Brian Besterman and Zack Hodgin

About a year ago, my husband Jim and I were making a loop from City Market to Wilmington and Hargett Streets. looking for underutilized properties that might serve as canvases for BEST (Beautifying Emerging Spaces Together).  Looking through dusty, barred windows at 333 S. Wilmington, we were surprised when a young man came to the door.  It was Zack Hodgin, then a Senior design student at NC State, who together with his friends, Brian Besterman and Josh Staab had rented this run down property to open a screen printing shop they called INKandescent.  We were immediately impressed with their vision, and equally so with their willingness to do the Herculean work of renovating the property themselves.

Flash ahead to today, when all three guys have graduated and are devoted full time to making their business a downtown success story.  Returning to their space, Jim and I immediately notice the hardwood floors salvaged from beneath chipping linoleum, and the clean lobby that once hosted assorted screen printing presses. These are some  creative, determined, hard working men, and we are curious to learn about how these special qualities shape their screen printing company.

Q: You’ve changed your name from INKandescent to The Fine Print Co.  How did that come about, and does the new name hold any hidden significance to you?

R: INKandescent was just too hard for people to spell!  So we gathered friends, used a white board to brainstorm a long list of possibilities and settled on The Fine Print Co.  Besides the obvious references to our commitment to fine (eco-friendly) printing techniques and the soft, wearable quality of our tee shirt fabrics, we like the idea of working with people in a way that saves them from having to worry about the fine print.  There are often a lot of hidden costs associated with creating custom designed tee shirts, but we make sure that everything is clear up front.  We have the lowest screen fees in Raleigh.

Q: I’ve never ordered a custom designed tee shirt.  What do I need to know about pricing?  How are your shirts unique from say, the typical sports team logo shirts sold at the mall?

R: There are many variables that affect the cost of each tee shirt.  Generally, we have a minimum order of 24 shirts for a single color design, and 36 for multiple colors.  If the tee shirt or item (tote bag, hat, etc.) is a dark color, we may need to apply more layers of ink to achieve a color that really pops.  (The cost of a single color design would run anywhere from $8 – $15 per shirt.)

In contrast to most screen printers who primarily use a Plastisol (PVC-based) ink that sits on the surface of the fabric, we use multiple processes including water based printing and discharge printing that blend right into the shirt.  We also use ring-spun cotton shirts rather than the typical comb-spun style.

(At this point, I need to see what they’re talking about to understand what they’re describing, so they bring out samples of both kinds of shirts.  A blind man could feel the difference immediately, besides the contrast in appearance.  The tees they’re producing move comfortably with the body with no stiffness at all.  They represent the difference between a hotdog-munching sports fan and a person who chooses to make a creative style statement with their clothes.)

Q. What if someone wants only one shirt?  Is that something you’d be willing to do?

R. We try to work with people to accommodate them as best we can.  Late yesterday afternoon, we were getting ready to close when a lady came in with a special request.  She wanted a shirt to wear to a funeral today, commemorating her aunt who had died of breast cancer.  For this, we created a vinyl-cut design which allowed us to quickly create a shirt for her.  We are pleased to be able to work with people, delivering what they want, when they want it, at a price that is surprisingly lower than much of what they might purchase in big box stores.  ($25 for this custom printed shirt done in a turn around of hours.)

Q. So why did you decide to establish your business downtown?

R. Truthfully, we were three students seeking a low rent property where we could save money by renovating it ourselves.  But since we’ve been here on Wilmington St., we see that it affects our business in important ways.  There’s an energized environment downtown, and neighbors support neighbors.  For instance, we’ve printed shirts for Feelgoodz, the flip flop store up the street.  Wilmington St. has become an edgy, style conscious area of downtown with Holly Aiken handbags (located next to Feelgoodz) and the new fashion incubator, REDii, across from the Downtown Raleigh Alliance office.

We also like being in a space where people walk in and we can take them back to our printing area and show them how we screen print their shirts.  We’d never be able to have this person-to-person interaction if we were based in a warehouse outside of town.

Q. What are the most unusual or favorite shirts you’ve ever designed?

R. That has to be the shirts we made for Cycle Logic on Hillsborough St.  The owner handed us the logo on a napkin and let us do anything we wanted.  We went crazy doing fades and splash patterns…  No two shirts were alike.  We were free to create, just seeing what the inks could do.

Q. This is my last question. What one thing would you want people to know about you and your business? What makes you stand out?

R. We’re the newest and youngest screen printers downtown!  Seriously though, we want people to know that we love design.  We’re formally trained, unlike many who design tee shirts.  We work with each person to let them know what is possible with the inks and choices available to them.  We take a genuine interest in what they want, and do our best to make it happen.