There is a difference between being a racecar driver and owning a race team — and that difference is a $14 T-shirt. A racecar driver races, and occasionally a person or two from work will show up and help crew for a weekend. A race team owner races, provides custom T-shirts for his friends at work, and they help crew for an entire season. You would be surprised how much you can gain from screen printing some T-shirts.
Over the years, my team has made more than a dozen different team shirts, which means we made at least a dozen mistakes. Why so many different shirts? Well, shirt design changed multiple times due to a variation in sponsors, a change in car color, a new choice in vehicle manufacturer, or simply a change in event. With every shirt we made, we learned a slew of new lessons — and fired a lot of flaky screen printers.
Before outfitting your team with a uniform, know what you want to accomplish and what your budget is. Thinking you are going to hand out custom embroidered jackets to every member of your crew and all their girlfriends is a novel idea, but that idea comes at a cost that may be more than your annual tire budget. But you can’t go too cheap because team uniforms, in some cases, are actually a requirement. For the 25 Hours of Thunderhill, the supplemental rules mandate a matching uniform: “10) The “matching team uniform” rule will be enforced. Team members with nonmatching uniforms may not be allowed entry to the hot pit lane. Anyone needing uniforms may contact www.gogogear.com.” According to NASA, a “matching uniform” could simply be everyone on the team wears a white T-shirt from Walmart. Or the entire team can sport matching Metallica concert T-shirts from 1992. NASA doesn’t care what you wear, as long as you all wear the same thing. But if you want to create a sharp-looking uniform to set your team apart from the others while working on a small budget, you are probably looking at screen printing.
One of the first lessons we learned the hard way was the multiple-color rule. More colors equal more money. If your sponsor logo has six different colors in it, chances are it will cost you more to screen print their logo on two dozen shirts than the actual product they provided to your team to sponsor you for the race. In screen printing, there is a separate screen with a logo burned into it that is placed on a T-shirt and then ink is squeegeed over the screen. The ink goes through the holes in the screen and leaves the logo on the shirt. For every color in a logo, a separate screen needs to be created, a separate setup of the shirt and ink needs to be conducted and thus more money is involved. From this we learned to save money by creating a shirt design that is a single-color logo. No, it isn’t as dynamic as some multicolor shirts, but we can’t really justify the extra cost. We want to spend our money on high octane fuel, not cotton T-shirts.
Additionally, a logo on the front, a logo on the back, and a logo on the sleeve of a shirt equals three separate setups, and each setup costs more money. We have made the mistake of going crazy while designing a shirt that we all wanted to proudly wear, but we aren’t Penske Racing, and we couldn’t afford it. We have learned to create a shirt design that only requires one screen to be burned. A portion of the screen is our single-color back logo and the rest of the screen is for our small single-color front logo. This saves us costs because we are not charged for the creation of a separate screen creation.
Another lesson we learned is bulk ordering. The more shirts you make, the cheaper it is to buy the blank shirts, and the cost per shirt goes down. However, making more doesn’t always make sense. For instance, ordering 48 shirts — everything is done in dozens with shirts — at $12 a shirt costs $576, versus ordering 24 shirts at a higher price of $14 per shirt for a total of $336. We may only need 20 shirts. Why spend another $240 to save $2 a shirt?
We learned that plain white T-shirts are cheaper to purchase than colored shirts, because the manufacturer doesn’t have to dye the shirt. But we also learned that by saving a few dollars on our shirt order, the shirts looked terrible after one weekend at the track. White doesn’t hide dirt. The money spent on a dyed shirt was well worth it.
We also learned to be cognizant of the climate. There is no point in making team T-shirts just so everyone on the crew can wear a jacket over the shirt in 21-degree weather at Thunderhill. Nobody will ever see the shirt you spent good money on. A sweatshirt or a jacket may be a better choice, however it is a more expensive choice for sure. Hoodie sweatshirts aren’t cheap, and then add a few screen setups and you are looking at breaking the budget.
Trying to save as much money as we could on making these shirts over the years, we learned to bring our artwork to the screen printer “camera ready.” They need logos they can work with. If you show up with a cellphone photo of stickers on your car and you say, “I want this on a shirt,” they will do it for you, but at a much higher price. They will have to spend time getting the design camera ready for you, which will be billed to you. I try to get logos from sponsors that are specifically in Adobe Illustrator format, which I have found transition well to screen printers and sticker makers. Embroidery? Nope, completely different file and more setup costs.
We also have learned that contrast is the key to making logos show up. Yellow logos on white shirts? You’ll never see them. White logos on light gray shirts? Red on blue or blue on red? Again, fail. The problem is you may not know the design colors and the T-shirt colors are a screw-up until the screen printer delivers 24 shirts you aren’t happy with and a bill you don’t want to pay. They will not redo your shirts just because you are terrible at color choices. Ensure your artwork and colors are what you want prior to the printing being done. I have had to screen shirts multiple times more than once because we, or the printer, messed up.
I didn’t set out to become a graphic designer when I became a racecar driver. However, in trying to decrease production costs on shirts, I have found I spend more time late at night behind my laptop tracing logos than I do underneath the car changing alignment settings. My friend asked me once, “What’s your time worth? Have someone else do that art crap.” My answer to him was, “It turns out my time is absolutely worthless. If I can save our team a few bucks, then that is time well spent. I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”