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How AI Is Helping to Speed Up Client Meetings for Decorated Apparel

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How AI Is Helping to Speed Up Client Meetings for Decorated Apparel

ull-time litigation artist Jon Anderson has turned out screen-printing art since 1990. For his freelance work, he successfully uses AI art tools several times a week.

“Budgets are much leaner, along with time constraints, so it’s not feasible to spend four to 12 hours on art for a screen-print project. With AI tools, I complete projects between 15 minutes and three hours.”
Jon Anderson, graphic design specialist at Digital Evidence Group

He chose to learn AI art generator Midjourney in November 2022 and hasn’t looked back. “To survive and thrive, you have to adapt. Otherwise, you become extinct.”

Meet Midjourney, one of today’s most well-known AI image generators. Thanks to its powerful art capabilities, users can create polished artwork within minutes after typing in a prompt describing what they want. Then, Midjourney creates four image variations, allowing you to spawn new ones or edit a single image. Current options include zooming and repositioning with arrows, and all images are generated at maximum size, thanks to a recent update.

Image submitted by Jon Anderson. Creation time: 3 hours ( Includes the AI
generation + composition (adding text and other elements) + color separation)
“It’s time to accept that the old way of designing without AI art generators is dead, so it makes sense to learn to use the tools. What used to take hours to design now takes a few minutes to edit, add text and then do separations. As we’re at the beginning of the AI age, are you going to be the lone cowboy balking at the thought of getting in a car?”
Marshall Atkinson, business consultant at Atkinson Consulting and publisher of Midjourney Elevating Print Creativity Newsletter

Some pros have embraced AI art technology as just another essential tool to help speed up the design process for artwork. Still others are skeptical of it, saying that using it is “cheating” or “unprofessional.” The experts weigh in with some real talk about how AI art-generating tools actually work, where they fall short and how they can help enhance productivity in your print shop.

1. You can send proofs to customers faster.

BeeGraphix Vice President Davis Slagle’s customer placed a large jacket order, with 16 different logo iterations. Rather than pushing the task over to his busy time team, Slagle used Midjourney’s tracing tool to efficiently upscale the images, remove backgrounds, and auto-trace the designs – producing remarkable initial mockups within 20 minutes.

“We sent proofs to the client in three hours. Rather than spending days going back and forth with our designers or outsourcing the work to edit the logos, AI tools made the process a snap.”
Davis Slagle, vice president at BeeGraphix
Artwork submitted by Bee Graphix

Since not all of the designs were print-ready, Bee Graphix’s art team took over once the client approved the order. “However, this vastly changes how you sell decorated products,” Slagle says.

“If I can train a sales rep to grab a logo, drop an AI auto-trace mockup on a t-shirt and send it back to the buyer with their quote, how much faster does that make me than the guy down the street?"
Davis Slagle, vice president at BeeGraphix

2. You can generate ideas way more quickly.

“AI-powered design tools absolutely speed up the creative process,” Anderson says. AI tools empower screen print graphic designers to swiftly explore different artwork possibilities. By inputting preferences or design guidelines through a prompt, you can generate numerous iterations or variations in a compressed time frame. The rapid iteration process then gives you space to efficiently experiment, refine and explore various creative directions.

AI tools allow for faster iterations as well as the ability to experiment with final looks of a concept.

“Considering the traditional process of mood boards to find a client direction and then rough sketches, then color comps followed by final design stages, creating a workflow that incorporates AI tools gets you to the end result faster.”
Jon Anderson, graphic design specialist at Digital Evidence Group

“When you can get an approved design to screens faster and to a final printed deliverable faster, then your shop’s churning out more product in a shorter amount of time – and hopefully generating more revenue overall,” Anderson says.

Image submitted by Jon Anderson. (Collaboration with client/creation time: 2 hours. AI elements: Fish and Trussel Bridge)

3. With AI, it’s great prompt in, great art out.

“A blue tractor trailer traveling a desert highway at midnight?”

“A black football helmet, with a red face mask pointing forward, with low angle lighting shining off the visor?”

“Getting a great output is all about the prompt. What exact words fit what’s in your mind’s eye? Creative people get better images because they’re very specific and keep tweaking till they get what they want. You can iterate your creativity faster and get fantastic results faster. It’s just an easier way to do things.”
Marshall Atkinson, business consultant at Atkinson Consulting and publisher of Midjourney Elevating Print Creativity Newsletter

Atkinson’s weekly Midjourney Elevating Print Creativity Newsletter teaches print artists how to use the AI art tool, packed with step-by-step instructions including lots of specific prompts to get stellar results the first time, along with insider tips and project ideas. Anderson and Slagle both laud it as a great resource for printers who want to master the technology and need to understand how to enter the best keywords the first time to get their desired result on the first shot.

“Marshall has created an invaluable library of prompts to drive what Midjourney gives you,” Slagle says. “With these prompts, we’re creating photorealistic, 3-D images in seconds. Before we’d spend hours scouring the internet for inspiration images just to start the design process. Speed is the number one thing I see coming out of all this.”

4. You can’t just “use AI well” with zero art experience or knowledge of the tool.

“People say, ‘Why would anyone hire an AI artist’ or ‘pay someone who uses AI art when they could do it themselves,’” Anderson says. “These quotes are hilarious, because Midjourney really isn’t that easy and takes effort to learn.”

Artwork submitted by Bee Graphix

Slagle agrees, saying that without an artistic background, you’re probably not going to use AI art tools as effectively as a trained artist. “However, I don’t think any young designer should come out of college without knowing how to use it,” to close the gap between them and more experienced artists, he says.

“We’re a stretched-thin staff of 24 and are implementing a program to train our team on how to use AI tools to speed up our processes.”
Davis Slagle, vice president at BeeGraphix

AI graphic design tools can streamline the design process by establishing predefined guidelines and templates for consistent look across projects. These tools feature a library of on-brand layouts, eliminating the need to start from scratch. “We have a series of templates our reps use to create fast mockups for clients,” Slagle says. Then, his designers can focus on more strategic aspects of finalizing the design for print.

5. You probably won’t be replacing human artists with AI anytime soon.

Anderson says AI tools don’t replace a seasoned professional – and may never completely muscle out a talented artist with serious creative chops. “AI tools can be very powerful and allow professionals to take their work to the next level,” he says. “They can focus on the higher-level functions of the process to create their deliverables vs. getting bogged down with ground-level production processes.

“Professional artists who become fluent at managing prompts will develop skills inline with writing creative briefs and curating content. It’s more high level as in what a creative director would be doing vs. a production artist.”
Jon Anderson, graphic design specialist at Digital Evidence Group

6. Even if the market gets saturated, you can still stand out.

“Artists won’t lose work to AI art tools,” Anderson says. “They’ll lose work to artists or others who master AI art technology, since it’s another tool to add to your arsenal.” That being said, if poorly created AI floods the marketplace, consumers will weed out the good vs. the bad.

Beyond that, Slagle says, people buy from his shop for many reasons besides art output. “Do you print better than the next guy?” he says. “Are you faster than the next guy? That’s where the craft, technique and your efficient production process all come into play.”

7. AI isn’t there all the way… yet.

Shops that use AI report that there are things the tool can’t produce well, like a specific image of hands holding an item, or overlaying professional-looking text on an image.

“While we can generate good foundational artwork in AI, like a man in a white t-shirt on a beach, we’re also pulling it into Photoshop to make adjustments. You still need an artistic vision to use AI well. There needs to be human controllers on everything.” - Davis Slagle, vice president at BeeGraphix

Anderson is keenly aware of AI art tools’ weaknesses to stay competitive. “Understanding this allows me to understand where my competitors will likely fail, then causing pain points with their clients,” he says.

”Mastering problem-solving with the tool’s limitations is how you win and keep clients, and how your competitors who are unaware or can’t solve those pain points lose clients to you.”

8. Your customers most likely don’t mind that you use AI tools.

The reality is that more and more print shops are using AI art tools. “Yes, there are many who won’t share that info due to potential negative feedback by those who are resistant to this next evolution,” Anderson says. “It’s similar to 25 years ago when many artists got flak for moving from traditional tools to digital. However, my customers have been happy with the artwork I’ve provided with AI tools.”

Adapt or Get Left Behind?

Thirty years ago, Anderson, once a self-proclaimed mediocre airbrush and traditional artist, embraced digital tools like Adobe Photoshop and CorelDRAW. Swiftly applying his traditional knowledge, he became competitive with traditional artists, drawing criticism from mentors who wanted him to earn his stripes by putting in the time to learn the skill set.

“Now’s the time to get in relatively early on the ground floor and become an expert,” he says. “Once the tools are mainstream and at full capacity, you don’t want to be the person saying, ‘I wish I started earlier.’”

As AI technology continually evolves, it will be a boost for some industry pros and may cause those who don’t embrace it to fall behind and fade away. “I 100% believe AI will affect the print-wear industry in a better way overall,” Anderson says. “Forward-looking business people see the value in hiring those who are fluent in AI tools.”

Jan 7, 2024