Indie Tee Spotlight #23: Full Metal T-Shirts

In this weeks Indie Tee Spotlight I chat with Aubrey Erickson from the newest T-Shirt contest site to hit the net, Full Metal T-Shirt. Aubrey talks a bit about how Full Metal T-Shirt works, why Direct-To-Garment printing is amazing and how Full Metal T-Shirt has been able to separate itself from the crowd. 

Aubrey Erickson of Full Metal T-Shirt

Coty: Explain to us a little bit about what Full Metal T-Shirt is all about and how it works.

Aubrey: FMT is, at heart, a place for awesome shirt designs. There’s three main categories that we focus on: The Guild, The Masters, and The League.

The Guild is the core of our site; it’s members are made up of the winners of our weekly, un-themed, ongoing contest. These designs are submitted for voting by our members, and are voted on by our members. We then choose the ones with the best combination of total votes, “I’d Wear It” votes, the best comments, and the love of everyone at FMT. We pay our winning artists $100 cash, $100 credit, a free copy of their shirt, and a $5 residual for each shirt and art print sold on FMT for an entire year! This focus on long-term, aggressive residual income means that as we grow, our artists grow with us.

The Masters series are the designs that we want to host, no matter what! These artists are incredible, and usually are already established in the industry. The designs we choose for The Masters represent the level of quality design, diversity of style and subject, and overall direction that we want our company to grow towards. I owe the emptees community a huge “Thank you!” for introducing me to so many wonderful artists before we launched.

Schrodinger's Fish

The League is a group of amazingly cool companies that we partner with, to bring awareness to their brands through really cool shirt designs. We respect these folks for how they’ve contributed to their industries, and would like to support what they do. Right now, we have a stellar design in the works from Denny Unger of WorldWorks Games (who designed our site). We’re hoping it’ll blow the doors off of what people expect from a cutting edge design contest. Expect that one to launch in a couple weeks! We’re hoping to grow the League’s presence over the next few months, and add new names to the roster.

In addition to our weekly contest, we also host a monthly, themed Design Showdown. April’s theme was Steampunk, and this month it’s all about the Robots! The prizes are the same right now, but as we get League members involved, the prizes should start to grow, too!

I keep saying “we”… FMT is actually three guys. I’m the face and the printer, Logan Bryce is the idea man and my best friend, and Daniel Santellan is the moral support and sounding board. Super fun guys to work with! We also have a weekly D&D game that we’ve been playing for the past few years with a good group of friends. Good times. :)

Coty: Full Metal T-Shirt takes advantage of Direct-To-Garment (DTG) printing. What are some of the advantages of DTG over traditional T-Shirt screenprinting methods? What was the deciding factor for you when selecting DTG over tradition screenprinting methods?

Aubrey: DTG printing is a new technology (about five years or so), and really only came into its own last year. We jumped on the chance to offer something that no one else can do, to set us apart from the crowd. I’d have to say that the advantages of DTG over screenprinting *were* the deciding factors in choosing DTG! :)

We can print full-color CMYK, with no color limitations. All the colors of the rainbow in one design? No problem! True gradient fades are also possible, making halftones a strictly aesthetic choice. More freedom for the artist means more exploration into realms that have yet to even be dreamed of in the t-shirt world. We’ve been talking to artists about some very special projects that break boundaries into new areas. It’s all so exciting when there’s a technological breakthrough that enables us to reach out and express ourselves in a way that hasn’t been possible yet.

Our printer is also capable of some rather large prints. We prefer to stick around 16×20, but we made a custom shirt board that allows us to print up to 17×45, for some really epic prints! I love to experiment with what our machine can do, and we can now print over collars, seams, and edges of the shirt. The effect is very clean in comparison to most screenprinting, too.

Coty: Why did you decided to start a T-Shirt design contest site? What do you think differentiates Full Metal T-Shirt from the rest of the design contest sites out there?

Aubrey: When the three of us sat down to brainstorm what we wanted from FMT, we started to realize that none of us had the artistic ability to come up with ground-breaking designs, week after week. I found emptees, and a whole new world of artists was revealed to me. Of course we had heard of Threadless, and quickly became aware of Design by Humans, which itself was new at the time. We realized that each of the major players seemed to have a specific type of shirt style that their community gravitated towards. What we saw was a whole new area that was completely untouched, and we jumped on the opportunity to expand the market!

We want to be a company that innovates, and I think we’re doing pretty well so far. There’s two areas that I feel we’re really unique. One, of course, is the printing capabilities we have. The other is our prize structure. One area of our printing that I haven’t touched on yet is our art prints. We have an astounding wide-format printer with giclée quality, archival inks. Pair that with high quality photo paper, and our art prints look just as impressive as the shirts. We also offer very large size prints, up to 24×36. Not too many sites are offering prints at all, much less at this size and quality.

Most importantly, we want to reward our artists as much as possible; giving back to the community that helps you grow is essential for long-term sustainability and everyone’s financial well-being. Most sites give what seems like a large amount up front, but nothing later, or very, very little. The site could sell thousands of shirts, and the artist will never see another dime. We pay less up front, yes, but if a shirt sells a thousand copies… that artist would make more than any other contest site out there. And every single one of our winning artists has that opportunity. I hope it really encourages artists to promote themselves; the more confidence they have in their work, the more they’ll earn.

Ace of Splash

Coty: How did you come up with the name Full Metal T-Shirt?

Aubrey: “Modern Armor” was the original theme for our site, but the site was taken. After many name revisions (including T-Shirt Zombie; boy I’m glad we passed on that one), we kept coming back to the concept of “modern armor for modern people”, which became our slogan. The name Full Metal T-Shirt was forged from that concept, and the desire to incorporate a very unique look and feel led us to where we are.

Coty: Full Metal T-Shirt became fully operational just a few months ago. What have some of the challenges been, for you, as a website and business owner?

Aubrey: There’s always unexpected events in life, and doubly so when you own a business. We had been open for a few days when we were featured as the side deal on shirt.woot. During the mad rush influx of viewers, one of them noticed that a design we had was a rather blatant rip of an established artist. I immediately emailed the original artist, who contacted me at the same time. I pulled the design off of the site completely, within minutes. He was very understanding of our situation, and even joined our community! While we lost some money and a lot of time, we all feel that we made the right choice. At the core of everything, we respect artists far too much to ever compromise. After all, we wouldn’t be here without them.

Eye In The Sky

Coty: Aubrey, how did you get interested in T-Shirt design? What is your design background like?

Aubrey: I started dabbling in humorous t-shirts right around the turn of the century. I had always owned a few here and there, but online venues really opened up my horizons. I think I had my addiction in check until I found Threadless. From there, it was a downward spiral of needing the latest designs. My friends all looked forward to seeing the new shirts over the weekend; it was pretty bad. ;)

Right after we decided that we wanted to start our own t-shirt company and were still looking for direction, I discovered emptees and DBH. The world of shirts that were more than just a pun in design form opened up, and I was lost in a sea of awesomeness.

I don’t really have a design background, other than taking drawing, sculpting, and architecture classes in high school and college. However, I’ve been blessed to be surrounded with some amazingly talented artists all my life. I even married one, who’s now an experienced tattoo artist. :)

Coty: Which of the Full Metal T-Shirt designs is your favorite so far?

Aubrey: My favorite, besides all of them, is Through the Glass. It’s such a showcase piece, because of the vibrant colors and clever concept. I get by far the most compliments and comments when I’m wearing that one. I also really like The Summoning, because I’m a huge Cthulhu geek. Logan’s favorite is Ace of Splash, because of the unique placement, and his fondness for cards. Daniel’s favorite is Eye in the Sky, because of the style and the use of colors.

Through The Glass

Coty: The Full Metal T-Shirt website definitely stands out against the other contest site and has a very steam punk look and feel to it. What has the reaction been like to your site design and layout?

Aubrey: I’ve heard two types of reactions so far: Awesome! and Undecided. haha! The overwhelming majority of folks love the site, which was designed by the very talented Denny Unger. We wanted a steampunk feel to the site, but wanted to make sure to keep the shirts and their art as the main focus. Denny did a spectacular job of balancing the two, creating a site that is absolutely one-of-a-kind, while displaying the art prominently; almost like a neo-Victorian art gallery.

Almost everyone who’s used the site says it’s easy to navigate, too. We’ve got plans for expansion and interface tweaks, too, like making the submission process smoother. Some great feedback from our community, that’s for sure!

Overall, I’ve been blown away by how positive everyone has been so far!

Thanks again to Aubrey Erickson from Full Metal T-Shirt for taking the time to chat with me! Also thakns to the rest of the Full Metal T-Shirt gang, Logan and Daniel, for providing your input! Now everyone – go buy some Full Metal T-Shirts!