Every screen printer starts his or her journey differently. Some start out of a need to make an income, others use screen printing as a hobby. Jerome Haygood, owner of Aerogant Printing Company in Columbus, Ohio, started his screen printing shop in order to cut out the middleman. While he began printing solely for his streetwear brand, his business exploded when he expanded his services to print for clients.
Photo by Jerome Haygood
CUTTING OUT THE MIDDLEMAN
Jerome has owned his streetwear clothing brand, Aerogant Apparel Co., since 2016. He worked with other print shops to print his brand. One time, Jerome was headed to a trade show when he thought of a last-minute design that would be perfect for the show. Because the order had a quick turnaround, the print shop charged extra. That didn’t bother him.
What did bother Jerome was the timeline. The print shop didn’t fill his order until the day after the trade show. Because of this, Jerome decided to take matters into his own hands.
“Why would I put that pressure on someone else? I can just do it myself going forward,” Jerome said.
Jerome started watching screen printing YouTubers like Lee Stuart. Lee was doing what Jerome wanted to do: print for his own brand. Jerome was inspired by the videos he watched and realized that printing for himself was attainable.
“I said, ‘you know what, I can probably just cut out the middleman and do it myself,’” Jerome said.
SETTING UP SHOP
Aerogant Printing Company was born in January 2021. Jerome set up shop in his basement, next to his extensive collection of Nikes — more than 200 pairs of shoes. Not knowing much about screen printing equipment brands, he bought a press from Ebay to start. The press was green, like Lee’s press, but it wasn’t a Riley Hopkins.
“I assumed that [a screen printing press] is just a green press. I didn’t know anything about brands or anything like that,” Jerome laughed.
He soon realized that this knock-off press wasn’t going to cut it. Jerome used it for about a year before upgrading to a Riley Hopkins 250 6X4 press. He also purchased a RyoFlash dryer, a Little Buddy conveyor dryer, and an exposure unit.
Photo by Jerome Haygood
There’s a lot of room for error in the screen printing process. Every printer struggles with something, especially when they’re learning. Jerome struggled to dial in his exposure times and to print long jobs with water-based ink. With patience and a little advice, he was able to overcome both issues.
DIALING IN EXPOSURE
Jerome started exposing screens with a DIY setup. When the time came to expose a screen, he would close up his shop, turn out all the lights, and wait for the DIY bulb to expose his screen. The process could take up to 40 minutes. Jerome didn’t have a washout booth or pressure washer. To rinse out an image, he would take the screen outside to wash out with his garden hose.
“I’m running outside, now the sun is exposing [the screen] a bit more and I always failed with that,” Jerome said.
Not knowing what to do, Jerome turned to the screen printing community and the Rogue Printers Facebook Group. They recommended two things. First, invest in an exposure unit. Jerome picked up an RXP exposure unit, which greatly sped up his process.
Next, the printers in the Facebook group recommended he use an exposure calculator to help him further dial in exposure times. The calculator showed that Jerome’s emulsion was underexposed. He tried again and was able to expose the screen to a solid step 7 (the step that notifies that you’ve correctly exposed a screen). Production is improving tremendously.
WATER-BASED INK AND LONG PRINT RUNS
Jerome started printing his brand with water-based ink. He liked the soft hand feel of the ink on the shirt. Since he prints mainly streetwear clothes (shirts, hoodies, sweatpants, etc.) in small batches, water-based ink worked like a dream.
That dream turned into a nightmare when he began printing longer runs. Water-based ink dries when exposed to air, and Jerome found that he couldn’t print long runs without the ink drying on the screen.
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Then Jerome found FN-INK™. The low-cure plastisol ink didn’t dry on the screen. He could step away from the press and take care of other business without worrying about the ink locking into the knuckles of the mesh. Jerome also found that custom-mixing colors using the FN-INK™ Mixing System expanded the possibilities of what he could offer.
“As far as using the system,” Jerome said, “It’s easy.” He can create custom colors without the guesswork.
Jerome wants to print coach’s jackets: he has all the supplies ready to go, including the epic hugger catalyst, but is a little intimidated by the process, since the catalyst dries over time. For now, he’s focusing on building a client base.
Photo by Jerome Haygood
BUILDING A CUSTOMER BASE
Aerogant Printing started as a way for Jerome to cut out the middleman and print his own brand. He printed in his basement and posted images of his product and process to his Instagram. People looking at his page saw the photos and asked him to print shirts for them. Jerome is able to leverage social media to generate clientele. He has found seven clients from Instagram alone since opening up shop.
When Jerome isn’t printing for Aerogant Apparel Co., he’s printing for clients. Aerogant Printing Co. got its first customer in February 2021, just a month after opening. Jerome finds most of his clients through social media. His advice? Join Facebook groups.
“There’s a few groups for people who are looking for businesses, specifically black-owned businesses that they can invest into,” Jerome explained.
Jerome ran a promo where he provided T-shirts, screen printing, and artwork at $200 for 25 shirts. This kept him busy with orders. He suggests that novice printers join groups and reach out through social media.
“I recommend it, especially if you’re trying to get clientele in a world where people aren’t outside shaking hands and meeting people,” Jerome said.
RELATED: HOW TO GET CLIENTS THROUGH INSTAGRAM
SOCIAL MEDIA PRESENCE
Having a social media presence is important in today’s culture. Whether you’re selling your own brand or searching for clients, finding customers through social media is becoming more and more common.
Jerome runs a photography side-hustle in his free time. It started out as a hobby, but when people noticed that he could take amazing photos, they started asking him to shoot photos of them. Jerome’s photography skills have transferred well to his Instagram feed. He documents his prints and process on Instagram and YouTube.
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Originally, Jerome’s YouTube channel was a hobby, like photography. He wanted to learn how to use video editing software, so he started a channel. Now, he uses his channel, called “Jerome Knows Nothing,” to document his printing process. He films both successes and failures.
“When I started with screen printing, the big thing that I had was the failures. And I hate that I did not record all the failures,” Jerome said.
YouTube is where Jerome learned the basics of screen printing. Now, he’s documenting his learning process for other new printers to learn from his mistakes. His recent videos are all about the process of printing. He documents his struggles, setbacks, and successes. YouTube is Jerome’s creative space—a video diary— of his printing journey.
ADVICE FOR NEW PRINTERS
When Jerome started screen printing, he ruined a lot of T-shirts. His advice to new printers is to never give up. Stay patient and keep learning.
“[Michael] Jordan wasn’t Jordan when he first became Jordan. He was a guy that got cut from the team,” Jerome said.
His second piece of advice? Do your research and buy quality equipment. Jerome didn’t know a lot about screen printing when he started, and ended up with low-quality equipment. Once he upgraded to a Riley Hopkins press, he realized that quality really does make a difference. If you’re starting out, invest in quality equipment so you can take the best step forward.
“If you want quality, if you want a good result, you can’t be cheap,” Jerome said.
Photo by Jerome Haygood
Jerome has big dreams for his screen printing business. His short term goal is to make $200 a day, five days a week. In the long term, he wants to have a commercial space so his mother, who does vinyl decorating, can have a space in his shop.
“My goal is to have a business big enough where my mom can be there and be rent-free,” Jerome said.
Aerogant Printing Co. has been in business since January 2021, and Jerome is still learning. He’s constantly pushing himself, learning new techniques, and honing his production. Screen printing is as much about the process as it is about the product, and Jerome has come to love the craft just as much as he loves the outcome.