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Clan Gear: guild clothing for the masses


Adam and Freya Chapman have run Threadsafe, a direct-to-garment printing business, for the last two years, and have managed to pull in a number of corporate clients. They provide printing services for Bountee -- a custom t-shirt site on the internet -- and shirts for Freaklabel music, just to name two. Now, in conjunction with Adam's brother Keith, they're opening Clan Gear, a direct-to-garment printing outlet for gamers, where the focus on the printing is your artwork, your character, and your designs.

Here's the rub: while Threadsafe has been in business for a couple of years now, Clan Gear is just starting up, and they're still working on their proof catalog. While you can keep up with the advances in technology (and the company itself) via Clan Gear's official forums, the best way to see what they've done in the past is to check out Threadsafe's commercial customers and the clans that have already availed themselves of Clan Gear's printing. Current samples up on their web page include shirts for Marshmallow Underground -- a World of Warcraft guild with over 300 members -- and Guilds United, a coalition of ten WoW guilds.

Earlier efforts in clothing printing were limited due to technology. From silkscreening on, white was usable only as a negative space color, as there were no solid white dyes. White paints abounded, yes, but attempts at dyeing the fabric indicated that white pigments were prone to bleed through. Less of an issue with fabric paint -- where the media simply lay on the substrate -- a fabric dye actually sinks into the fabric itself, and the weave of the garment can carry the pigment along its length, often with unforseen circumstances. Luckily, advances in technology have allowed companies like Threadsafe to reliably print patterns with a true white dye rather than relying on the negative space left by masking white fabric.

One element that's still difficult in the garment printing industry is curved surfaces. In some ways, garment painting still holds the lead here, as it's relatively easy to spray patterns onto a hat, for example, but a far more difficult matter to dye the hat's surface. Aside from the issue of curvature distorting the dye spray, paint will lay on top of stitched ridges, while dye will soak along the threads, grooves, and seams of the article. Adam states that they're still working to correct the issues, and that they're holding off on printing hats until they're comfortable with the results. Luckily, flat printing technology means that -- even though they're primarily focused on clothing -- they're not limited to t-shirts and the like. Posters, mouse pads, and other non-curved surfaces are fair game for the service.

One thing Clan Gear is offering is special effects for their shirts. After the initial dyeing is completed, swords and shields can be enhanced with shiny vinyl. If you need greater reflectivity, that part of the garment can be masked, and techniques can be used to increase the shine on that portion of the image. Likewise with holographic imagery, glow in the dark elements, or -- in theory, at least -- almost any other effect a designer might wish. Obviously, blending paints, different fabrics, and pigments on one garment can theoretically cause a problem in that different areas may fade or wear at different rates as the garment ages; however, that will also depend on how (and how often) the garment is worn, how it's washed, and how it's cared for.

Another issue some individuals have with dyeing a garment as opposed to painting one is turnaround time. The turnaround in a mall kiosk for getting an image painted onto the side of a mug or sprayed onto a shirt can be as little as an hour, while Threadsafe quotes a turnaround time of 24-48 hours once they have the customer's artwork and chosen garment in stock. While they have accounts with all major clothing suppliers, it can take a few days to get a shirt in stock if they don't already have it on hand, and the artwork may have to be cleaned up or resubmitted if it's unusable when it's first received. This means that an average turnaround is three to five business days, with a day or two added for USPS Priority Mail shipping.

The company is currently working with the various game companies to make sure they're not infringing on copyrights. They're not looking to print generic screen captures of the game itself, but they do want to print World of Warcraft guild t-shirts, City of Heroes/City of Villains costumed characters in action, and other in-game banners and artwork that characters have created. Consider this: if you've spent hours making the perfect sail in Pirates of the Burning Sea, shouldn't you have the opportunity to have a poster of it up in your game room?

So do you have a character's costume you'd like to see reproduced on a t-shirt? Does your clan have a particularly impressive logo, or do you have some incredibly complex game-related artwork you'd like to see on a hoodie? If the answer is yes, then get creative: contact Clan-Gear, and let them know what you're looking to produce. They'll tell you whether or not your idea is feasible, and you just may have a customized guild or supergroup shirt the next time you wipe when next you enter an instance together.

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