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What is your opinion on the quality of heat press produced materials vs. screened materials? Excellent, fair, etc.
I think screen printing still offers the best quality and is the standard that you'll see in most retail outlets. Heat Press has come a long way and with vinyl, plastisol transfers, quality equipment, you can almost not tell the difference sometimes.

s it the general rule of the business to require minimum orders for production regardless of screening or heat transfer?
Screen printing usually requires a minimum order (I've seen as low as 6, but 12 and 24 pieces is more common). This is because of the setup time involved in running a job. Once the job is setup once, it's easy to run many pieces.

Usually, the more you run, the better your pricing will be (sliding scale).

I'm not sure how it works with heat press designs, but I don't think I've heard of a minimum order. I'm guessing that the pricing would also be on a sliding scale (you might pay pretty close to retail if you are printing just ONE t-shirt rather than if you were printing 20).

We would really love to outsource the production of our products, but need someone to work with us to produce as orders come in until our business grows. Can anyone recommend a vendor in Arizona (preferably) or the U.S. that works with their business customers this way with heat transfer (I understand this is much more user friendly than screening)? Working with a fulfillment center like cafépress, etc. is out of the question for us
What you described is exactly what CafePress does, and does well. Actually, what you just described is what a printing and fulfillment service does.

Why are those services out of the question? Sounds like exactly what you need.

I wouldn't say heat press is more "user friendly" than screen printing. But one big advantage heat press has over screen printing is that you can print on demand (or as orders come in), rather than having to print shirts in advance and keep them in inventory.

Can anyone recommend a great graphic artist for tee-shirt designs? Again, we would prefer someone in Arizona, but are willing to work with anyone in the U.S. that is legit and has references. We’ve interviewed lots of graphic artists when seeking a screener and we haven’t been too jazzed about any of them.
Sometimes that's a benefit to using a screen printer. The good ones have their own in house art department that can turn your sketches and idea into "reality" and they are trained to make t-shirts look good.

As you've probably found out "great graphic artist" is a very relative term. What someone else thinks is great, you may not be jazzed by at all.

One way to get a lot of graphic artists bidding on your project (you see the graphic bids before you award the prize amount) is to work with a company like http://www.designoutpost.com. You post your project description, the amount you want to pay (they have suggested minimums) and then some of the most talented graphic artists around the world submit bids (in the form of actual design entries to your specs) for you to select from. You can even comment on the entries as they come in.

f we are left to our own devices, is it easy to learn how to heat press, and is it cost effective? I’ve found through the postings here the best equipment to purchase should we have to go this route. I’m just wondering how viable of an option this is, and is it really time consuming to produce the products? Can you also produce hats and bibs with a heat press machine? Maybe this is the best way to go for us to start out and then outsource large wholesale orders. Does anyone have any experience with this scenario?
Many people in this forum heat press their own designs for their online retail sales. It can definitely be done.

:welcome:
 
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