After 30 years, T-Shirt Graphics a perfect fit in Ballston Spa

Advertising professionals say T-shirts and caps with logos or messages on them are one of the most e

Advertising professionals say T-shirts and caps with logos or messages on them are one of the most effective ways of getting a message out to the public.

They’re popular with the public, too — think of the long lines when the New York Racing Association gives away T-shirts at Saratoga Race Course, or how people will pay for a Travers Day shirt. Then they may wear those shirts for years, as status symbols or maybe just because they’re comfortable.

Some of the T-shirts NYRA gives away or sells, and similar shirts for dozens of other events each year, come from a small Ballston Spa company that custom-prints them.

T-Shirt Graphics also produces rock concert and car rally shirts, baseball caps with sewn-in logos, jackets printed with the names or logos of fire departments, businesses or community organizations — even posters, banners, sign boards or just about any other medium that will hold a printed message.

T-Shirt Graphics, located in a former railroad freight depot on Grove Street, will be celebrating its 30th anniversary this spring.

It is housed in what looks from the outside like a historic brick building, but inside are state-of-the-art, computer-controlled silk-screen-type presses for printing full-color T-shirts, embroidery machines for sewing a message into a cap or jacket — even a specialized press for making banners and posters.

Owners Dennis and Eileen Albright and their five employees provide services ranging from designing shirt art to getting a logo or message printed on coffee mugs and pens.

The Albrights employ a customer-first philosophy that has helped their business stay successful through the enormous technological changes the printing industry has seen over the past 30 years.

“You’ve got to take care of the customer,” Dennis Albright said. “You’ll design a logo for a customer, then they’ll say they want it in lettering for the side of their truck, or on coffee mugs. If the customer wants it, we do it.”

He’s also tried to be a good corporate citizen by taking on special projects like making the “welcome” signs for the village of Ballston Spa, and directory signs for the village business and professional association. Such signs may look like brushed metal, but these days they’re made from PVC plastic.

“You’ve got to change with the times,” Albright said.

When people walk into the office, they see a full wall of the company’s colorful shirts — shirts made for NYRA, for SPAC concerts, for car rallies.

“We make people feel comfortable when they come here, and we can give them what they want,” Albright said.

Shirt illustrations, banners and display panels may not be what people conventionally think of as art, but it is — and it delivers a message effectively, according to advertising professionals.

T-shirts and other garments can be a cost-effective way of advertising a business or an event, said Lisa Audi, vice president of public relations firm Ed Lewi & Associates in Clifton Park.

Lewi Associates handles NYRA’s promotions for the annual Saratoga racing meet, and Audi called NYRA’s T-shirt giveaways “legendary” for their popularity.

“There’s a lot of different ways to get your message in front of people,” she said. “An effective message shirt can be very effective.”

T-Shirt Graphics can make 3,000 or 4,000 shirts at a time for larger customers, but will make custom orders of as few as a dozen shirts. Prices vary greatly, Dennis Albright said, depending on type and quality of material, number of colors in the artwork and volume of items ordered.

Albright, 59, has spent all his adult life around the printing business, seeing it change from the days of hot-type to today’s digital technology.

He is a village native who went to work for the Journal Press, a small publication printer in the village, right out of high school. “We printed a lot of college newspapers,” he recalled.

After 10 years at the Journal Press, Albright left for a job with Boyd Printing in Albany, but soon after started his own company in an old building on South Street, doing offset printing of posters, letterheads and envelopes, and reproducing other specialty images.

Along the way, he had learned the techniques of silk-screening printing, the traditional way of placing an image on clothing by forcing colored inks through a stencil, using a squeegee brush. He started offering the service, and it changed the business.

“It started out as something else to offer, and then that got bigger and the other part got smaller,” Albright said.

Within a few years, he met and married Eileen, and she quit her job to become a partner in the business.

“She’s done pretty much everything,” Albright said. “We’re partners. Neither of us does anything without talking to the other.”

After a few years on South Street, the company moved to a large garage bay behind a local laundry, then in 1995 the Albrights bought the old village railroad depot, which offered 8,500 square feet of indoor space for printing, storage and shipping.

Today, the main part of the building is filled with two wheel-shaped shirt-printing machines. One is an eight-color press, the other a 10-color press. Shirts are placed on boards that are rotated around the wheel, stopping under printing stations that extend like spokes. A different color is applied at each one, until after a full rotation a final image appears on the shirt.

The presses’ movements are all controlled by computer. The newest press, purchased last year, can emblazon 600 to 700 T-shirts an hour.

“You’ve got to keep up with technology,” Albright said. “You’re got to be more efficient. It’s a very competitive field.”

Once printed, the shirts go onto a screen conveyor that takes them through a dryer. Then they’re ready to pack.

Albright said summer is the company’s busiest time, because of its NYRA work and seasonal events such as car shows and charity runs.

But T-Shirt Graphics also handles some big winter printing projects, like the 1,300 First Night Saratoga 5K Run shirts with their elaborate artwork, and 2,000 shirts made for the annual mid-winter Saratoga Chowderfest.

Some jobs come their way because Albright has made himself known in the community — something he said is an essential part of developing a local business.

He’s joined service organizations, attended community meetings and been active in the Ballston Spa Business and Professional Association and the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce. He’s currently a director of the Chamber.

“It’s like anything else: If you’ve been around long enough they know you,” he said with a self-deprecating chuckle.

Within the business, Eileen Albright is the bookkeeper and buyer, but she also sometimes does art design — and in the early days when it was just the two of them, she was sometimes right alongside Dennis pulling a squeegee.

“You learn it all when you have your own business,” she said.

Eileen Albright said businesses have to be more aggressive about looking for work during a recession, but providing good customer service is key, regardless of economic conditions. “We pride ourselves on good customer service,” she said.

The Albrights see things getting better in 2011 — in large part because the arrival of the GlobalFoundries computer chip plant should have economic ripple effects even for small businesses that don’t at first glance seem directly tied to the high-tech industry.

“More companies coming to the area means more clothing work,” Dennis Albright said. “I’m hoping for a big influx of small businesses that need garments.”

New people moving to the region should also lead to more community events taking place that require publicity posters and promotional shirts, Albright said.

“This whole area is going to grow because of GlobalFoundries,” he said. “It’s an exciting time to be in the area, if you think about it.”

Though the company’s product line goes far beyond T-shirts, there are no immediate plans to change the company name to something other than T-Shirt Graphics. “It’s what we’re known as,” Albright said.

But Eileen noted that the sign next to the parking lot now emphasizes the company’s initials — TSG — rather than the full garment-specific name.

The company web site is They’ve had it for about a decade, and Dennis said it’s gotten them some business from outside the area.

“About 75 percent of our work is by e-mail now,” he said.

Categories: Business

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