At a time that many high-end garment printers were struggling to produce realistic images in CMYK, an artist took an entirely different approach that would eventually take the industry by storm.
A Different Kind of Process Print
In 1983, Dave Gardner was a few months short of receiving a B.F.A. in oil painting from SUNY Buffalo when he headed to Texas seeking a job as an illustrator. He spotted an ad from a Fort Worth company called 3D Emblem that was looking for an artist to produce designs for Harley-Davidson T-shirts. Though he had no professional screen printing experience, Gardner had experimented with it since he was 15. “My parents gave me a Hunt Speedball home kit and I started making my own Kiss shirts,” he recalls. “I started out with one-color prints, and then I figured out I could airbrush on additional colors. I had the drive to do more complex things, and eventually I began making my own heat transfers.”
What may be the first simulated process-color print, a 1984 Harley-Davidson design and the first work Dave Gardner did at 3D Emblem.
Gardner joined the industry right as the stakes for producing branded apparel grew exponentially higher. Within two weeks of starting at 3D Emblem, he says the company received a cease and desist letter from Harley-Davidson, which resulted in them becoming one of the first three licensed producers of apparel for the brand. The artwork wouldn’t just be sold to individual dealers any longer – it had to be great.
To Gardner, the challenge of bringing an iconic brand to life on the canvas of a black T-shirt inspired him to combine the techniques he had learned in art school with his earlier screen printing experiments. “My idea was basically to take what I had been doing with a transfer and print it in reverse. With transfers, you would start with the colors through a high mesh count and then finish with a low mesh white behind it so that it would stick to the shirt.” He realized that if he started by direct printing a similarly thick layer of ink and flashing it, he’d get a canvas of sorts onto which he could render highly intricate details.
A 1980 Serigraphic Designs four-color process shirt done with water-based inks and a highlight white.
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