PK 065: Dennis Brown on How to Get Your Art Printed on Merchandise

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Artist Dennis Brown has his work printed onto T-shirts, patches, and badges!

“You can literally get anything made – it’s just a matter of putting the research in.”

~ Dennis Brown

Artist Dennis Brown doesn’t just sell his hugely popular work on paper or canvas. Instead, he’s had his art printed on patches, fanzines, badges, and T-shirts as a way of making his work even more accessible to fans.

And, in this podcast, he’ll be telling you exactly how he does it…

Dennis Brown on APE Con and Merchandise

Dennis Brown likes to work in lots of different styles and has his art printed onto a wide range of merchandise, including self-published books and zines, posters, T-shirts, patches, badges, and original art screen prints.

Most recently, he had a stall at the Alternative Press Expo (APE) Convention in San Jose, California – an event which showcases the work of independent artists and creatives.

So how does he find time to make all this stuff? And how does he deal with any printing problems along the way?

He says: “I’d already made a lot of these products in the past, so thankfully there weren’t too many issues! I usually start with a set gameplan, and then adjust to changes and try and figure out the best solutions to any problems.

“For example, I’d picked out really good quality card stock to get my zines printed onto, but the thickness of card meant the alignment on some pages was a little out. So, I went back in and changed each page, had it re-printed it and it came out much better!”

“There can also be issues with the silk-screen process for printing T-shirts, and you might find some colors get slightly offset due to different temperatures in the printing process.

“The samples you get back from your printers can sometimes be different to how you imagined. For example, it usually takes a week to get a patch design back from the printers, so you need to bear this in mind with regards to your deadlines. Basically, compromise is all part of the process!”

So what attracted Dennis Brown to having his work printed on different merchandise?

He says: “Growing up in the 80s, I was always really into consumer-based goods, such as Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and even Hello Kitty (he lived in Japan as a child).

“I was fascinated by how you could reproduce your art onto so many different things, so when I saw my first photocopy machine, the first thing I wanted to do was make my own comics and give them to my friends!

Dennis Brown learned all about the silk-screen printing process in high school, and learned how to make his own T-shirts from scratch. In his senior year, he made shirts to sell to his friends and also self-published his first book.

He says: “It’s much easier these days, and you can literally get anything made – it’s just a matter of putting the research in!

So how can you get started yourself?

Dennis says: “You can buy a silk-screen printing starter kit at Blick or Michaels which has everything you need to get started. You can also look up ‘how to’ videos on YouTube. Be prepared to go through the trial and error stage to see what’s possible and what’s not.

“Now, I’m at the stage where I’ve worked out all the trial and error and am used to preparing my work for print. I usually works with a local printer who I trust to do a good job. It’s always cheaper and usually better if you buy your own materials (such as paper, T-shirts etc), and take it to them.

“How do you find a good printer? Ask other artists which ones they use. It’s amazing how helpful other creatives are – especially those who make their own products. You’ll probably find they’re more than happy to share info about which materials and printers they use. I’ve always found the convention community is usually super-supportive of other artists.

“For example, I started collecting patches a few years ago,and then I thought ‘Why don’t I make my own?’ So, I started befriending other artists who make patches and getting advice from them.”

bagger 43 patch design

One of Dennis Brown’s hugely popular patch designs

Dennis Brown on Getting Your Work Out There

Over the past couple of years, Dennis Brown has seen his social media following grow enormously – along with demand for his products.

He says: “I’m definitely seeing a trend over the past few years and my patches seem to be everywhere! Sometimes, you just need to start something. I now have a collector of my work in New Zealand, who saw my work on Instagram.

“He started his own Instagram account called Patchgame which showcases my work and that of other  artists. It now has a huge amount of followers (84.6K!). Once you put it out there, people will find you. They like to see people grow and develop as an artist. In other words, if you build it, they will come!”

“And it’s the same with your own art – if you do enough of it, people will find it. It’s just a matter of getting it out there!”

Dennis Brown: Advice for Aspiring Artists

So how do get started with making and selling your own art merchandise?

Dennis says: “When making own T-shirts, study the market, and ask yourself which category your designs fit into. Take a look at what’s already been done, and what hasn’t been done. Take a look at the pricing and quality of other T-shirts, and look out for what’s trending.

“Always try and keep your overheads low.Start low and build it up and always try to at least break even. Once you have your product, put it out there and make sure it’s presented well. Ask your friends and family what they think! Explore different outlets, such as social media and creative conventions.”

“The upshot of going to your local printers is that you can see examples of their work and discuss practicalities with them. You can see the actual quality of their printing and materials and work out what’s possible with your art.

“Do a steady build and test out your market first. If you see it’s doing well, then steadily build from there!”

Listen to this week’s show and learn:

  • How to get started with making your own art merchandise
  • Why getting advice from other artists is super useful
  • How to start low and build your market steadily

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