Get back to where we once belonged.

For the first few years of Cotton Bureau, the only way to get a shirt printed was with a two week screen printed pre-order campaign. That changed in 2015 when we dipped our toes in the on demand pool with direct-to-garment kids tees, and it really changed in 2018 when we converted a big chunk of the back catalog and 2019 when we released the on demand product creator.

Our transition from smug skeptics to begrudging believers didn’t happen over night. Years of watching, testing, and debating eventually convinced us that the benefits (full color, on demand, always available products) more than made up for the disadvantages (slightly ill-defined edges, the occasional streaky or misregistered print).

Frankly, the technology has also come a long way since the early days. For most shirts and most people, the differences were simply aren’t perceptible. With tens of thousands of new shirts created and hundreds of thousands of shirts printed since making the switch, it’s clear that on demand is the right model under most circumstances…

…as incorrigible t-shirt romantics, however, we can’t help having a soft spot for the razor-sharp lines, crisp colors, and astonishing durability screen printing provides.

Which is why we’re thrilled to say that pre-order campaigns are back, and they’re better than ever.

Do you find words boring? Skip the rest of this post and send us a new pre-order campaign design now.

Truthfully, pre-order campaigns never went away completely. Neither a secular shift in the industry to always available products nor a global pandemic that wreaked havoc with supply chains was able to completely sever our attachment to the old ways. Given our continued commitment to screen printing and pre-order campaigns, we made the difficult decision earlier this year to carve out time to modernize our campaign setup workflow.

Since the first shirt was launched in June 2013, every pre-order campaign has involved a tedious-but-necessary back-and-forth with a Cotton Bureau design coordinator. Many people have admirably filled (and continue to fill) that role. Under the best circumstances, there is tremendous value in being able to work through a design concept, discuss ink properties, and review fabric options with a real person. Realistically, however, much of the prep work is something that can and should be automated, and many campaigns do not require more than a quick stamp of approval. It’s time to take the handcuffs off.

Moving from full service to self service.

All pre-order screen printing campaigns need to answer the following questions:

  • What is the design?
  • How big should it be?
  • On what shirts will it be available to purchase?
  • How much should it cost?
  • How many ink colors will it require?
  • What kind of ink should it use?
  • When will the campaign begin and end?

Until today, answering those questions happened in a disjointed series of emails between the designer and the design coordinator. With the newly updated product creator, pre-order campaigns can be completely and independently configured and launched in a single convenient place.

Everything works just like on demand, plus a few extra settings to make sure we have all the information we need to produce and fulfill the campaign. As with on demand embroidery, we do include a manual review process to ensure that the artwork is printable (color separated vector or high-resolution bitmap images) and correctly prepped. Provided everything looks good, campaigns launch automatically and on schedule.

Of course we’re still here to help if you have questions. Every new campaign spawns an email conversation with Cotton Bureau with ample opportunity for assistance.

We’re eager to see what happens next. Constraints fuel creativity. With limited colors (and limited time to order), will we see a renaissance in pre-order campaigns, or has the world moved on?

In either case, the new self-serve campaign tool is live now and available to all Cotton Bureau sellers.

But wait, there’s more.

Once we got to work, we couldn’t help imagining ways campaigns could be better. Some ideas we were able to work into this release, others will be arriving in the near future.

Additional styles.

Just like on demand, pre-order works by using our high tech color bundle system. And by high tech, I mean that our team manually reviews the available colors in a style and sorts them into buckets with other like colors.

For example, if you choose “Black”, you get a few black men’s t-shirts in assorted blends (100% cotton, tri-blend) and fits (standard, heavyweight), a few women’s t-shirts in the same blends and relevant fits (junior, true to size), a tank top, a long sleeve tee, a crewneck fleece, and a hoodie.

With the new tool, we’re exposing more colors and fabrics. These alternate styles will not be enabled by default, but it will be possible to selectively toggle them on and off. (Be reasonable! Too much choice can be a bad thing.)

While we’re talking styles, we’d like to note that we are actively reviewing more brands and fits with the expectation that the catalog of Cotton Bureau shirts will continue to expand in 2024. Is there a particular style you have always wanted to use that isn’t available? Let us know.

Lowering the magic number.

Oh, one more thing. We know how hard it is to sell 25 shirts in two weeks. You’ve probably gotten the lecture at least once from us about how you need to pester your friends, family, neighbors, and followers or else your shirt will fail. Every time a campaign doesn’t go to print — or, worse, makes it to print but doesn’t sell enough to get paid — it pokes our heart. On demand has solved that particular problem for most people, but if you’re the type of person who accepts no substitutes for the buttery smooth look and feel of screen printing, we have good news for you.

Effective immediately, pre-order campaigns only need to reach 12 sales to print and 12 sales to get paid. That’s right. The same number. Will it cost us an arm and a leg to print 12 shirts? Yes, yes it will. But you’re worth it.

That’s it. If you are inclined to send us something, now would be a great time. You might remember that we traditionally celebrate our birthday June 12 of each year. We’re a little behind, but we haven’t forgotten. We would love it if you gave us the gift of a beautiful new design. Next week is going to be a good time to be on Cotton Bureau, if you know what we mean.