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BY CATHY JETT
A frustrating attempt to find a company capable of printing one of his designs on a black T-shirt opened Clyde Caminos' eyes to a business opportunity.
Some of the printers that the Spotsylvania County man had contacted politely turned him down. While black is one of the most popular T-shirt colors, printing a crisp image on it is notoriously difficult.
But it was the company that treated him like a number rather than trying to cultivate him as a customer that really kicked the Marine Corps veteran's competitive spirit into high gear.
Caminos decided to open his own print shop. Its specialties would include printing on dark fabric and offering great customer service. Seven months later, he won top honors in the direct-to-garment digital apparel decoration category of the 2011 Impressions Awards.
Not only is it a prestigious competition in the apparel decorating industry, but the entry was for one of his own designs--three spooky skulls based on Hawaiian folk tales that are surrounded by a swirl of mist.
And, it was printed on a black T-shirt.
"I gave this big 'Whoop!' and ran upstairs [after receiving the call]," he said. "I told my family, 'You're not going to believe this. I won!' We started dancing. It was like I got a date to the prom."
Caminos said he'd entered the contest because he wanted to see where he stood in the T-shirt printing industry. Not only did he best much larger companies to take first and third in the direct-to-garment printing category in 2011, but he won first and second places in the contest this year.
He also was recently picked as the grand prize winner in
The awards have helped to raise the profile for Caminos' business, KA Grafix Custom Printing & Designs, which he runs out of his basement with occasional help from family and friends. Requests for his services, which range from orders of two or three garments to more than 200, have come in from as far away as Australia.
Currently, customers can either submit images or commission Caminos to create them. He will be adding a new tool to his website, kagrafix.com, which will give them the ability to design or customize apparel online by uploading their own image or using images available on the site. These will include some of his custom images.
The self-taught artist, who was born on Oahu, recently created a vivid image of bronzed and tattooed Hawaiians paddling a canoe through deep blue water on his computer for a canoe club. Members wanted it printed on a rash guard, a popular type of athletic shirt for water sports.
"I'm not limited to colors. I don't have to measure out all the chemicals and mix them in a bucket like silk-screen printers do," said Caminos.
Instead, his state-of-the-art software program and NeoFlex Digital Shirt Printer can create more than 16 million colors and print designs on about 21 cotton shirts per hour.
It stands next to the new Roland VersaStudio BN-20 printer, which creates transfers. These can be heat set on polyester athletic shirts and canvas totes or turned into personalized wine bottle labels and stickers for car windows.
"It can also handle metallic prints so it looks like real metal," Caminos said.
T-shirts are popular with everyone from kids on sports teams to national theater companies promoting their latest productions. Printing them has become a dollar industry, and Caminos said he researched it thoroughly before taking the plunge.
He decided to go the digital route instead of silk screening, which is more labor intensive. And he started calling the manufacturers of digital printers six months before attending the Imprinted Sportswear Show in Atlantic City to select his equipment.
"I got to see all the fancy toys in the industry, all the cutting-edge equipment" Caminos said. "Everyone was there."
He took along an image he'd created of a gun being fired, and asked various vendors to print it so he could test their machines. He wanted to see if they could capture the realism of the gun barrel, the motion of the bullet and the haze of the vapor trail it created.
"It's one thing to have a sample shipped and another to see the process in real time," Caminos said.
He also peppered the reps with questions about the machines, and waited to see if any of them remembered that he'd called earlier. Only one, All American Manufacturing and Supply Company in Philadelphia, did.
"That spoke volumes to me," said Caminos. "Their customer service is phenomenal. Signing up with them, I became part of their family."
He said he enjoys his new part-time career partly because it gives him a chance to meet and network with people from all over the country. His main concern, though, is providing the customer service that he found lacking when he made his first venture into the printing world.
"I want to ensure that when you walk away, you're not treated like a number," he said. "I think that's very rude. If you have a question, don't hesitate to ask. If I don't know the answer, I know where to get it."
Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407