Shop Tech Solutions

Not so many years ago, our industry operated with simpler tools.  Squeegees and ink.  Needles and thread.  Maybe a whiteboard or spreadsheet for scheduling.

Remember when you used to plaster parking lots with flyers for your shop?  That was caveman social media.

These days things are far more complicated.

Whether you are the “one-man band” and operate your business by yourself, or your shop has a multitude of employees and is an around-the-clock juggernaut, there is one thing that can help simplify your business:


The use of tech in your business can extend the number of things you are working on simultaneously.  It can make a particular challenge easier.  It can handle a specific task faster.  It can save you money.  Or, it’s just plain cool.

For this article I’m purposely avoiding production equipment and shop operating systems.  I know, I know.  I’ll get to those with another article.

Interested in that?  Check out this outstanding issue of Screenprinting that is dedicated to automation.  Especially my article on page 30 “Five Steps to Take Control of Your Printroom.”

Let’s take a look:


Are your customers sending you orders or requests via text message or even Facebook Messenger?

Do you find that annoying?

“Dadgummit! Why can’t people email like they are supposed to?  How dare they contact me with a method that’s convenient for them!  What are they thinking?”

It is simple.  Because texting is easier. Why talk when you can just type?  For younger users, it’s probably the preferred method.

In our got-to-have-it-now truncated universe, texting eliminates the need for any social norms.  It gets down to the nitty-gritty without any “hey how are you?”.

It just doesn’t fit well with our established industry business model that is based on emails or even talking on the phone.  I’m old enough to remember when emailing started.  Are you?

Text messaging for communication isn’t going anywhere.  In fact, as your customer demographic changes to skew towards a younger generation, text usage will continue to increase.  You can either adapt, or become irrelevant.

That frustration you are feeling now?  It’s just going to get worse without some sort of change.  But there is a solution on the horizon!

Instaply is an app that you can use to redirect this challenge to suit your needs.

The trick here is that you can build the communications backend in Instaply with pre-written messages to handle those after hours requests.  Better yet, you can turn the tables on your customers that prefer to use text messages by sending them their art approvals, invoices or other business files to them via text.  Make that communication channel work for you, instead of against you.

Emails often go to spam filters or sometimes are never opened.  Conversely, 98% of all text messages are read within three minutes of receipt.  You know this is true, because you read text messages instantly too.  We all do it.

What’s really great is that in Instaply you can seamlessly handoff text message conversations to other members of your team.  It’s all recorded in one text stream, regardless of how many members of your staff are handling the questions.

  • “Hey can I get a new quote with hoodies instead of t-shirts”?  Have a customer service rep take over.
  • “What if the logo was blue?” – new art approval coming your way!
  • “Can you send me an updated invoice?”  In the admin, shoot that over to your accounting team.
  • “What’s the tracking number for that shipment?” Get their sales rep or your shipping folks involved.

For the security minded this is a fantastic tool.  Instaply removes that text message chain off of your employee’s phones and into a saved channel.  Those business conversations are kept with the company, not on anyone’s cell phone.  If someone was to leave your company, all of that dialog history stays with you.

There is even a webpage widget that you can apply to your website to install the text messaging communication as the first round of contact.  Many people just want answers, not necessarily to “talk” to anyone.  This solves that problem.  And at $100 a month for your entire company, it’s an inexpensive elegant solution.

Want to learn more?  You can book a free demo by texting “T-Shirt” to (805) 204-7138.  Ask for Don.  He’s a nice guy.

Pantone Lighting Indicator Stickers

Have you ever nailed that PMS color in production only to have your customer call you and complain that the printed result doesn’t match their swatchbook?  How are you ever going to win that argument?  You know you printed it right!

Here’s how.

Can stickers be considered tech?  Make sure your customer is viewing the color in the correct lighting temperature with these easy to apply lighting indicator stickers from Pantone.  Yes, colors can change in different lighting conditions.  The quality of the light can make a critical difference on how color is viewed by the human eye.

There are two types of patches to apply to your sample.  Under ideal lighting conditions, they will match.  If the lighting isn’t quite right, the patches will appear to be different.  This ensures that your work mixing and printing the ink color is being viewed by your customer with the optimal lighting.  If it matched on your end, it will match on their end.

Do things the right way and be confident in your color reproduction.

For graphic reproduction use the D50 series Pantone Lighting Indicator Stickers.  They are $55 a sheet, which may seem expensive to some shops.  However, to ensure proper color communication with a nit-picky or a critical client that may be cheap. 

My Pantone App

Speaking of Pantone colors, have you ever wondered what color something might be in front of you?  Want to double check that you mixed that hue correctly?  Did your client just request you print that logo in 7653 but you aren’t in your office to check your PMS book?

Did you know that Pantone has an app that you can use with your phone to find out?  The My Pantone app works with all devices and for only $7.99 it’s a deal.  

After you download the app it wants you to ensure you are set up properly with using the X-Rite color calibration tool.  This is an extra expense and logical step.  So if you truly are interested in making your cell phone or iPad an accurate tool, then you’ll need to go this route.

But, the app works great without it too.

What’s nice is that all of the Pantone books available are now loaded on your phone.  Sure, they aren’t a directly printed official match, but if you want to view a color easily it may be a way to go.  Phone screen color cast be damned.

Don’t have $130 to blow on a proper Pantone book?  This may be a cheaper, but albeit not perfectly accurate, route for color matching.  For salespeople or customer service reps that just want to view what a particular color looks like for conversational purposes, this may be perfect.

It’s easy to use.  Just take a picture of something with the app.  There is a focus tool that works with your finger to dial in the area you want to review for the color match. I’ve played around with it with some printed pieces I had available.  Like the Pantone stickers above, you’ll need good neutral lighting for the app to work best.  It still gives you some good readings and may be helpful in your shop.

For designers, there’s a great feature that shows five color harmony selections for any color.  This could be a wonderful tool if you are working on a project and need the exact color wheel opposite of PMS 7421.  (It’s PMS 2266 by the way)  It also shows the cross references for any color in all of the Pantone books at a glance.  So when your customer says their Pantone color blue is 70-5-3 C, you can instantly determine that PMS 2757 C is the perfect match.

And that’s not all!

The app also gives you LAB, CMYK, RGB and HTML numbers for every color too.  No need to run to Photoshop to look those up any longer if you are trying to convert.

Just go to your app store to purchase it.  You’ll never know when inspiration may hit.

Ink Mixing Systems

Speaking of color, can your shop accurately mix ink for any Pantone color in just a few minutes?

Plenty of shops, especially smaller ones, just use ink right out of the bucket because they lack the special skill in ink mixing.  Not everyone has an eye for color or has the artist background to know how to mix for color matching.

When someone does request a particular color, either they order that ink from their supplier or they try to stumble through and mix it themselves through the age-old trial and error method.  That’s how that quart you needed for that job wound up being a gallon.  Or more.  And it still wasn’t quite right.

Why struggle?  Why limit the numbers of crayons in your design box too?

Both of the two top ink companies, Wilflex and Rutland, offer online ink mixing systems that can take the burden out of this chore.

These are component based systems.  You start with a digital scale.  Everything is measured in grams, so you’ll need that scale to go to .01 for exact mixes.  Zero it out with your bucket, and then add the right amount of the ink base, plus all of the pigments needed to make the color built on the pre-calibrated formula.

A pro tip is to use inexpensive condiment bottles for the thinner pigments so you can add them by a drop or two easily.  For thicker pigments, just use your mixing blade.

This type of workflow works for plastisol, waterbase and silicone inks.  Just like in music, it’s all about the base.  No treble.

The Wilflex IMS 3.0 system is what I’ve used professionally and it’s very convenient and easy to use.  You can repurpose one color of ink to mix another, which will save you money in the long run.  Imagine using 2500 grams of PMS 186 to mix PMS 202?  Yep, the system calibrates it for you.  You can create and save custom ink mixes and even print bucket labels too.  The new Rio system has added two more pigments to the line-up for even truer Pantone color matching.

Rutland’s version is from the Rutland Group Color Center and is called the DMX system.  This mixes for Rutland, QCM, Printop and Union inks.

Regardless of the ink platform, the tech application here minimizes the headaches and flattens the learning curve in mixing colors.  Plus, you can mix only the amount of ink you need for a job as the formulas are based on grams, not the size of the bucket.  Professionals are specific about their printed color, and with such an easy way to manage your ink workflow, you need to get this technology working for you.

Don’t limit your shop’s color selection because mixing is “too hard” or “too expensive”.

Shop Floor Plans

Ever wish you had a professional planning guide to play around with shop layout and workflow?  Sure, it’s easy to just sketch things out on a pad of paper.  However, nothing beats the thrill of dragging and dropping your shelving, equipment and other things in a computer program.

So, what can a small business use that’s not too pricey?

How about SmartDraw?  I discovered this app when I was looking up something else online.  There is a one week free trial, and then after that it’s 14.95 per month, billed annually.  Which means, ahem, get your planning completed in the first week or so.

When you log in, the site shows mostly residential housing but if you click through you can find the commercial building section.  It is fantastically easy to drag walls out to make them larger, or add a doorway somewhere.  Just click and enter the dimensions of your floorplan.  Add in everything in your shop.

Want to work on your workflow and shop efficiency?  Get some basic measurements down and enter them into SmartDraw.   Flip stuff around.  Brainstorm on how changing your workflow direction might work if you put your shipping department on the other side of the room.  Want to add embroidery or a DTG printer?  Plan where that work area could squeeze in with your existing floor plan challenges.

This app answers the question “What if we did it this way?”


Many shops struggle with growing their social media accounts.  Is there anything that can help?

For Twitter, TweetBuzz is a service that allows you to enter specific keywords, hashtags, names or other user defined keywords.  The service will automatically follow accounts based on these preferences for you.  After three days, if they haven’t followed you back TweetBuzz unfollows the account automatically.  #winning

I have to admit that I was leery about having a service handle this for me, but I like the results.

In just a few months, my Twitter account has grown organically with some fantastic results.  Sure, there’s a bunch of odd looking ducks in there from time to time.  Those weirdos all seem to go away with the programming. But once you get used to refining the keyword parameters your followers tend to shake out much better.

For the first week or so, be sure to include the keywords to “Not Follow” and also enter accounts to ignore.  It’s a robot doing the work, so it grabs everything.  The more selective you are about who to target, the better results you’ll have.

I’m getting more followers that are in this industry.  These people are interested in my content and my blog readership has increased with more than sixty new readers a day.  Which is working towards my goal of developing a bigger audience.

For your shop, this could be your target demographic following you.  Automatically.

Tired of just having a few followers on your Twitter account?  This service is something I know that works.  Go to this TweetBuzz link and see for yourself. 


Buffer is how I schedule all of my social media.  I usually have all of the posts you see pegged out at least two weeks in advance.   When I know I have a busy slate ahead, sometimes I’ll push that scheduling out to a month.

What’s valuable about Buffer is that it measures anything with a hyperlink.   You’ll know how many people clicked on each post you share.  It also tracks likes and comments.  This is a great way to test not only what type of content works to build your online brand, but what day and time to post that content.

You can share up to ten posts on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest for free.  If you want to go over that amount, you’ll have to upgrade.  I was a free user for a long time.   But I liked the flexibility of scheduling things out, so I opted to upgrade to get more posts in the queue.

The beauty of Buffer is that is very simple to use.  Write your post.  Select what social media channel it should drop into.  Then, you can “Add to Queue” which means that it plops it in as the last post to go out.  You can also select “Share Next” or “Schedule”.  There are a lot of options to refine how you share your posts.  Experiment and see what works best to drive the interaction with your audience.

Once you get the hang of it, you can load all of your social media posts in advance in a very short amount of time.  When I ask shops about their social media marketing the number one excuse I hear about social media is “I don’t have enough time to do it right.”

Buffer is a great mechanism to handle that chore.  Try it!


Let’s face it, content creation is hard.  That’s why people don’t do it.

I’ve spoken before about the 90-9-1 rule about content.  90% of the content that’s published is read by people online that follow or are connected to you.  9% of those people will like, share, comment or retweet that content.  Sadly only 1% of the people online are actually creating the content that everyone enjoys.  So that 1% fills the channels that 90% of the people consume.

It pays to be in that 1%.

But you are busy.  And busy is actually an understatement usually.  So, how do you create content that is unique to your brand?

Have you ever thought of an infographic?  These are short, fact-filled graphics that can convey a message to your audience.  Think about the top four or five questions you get asked every month.

  • “What is the most popular t-shirt color?”
  • “What size graphic can fit on a shirt?”
  • “What’s the difference between a raster and a vector file?”
  • “How many stitches is this logo?”
  • Fill in the blank for your shop “___________”.

Imagine if you created an infographic that answered one of those questions.  Then you share it every few weeks or so on your social media channels. (Using Buffer of course)  Post it on your website.  Email it to customers when they ask the same question.  It’s a handy tool.

Then create another one next month.  Soon, you’ll have plenty of evergreen, fact-filled pieces of content to share on a regular basis.

I’ve been using an app called Visme for about a year now.  You can use it for free.  It’s extremely simple to create animated infographics that resonate.  Check out this one I made called “Operation Critical: Screen Prep”.  

What’s easy about Visme is that there are plenty of ready to use templates.  Once you add your own images, logos and flair, you’ve created your own infographic in just a few minutes.  Getting started is a piece of cake, just scribble out in list form what you want to say.  Gather some images and upload them.  Select a template, and then put everything together.

Voila!  Instant market differentiator.

This is how you can educate your customer base.  Put more knowledge in their hands.

Learning Can Be Tech

Ever wanted to learn how to print better?  Lack the funds to take a workshop or maybe you just don’t know how to get started?

Well, you are in luck.  Just released from MagnaColours is a comprehensive ten module online learning tool.  These modules are built to be half-day learning sessions that focuses the attention on particular area of screen-printing on garments.  This is simply brilliant.

Here are the modules:

  • Module One: Printing with high solids
  • Module Two: Printing with medium solids onto non-dischargable fabrics
  • Module Three: Discharge printing
  • Module Four Soft base printing onto light garments
  • Module Five: MagnaMix colour matching
  • Module Six: Pre-press artwork, separations & screen making
  • Module Seven: Special effects printing
  • Module Eight: Quality Control
  • Module Nine: Troubleshooting
  • Module Ten: Toxic textiles

These classes are set up so you can learn at you own pace, when it is convenient for you.  Check this great FREE learning tool at MaganColors Academy


“We must use time as a tool, not a couch.” – John F. Kennedy

“Tell me and I forget.  Teach me and I remember.  Involve me and I learn.” – Benjamin Franklin

“The science of today is the technology of tomorrow.” – Edward Teller



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