The number of colors is probably the biggest issue that people run into when it comes to translating their artistic vision into an affordable reality. The more colors you use, the more expensive it will be to print the design, and the more you will have to charge to sell the shirt.

Ideally, you will have this restriction in mind when creating the artwork. If you were unaware of this at the time artistic inspiration struck, and you have some killer designs that are too expensive to print, you will now need to sit down and figure out how to modify the artwork so it is printable within a range that makes it marketable. Obviously, if you are targeting a wealthy population that expects to pay a lot for designer clothing, you won’t need to worry about the costs associated with printing. But if you are selling to the average consumer, and your start-up costs need to be kept to a minimum, these considerations will be unavoidable.

Since I’ve done work with so many people on these issues, I decided about ten years ago to start developing online resources people can use to properly prepare their artwork to be affordably printed. At you will find graphic design services that allow you to take whatever artwork you have and get it converted into vector format so the colors are reduced and it can be easily set up for screen printing. There are a lot of reasons why people choose to get artwork redrawn in vector format, far too many to get into detail without putting you to sleep, but the most relevant reasons are that it gives artwork a cleaner appearance and it allows screen printers to make the color separations.

Vectorizing is one of the many useful graphic designing resources you will find at You will also find digitizing, color separations, and hand illustration services. In fact, the configuration of services was designed so that people trying to start a clothing line would only need to go to one place to find all the graphic resources needed to run a successful clothing line. This is one place you can go to get all of your artwork needs met. Whether you need a talented artist to create an illustration for you, or you just need an existing piece of artwork rendered in vector format, the team at will be able to get it done for you at a fraction the cost of the same services from a freelance designer.

Once your apparel line has become successful, you will want to create your own art department. This is an expensive leap you will have to make down the road, but for now you will want to find ways of outsourcing graphic design tasks that don’t require creativity or stylistic expertise. The resources at are affordable and will save you a lot of time and money. Furthermore, they have customer support staff who are especially trained and knowledgeable with regard to the needs of people starting apparel lines.

There are several spending traps I see people getting into. This happens because they make an initial investment which turns out to be insufficient because other costs were not anticipated. These spending traps are easily avoided by simply knowing where to go to find services that are affordable.


One trap can be avoided by making sure you don’t end up spending too much money on simply getting artwork ready for printing. I have seen way to many apparel line hopefuls run out of money before they have even been able to print anything. This is usually because they ended up paying a graphic designer thousands of dollars to create artwork that wasn’t print ready; and when they figure out it can’t be printed as is, they find out the same graphic designer wants to charge them another couple thousand to recreate it so it is print ready. Don’t end up in this trap. By utilizing the services at you will be able to have the artwork ready for printing at a price that allows you to actually run a successful business.

Another common spending trap that is easily avoided involves making sure you know enough about the printing process and where to get artwork setup services to obviate the need to pay horrendous artwork setup fees to printers. The printer will try to convince you that this fee is reasonable and necessary; they will throw graphic design jargon at you to persuade you that it’s not worth trying to figure out for yourself, and the conclusion they want you to come to is that their ridiculous artwork setup fee is actually a good value because you can avoid hassle by just leaving things to the experts.

Don’t pay artwork setup fees to printers. They are taking advantage of your lack of knowledge and charging you a premium for it. What they are charging $50 for can be done at for only $14. More importantly — since knowledge equals money in the apparel business — if you have any questions about the graphic design jargon being thrown at you by freelance artists and printers, just give the team at a call and they will be able to offer easy-to-understand explanations that will empower you to avoid artwork spending traps forever.

Something that especially frustrates me is to see someone with a great apparel line concept and inspired artistic vision get derailed because they lacked the knowledge to make smart business decisions regarding artwork production and setup. It’s frustrating because the knowledge you need to make smarter decisions is readily available and requires nothing but a desire to be better informed about how your money is being spent.

The most useful takeaway from this discussion is to realize that artwork is not just about creativity and brilliant concepts; it’s also about being properly informed about the process to insure you are not making financial decisions that threaten the economic viability of your new apparel line. Once you start a business, you need to make sure that you don’t loose sight of what makes it possible — which is the fact that it’s profitable. Without profit, the apparel line simply doesn’t exist. Running a successful apparel line requires that you think in a way that balances the excitement of the creative process with the less interesting and boring business decisions.

Achieving this balance often involves taking an approach that is actively engaged with every aspect of the process instead of just passively accepting the advice of ‘experts’. If a printer or artist uses a term you don’t understand, don’t just let it go and assume it’s just too technical to figure out; have them explain it to you or do some research to find out more. Once you know more, you are in the position to act proactively and take advantage of resources like that can help you avoid catastrophic spending traps.

We’d love to hear from anyone with a story about their experience. Whether you have advice or just want to ask a question, let us know by leaving comments or contacting us to have a featured article. To have a featured article on the blog, just shoot me an email with the content at and put clothingline101 in the subject line.


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