Digital disruption isn’t new to our industry, but the most recent wave, characterized by highly funded e-commerce companies building new channels of distribution for decorated apparel, may have the most far-reaching implications.
Some people look at the internet-based businesses that are gaining momentum in custom apparel and think that digital disruption has finally reached our industry. Not me: I’m used to being disrupted. This is my fourth rodeo. It started before many who are reading this were even born. When I got into the graphics industry in the 1970s, it was a highly evolved craft with specialists at many different levels. In many cities, there was a formal apprenticeship model and techs worked their way up to the journeyman level of proficiency.
That all changed in the early ’80s with the introduction of the PostScript language and Apple’s release of the Macintosh personal computer and LaserWriter laser printer. Desktop printing was born. I still remember marveling at being able to choose fonts and print them out of the laser printer. That was 1984, and the world as we knew it took a sharp turn.
We needed to learn a whole new set of skills. Desktop computers were still fairly rare. It was a heady time as we raced to learn Adobe Illustrator. Then, in 1990, Photoshop appeared and sealed the deal. We could now scan art into the computer, adjust it, and output it through the laser printer. Customers stopped giving us crappy hand-drawn art and started bringing in horrible art created on the desktop in MS Word and PowerPoint. It was genuinely awful, but we persevered. We were still making camera shots, but soon we were evolving to have film output from the local service bureau.
Enter the second digital disruption: digital film output. By 1988, you could get your positives output from a Linotronic imagesetter, or color separations from a high-end, million-dollar Hell, Crosfield, or Scitex drum scanner. It was still very expensive – a typical set of CMYK color separations for a T-shirt cost about $350 to $600 – but it was clear that the days of the process and stat camera were numbered.
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