Featured Screen Printing Shop: Muckles’ Ink
Can you tell me a little bit about your screen printing shop?
“Muckles’ Ink is small to mid-size print shop based in Binghamton, NY. We focus mainly on local commercial orders, contract printing, University work, and live on-location printing. We have a six over four, a four over one, and a travel four over one. A large belt dryer in the shop, and a smaller portable one for live shows. All manual. We’ve found our niche to be smaller, high-touch jobs, event printing, and Binghamton University clubs and greek life. The live printing crushes it! They love to see the process! Screen printing brings people together. We have strong branding and a sense of identity. Customers really respond to that. We’re not just ‘Generic Print Shop, Ink’. People see that we have fun with our work!”
What is the story behind your screen printing company?
“Necessity is the mother of invention. All we needed is a one color screen print, and some sort of a system for it.
We first got into it by being film students at Binghamton, myself and Chauna. We were part of a film festival where we had to make sure we had all the prizes and gifts for the filmmakers. Chauna had some screen printing experience from high school, and we thought we might print t-shirts. As luck would have it, what you put out there you get back x10. Someone who happened to live five miles from her house was ready to sell a screen printing business, so we went there and checked it out. This year he turned 75. He had never turned on a computer in his life. His setup was very basic. He didn’t even use a scoop coater, just a piece of plastic to scrap emulsion on the screen. So we went in on it, with my dad’s help. Shauna is good with processes, and I’m good with the technical, so we said, “We could turn this into a business.” It’s been 4-5 years.
Just today, George, the man we bought our shop from, came into the shop and said he was proud of us. He always says it does his heart good to see what we’ve done with his business.
It’s just such a good time to be a screen printer. Especially with the great research through Ryonet. We don’t have to worry about getting the wrong supplies. Our supply chain is on lockdown. People didn’t have that five to ten years ago. George couldn’t believe how much more efficient the workflow was. We are bringing the old industry into the 21st century. Screen printing has been around a long time, but we are pushing the envelope. In Binghamton, there are eight to nine print shops, but people come to Muckles’ because they like the brand. Our shirts aren’t the cheapest since we don’t have an automatic press, but people are willing to invest in you as the business and pay a little bit more because they want to see you succeed. People like to see us succeed, and because we are great with social media they can see our growth directly. That is really key. The old print shops don’t care; they just want to get the job out the door. We have a unique community here, so we are really lucky.”
What can you attribute most to your success?
“It’s all about finding your niche. Our big thing is live printing. We crush it. We just went to Grassroots Festival, a four-day festival. We were crushing it for four days straight, sleeping in a tent. And people see it; there’s no substitute for hard work. So now we are at the point where we can rest on word of mouth advertising. We don’t spend a dollar on traditional advertising. We can let that be our bread and butter while we focus on other things.
We recently started an internship program at the University. We put out five spots: a production assistant or two, a graphic designer, and two marketing liaisons for Muckles’ Ink on campus. We got three spots filled already! Firstly, it’s free labor, but secondly, they get free course credit, it’s a legitimate internship opportunity. Five years ago I was a student at Binghamton. If they had given me that opportunity, that would have been awesome.
You have to find your niche to stay relevant. For us, part of that is the student population. If we get just a small percentage of students purchasing, we’d do well. That’s our new niche. Live printing and local university students. We just applied and got a grant to print the official logo for BU. Put two and two and together and we’ll crush BU.”
How did you get into live printing?
“A friend of ours mentioned that there was a company who did live printing on the West Coast, and we checked it out and deconstructed how they did it. Then we decided we could do it with the equipment that we had. Our first live event was a high school prom. The students got to live print their own shirts. It was so hard with the equipment at the time, so we know that if we wanted to take it seriously, we had to get a proper setup.
We’ve been watching youtube videos since we started. We learned the old traditional way, from George, but after watching the Ryonet videos, we learned how to really screen print. We thought the live printing thing, the high school prom, was awesome, so we got into a local movie fest and we lived printed posters with water based ink and people loved that. Now we do festivals and softball tournaments and sports stuff. I had no idea! Live printing kills it. You met great people. Usually someone sees you at the gig who asks you to print something over the next couple months. We get tons of work from the live stuff.
I think we are really finding our stride; again this is our 5th year of doing business. It takes five years to really figure out your model and process.”
What have been some of your favorite events?
“Grassroots Festival. You can bring your own garment, and we will print on it. People love printing their own stuff. They print their own shirts for ten bucks. It’s pure profit, and people love it. The sports events are awesome, and there are a lot of kids. We get to show them the process and they love it. I’d say anything with kids involved. The kids are interested in the process.”
What kind of ink do you print with?
“Mostly plastisol, for simplicities sake, but we’ve printed plenty of water based, and discharge jobs. For the live gigs, definitely plastisol, as it can stay in screen all day.”
What kind of prints do you specialize in?
“People love our ‘everyday tees’. One color prints, mostly. Triblends with single-pass plastisol pushed through a 156. The designs are grunged out a little, and with the one-pass print, super soft to the touch!”
What are your most proud moments as a screen printing shop?
“Bringing visions to reality! I’ve noticed that most screen printers just want to get the job out the door and move on to the next one. Of course, efficiency is important, but I’m more concerned with keeping the customers happy, and building that relationship, at this point in Muckles’ career. Sustainability is most important to us right now. You have to go the extra mile! Customers notice your work ethic and are your best source of advertising. We have fun with customers’ ideas; we make sure they’ve experienced the ‘Muck Diff’! (Muckles’ Difference) So many people out there have great ideas, but just need someone to help them bring it to reality! Shirts are a great medium because they’re universal; everybody loves a good tee! We’re proud of the community that we’re part of, and helping bring their branding and apparel to the next level! Oh, and Monday mornings are awesome! The team that we’ve assembled looks forward to organizing the work-week, and getting creative about how to tackle it! That’s a really good feeling. Plus Nerf guns. Get some Nerf guns for your shop!”
What is one unique trick or piece of advice that you can pass on to other screen printers?
“Well, word of mouth is certainly your most powerful form of advertisement. It can make or break you. Tons of people print shirts, why should they choose you? The people make the business, and if you’re likable, and go the extra mile, your customers do the advertising for you! These days, especially with social media, you are the business. So posting pictures of you and the gang having a blast while getting work done in the shop is refreshing and adds to your brand equity! People care more about you as a person than the product you’re selling, so if you can illustrate that you, in a way, are the product, I’ve found that people have no problem investing in you. This is the path towards sustainability, in my opinion. Do good work! On time! Have fun with it, and you’ll be fine.”
Casey Addason Coolbaugh. Co-Founder. Muckles’ Ink.