Within months of arriving on campus as a new Lower, Louis Aaron ’18 already had plans for finding a way to provide students their own industrial-grade t-shirt printer. After receiving an Abbot Academy Association (AAA) Grant for 18,000 dollars last fall, Aaron’s plan was realized and the new printer can now be found in the basement of the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library. The t-shirt printer will be available to all students and faculty on campus for any purpose including club, dorm, or sports apparel.
“The printer is essentially a colored printer for t-shirts. It works almost in the same way as a paper colored printer and the process… is pretty simple. You just take a shirt on the tray, upload a design, and press the big blue button. It goes in [and] a print head goes back and forth and prints a colored image on the shirt,” said Aaron.
The printer can print on any surface, including t-shirts, sweatshirts, and tote bags, however it works best on cotton. The prices for each item depend on the type and color of the surface, and the type and amount of ink used. A t-shirt is estimated to cost around ten dollars. The cost of the printer is cheaper than ordering online and will also be more accessible to the community, cutting down shipping costs and saving time. A brief training session is required to use the printer, but its usage will be open to anyone on campus.
“Apparel is really part of the culture at Andover…[It] does create a sense of unity among the members. [It’s] a physical item [that creates] a strong image for you… I think Girl Up would benefit from having t-shirts because a big part of Girl Up is spreading awareness about the club itself,” said Leah Adelman ’17, president of Girl Up, an advocacy club that promotes basic human rights for girls in developing countries.
Aaron originally had the idea to advocate for a t-shirt printer when he was a freshman at his previous high school in Phoenix, Arizona. After creating t-shirts and selling them to students to raise money for his math club, he realized the expensive cost of the process and wanted to have a faster, more cost-effective way to create apparel.
“I wasn’t the only one printing shirts and I knew it was super expensive…and I was like ‘man, this school could really benefit from people having t-shirt printers…’ ” said Aaron.
The printer, however, is not meant to completely replace ordering apparel form online companies. For large orders, those over 60 items, Aaron recommend using an outside printing company instead. Still, Sam Bloom ’18, the graphic designer for the club, says the printer could still help for orders that have already been outsourced.
“Let’s say your cluster orders apparel, [which is a] huge quantity… Let’s say you missed out on ordering. You could get the design and print it yourself for probably, if not the same cost, if not even cheaper,” said Bloom.
Jeffrey Shen ’19 who was also part of the development team said, “On the team, I’m the web site designer so I handle taking care of the technology and also designing the website that people can reserve times on.”
The printer can print on t-shirts, long sleeves, tote bags, towels, and more.
To address these problems, the team hopes to use special cartridges that contain a special solution or to recruit day students to take care of the printer. They think that using and maintaining the printer could become a community effort.
Money made from the printer will go towards new ink, shirts, and saving up for a new printer for when the time comes to replace this one.
“I want to make it clear this isn’t something for us [alone] to benefit from. This is literally us providing the campus with something that could be really cool,” said Bloom.
Michael Barker, Director of Academy Research, Information, and Library Services, is the faculty member who aided Aaron with this project. In addition to using the printer for apparel, he hopes to use it for advocacy and art.
“Louis had this somewhat wacky idea, but the more math and financial analysis he showed me, the more his idea made sense. I signed on to be his faculty advisor for his AAA grant request. He was turned down the first time, but he showed great resiliency and resolve, reworked his grant, and succeeded the second time around. I love when students have ideas and work to see them come to pass,” said Barker.
The team hopes to be able to keep the printer up and running two weeks every month. They are hoping to find a different location as its current room does not have the correct ventilation for the chemicals used to prime t-shirts for printing. The team plans to use the faculty lounge in the basement of the library as the printer’s permanent location. It is a large space with windows and proper ventilation.
Louis expects that the biggest challenge will be the daily maintenance the requires. The ink cartridges have to be shaken daily to prevent them from drying up, and other aspects of the printer need to be routinely checked. Maintenance will become difficult during long breaks when students leave campus.