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Sears adds in-house screen printing to design arsenal

Since Jill Sears put new screen printing equipment into operation at her Town of Ellsworth home early this month, she's already done many printing jobs.

The Designs by Jill owner no longer needs to hire an outside contractor to handle the printing aspect of a process that places her artwork on promotional items. Sears said Friday training came easily on the machinery now stationed in her home's basement.

"I've got a good background in art, film and screens from my past jobs, so that helped," said the former employee of Norwood Promotional Products in Red Wing and the Red Wing Republican Eagle.

While shirts and can coolers are the products for most of the orders she gets, she can also screen print on caps, yard signs and jackets, she said. She got a separate printer specially made for caps.

Sears said she begins by creating the desired artwork, then transfers it to film, makes the printing screen and sets it up on the new equipment.

"There are a lot of steps," she said.

She arranges for the stock, mainly using standard brands of t-shirts, for example, though claiming to be able to obtain most any. Sweatshirts and polo shirts are among others customers want printed. Smooth cotton is preferable to the bumpier fabric of some shirts for printing purposes.

Up to six colors can be printed on a single shirt, she said. She carries a variety of standard inks and mixes for most any color with her ink mixing system.

"I go back and forth," she said about her usual routine of alternately operating the equipment and answering the phone or handling other tasks. The ink, which must be specially cured with heat rather than air-dried, allows for such an approach.

The equipment, which she's had in mind for approximately the last year, will accommodate sizes ranging from toddler to 5X, according to Sears. She and husband Nathan, who have a 17-month-old daughter, Katelynn, went to trade shows looking for the best built model. The California manufacturer had it on-site within two weeks after she ordered it.

The couple was forced to disassemble one of the four largest pieces to get it through a door before assembling the various components, she said. Aside from that, the machinery readily went together.

Average orders might total anywhere from 25 to 300 pieces, she said, willing to also work on smaller quantities using a different technique called heat press. The average regular order requires two weeks turnaround time, but she's often filled them much faster. She boxes them and customers either pick them up or she delivers them.

Besides screen printing, Sears said she offers embroidery, promotional products, wedding and graduation invitations. She's been displaying all of her products at summer shows for the last three years--venues like fairs and carnivals, car and motorcycle exhibits, hockey tournaments and sports events, even dance recitals.

"I started out under a tent," she said, indicating she's presently relying on a trailer.

Recently, she traveled to Cable for a motorcycle show, she said. A point-of-purchase sign she made for her travels lists t-shirts, buttons, tote bags, key chains and more.

Two-to-three people help her with the business, which she began in 2002, including her sister and husband, plus friends. To order from or for more information about Designs by Jill, phone 273-0114 or e-mail .