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InkWerks

From the Ground Up: Inkwerks Screen Printing and Design

Mike Clark is the associate editor for Printwear and Sign & Digital Graphics magazines. Contact him at mclark@nbm.com

Situated in Camarillo, Calif., Inkwerks Screen Printing and Design is a full-service screen printer, embroiderer, and design shop. Founder Jason LaBlue began his foray into screen printing in 2008 by printing designs for local businesses. Since then, the company has grown into a bustling shop that serves both the local community and a handful of out-of-state contract clients.  

LaBlue explains how he started out in a vastly different trade than the apparel decoration industry. Before screen printing T-shirts, he worked on a wildland fire crew in the Sierra Nevada mountains. During that time, LaBlue began building a collection of custom shirts. Local screen printers would print a T-shirt to mark each major fire the crew fought, and LaBlue would pick one up at each fire he and his crewmates battled.

“I didn’t know anything about the (screen-printing) process at the time,” says LaBlue. “I was really impressed with how these shops could generate artwork and turn around an order in such a short amount of time.”

In between fighting wildfires and running the current business he owns today, LaBlue worked an eclectic mix of jobs, including a stint as a professional off-road desert racer. During the racing years, T-shirts were always prevalent, LaBlue points out.

“Every vendor, every sponsor gives you a T-shirt at every race, so you build up quite the collection,” LaBlue adds. “My fascination with T-shirt art continued from there.”

Once that job ended, he explains, it was time to find a new means of earning an income. LaBlue and his former coworker Rob Roessler started teaching themselves the basics of screen printing. The pair kicked off their venture in 2008 with a single-head press and a heat gun, operating out of a small garage in California. Not long after, the duo found themselves with a six-color manual press, a dryer, and a flash-cure unit to keep up with order demand.

“It started out as word of mouth and just grew from there,” says LaBlue, adding that he and Roessler focused heavily on three core components—meeting deadlines, establishing a constant line of communication with clients, and striving for excellent customer service.  

Gradually moving to a standalone business, the shop moved to a 1600 sq. ft. building in 2009. From there, LaBlue saw his client base continue to grow and decided to expand further into a 5,700 sq. ft. facility more recently. In addition to space, the machinery lineup has grown from a single machine to two automatic presses and five embroidery heads. The shop hopes to add another four-head machine and another automatic press shortly, says LaBlue. The facility employs 12 workers, including machine operators, packaging staff, and a sales representative.

Today, Inkwerks holds a diverse client list that spans the industry from locally-owned small stores to CrossFit gyms, to larger contract jobs. The shop is also a licensed printer for Boy Scouts official designs, says LaBlue, which keeps the presses running year-round. In addition to embroidery and screen printing, the shop also offers clients finishing services like shirt labeling and poly bagging. While the shop didn’t initially intend to have these services, adding them to their offerings became a necessity, explains LaBlue.

“We had a few jobs come back that we had contracted out for these types of services,” says LaBlue. “We weren’t happy with the quality, so we decided to start doing the whole thing ourselves.”

Despite having a staff to delegate work to, LaBlue says he still he has a hand in all aspects of the screen-printing process. Part of learning everything on his own from scratch, he says, is part of the reason Inkwerks is the business it’s evolved into today.

“I never had anyone around telling me, ‘This the way we’ve always done it,’” LaBlue points out. “So I’ve found different ways of getting to where I needed to be.”

When asked about what he looks forward to in the coming years for Inkwerks, LaBlue reiterates this sentiment, pointing out that to this day he still gets excited to come to the shop, and learn something new on a regular basis.

For more information on Inkwerks, visit: http://www.inkwerks.com/