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Ink13 owner Paul Costanzo sits in his shop’s art department. Along with doing all prepress work on a Mac with Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, he does his original illustration work on a 22-inch Wacom Cintique.

August 11, 2014

What Paul Costanzo did with his home’s 1,500-square-foot walk-out basement is the kind of project people dream about on all those home-improvement shows.

If you happened to stop by Costanzo’s place for a visit, you’d get a first-hand look at Ink13, the full-service screen printing shop that also features wide-format printing and embroidery equipment, and an area designated for a large prep table and darkroom.

Ask Costanzo and you’ll get myriad reasons why such a simple commute (think: down the basement stairs) is so good for business. For example, there’s no shortage of time to work on a project. It’s not uncommon for his wide-format printer to run jobs well into the night. (Costanzo always is nearby to peek in on any problems or to change the ink, etc., but he doesn’t have to stand there and watch.) And then there are those 6 a.m. layout sessions during the artwork stage, cup of coffee firmly in hand.

What do his customers think of the setup? “I’m not sure what they first think,” Costanzo says, “but once they come in it’s always, ‘Wow, this is nice.’”

While Costanzo admits the “full-service-screen-printing-shop-in-the-basement” model isn’t for everyone, Ink13 offers everything his clients need in the way of graphic design, screen printing, embroidery and promotional items, such as banners, signs, posters, stickers, magnets, etc.

“I happen to be lucky enough to have a large space that is really nice to work in,” he admits. “No matter what your job is, though, working from home will not fit into everyone’s style.”

That Costanzo tailored the shop to fit his style is what makes Ink13 work. Basement or not, the fully functioning shop offers plenty of space for equipment and deliveries, including two large French doors and plenty of windows that help curtail any talk of ventilation issues. (In addition, Costanzo doesn’t do solvent ink printing, such as coroplast signs, which also eliminates hazardous odors.)

The only issue currently facing Ink13 is the same thing all decorated apparel shops toil with at some point: space. Costanzo says he’s maxed out. Along with doing all his prepress on a Mac with Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, he does his original illustration work on a 22-inch Wacom Cintique. His film is output to an Epson printer with AccuRIP software, and any vinyl cuts are done on a Roland plotter.

For screen printing, Ink13 uses a Vastex V-2000 HD six-station manual press with a quartz flash and a 36-inch conveyor dryer. Costanzo also recently ordered an M&R Diamondback automatic press. The darkroom is equipped with a 1,000-watt metal-halide exposure unit. In addition, it uses a combination of static frames and Newman roller frames. All embroidery is done on a Melco XTS singlehead, while a Mutoh eco-solvent printer handles the wide-format printing for vinyl, banners and posters.

“The space does not affect my current jobs, but it holds back on the size of jobs I can go after,” Costanzo says. “I would never take on a 10,000-shirt order with a manual press, or a large embroidery job would take forever with a singlehead machine.”

Costanzo first became interested in graphic design in 1980 after taking a class in high school that introduced him to offset printing and screen printing. He continued dabbling in the business throughout high school and college, where he eventually took some classes and worked for local shops. Back then, graphic design wasn’t done on a computer and film wasn’t output. Graphics were done by hand, while text was printed line by line on a type-setting machine.

“The back of each piece was coated with wax and stuck to your layout,” Costanzo recalls. “You would take a picture of that with a huge lithography camera and develop that sheet of film. This was your film positive. If you wanted halftones, you would lay a sheet with halftone dots on your film during exposure.”

In 1987, he started a design and printing shop with two friends, eventually moving to Los Angeles to do graphic design for a large company that specialized in the music industry. In 2010, after years of pursuing other interests, he opened Ink13.

The company’s origins were derived from a concept Costanzo had with a friend who owns an offset printing company, Thirteenth Floor Graphics and Printing. The plan was to contract out all of the offset print work to his friend who, in turn, would send all of his apparel work to Costanzo. As things started rolling, Costanzo simply added the “13” to create Ink13.

“This has worked out great for both of us,” Costanzo says. “Startup was a bit of a challenge because my business model was to primarily grow by sales. I didn’t want to take on large debt all at once. So the first year was just investing in the screen printing equipment. As sales grew, I purchased other equipment, like the wide-format printer and embroidery machine.”

Sports-related clients — school sports, Little League programs, and gym and fitness clubs — currently constitute a big portion of Ink13’s business. Other related clients include a few professional athletes, such as a golfer, a three-time world champion bodybuilder and a Red Bull Crashed Ice downhill skater. Costanzo also works closely with a few tattoo shops.

And in a marketplace that continues to redefine how companies do business, Ink13 is finding new and creative ways like social media to engage its customer base. “I love posting a picture of my latest project to keep people informed of what’s going on,” Costanzo says. “It keeps you on their minds and also might remind them of some services they didn’t know you offer.”

Costanzo says staying savvy in social media is key. “Not only is social media important to me, but also having an [Internet] presence,” he says. “I know when I buy something, I check it out online to get an idea of the company. If a customer wants to pick a company to do something artistic for them, [that company] should have a website to reflect that.”

Another key to growing your consumer base is staying ahead of the trends. For example, Costanzo says that outside of promotional garments, consumers continue to move away from the standard T-shirt. He  is finding ring-spun cotton to be popular, with tri-blends increasing in popularity. In addition, polyester dry-weave polos are taking over the demand for cotton piqué shirts, with some customers preferring a light tri-blend or an Egyptian interlock cotton for embroidery.

In the end, success lies in finding what your customers want and giving it to them.  

“I know that the ‘design-yourself-online’ model is huge, but there are still customers who have no clue as to what they want until you give them an idea,” he says. “If you make that easy for them and deliver a great final product, they will be loyal customers. I’ve seen jobs printed online for customers that had things in the wrong place simply because the customer put it there by accident. These huge companies are not going to call you and say, ‘Hey, are you sure you want that there?’”

For Costanzo, it’s all about the customers, and what they want and need. When he makes time to network and solicit his services, he generates sales — period.

“I once read in [Impressions] that one of the biggest mistakes a decorated apparel business makes is concentrating too much on the process and not on sales,” he recalls. “You can spend all your time playing around with new equipment, but it will sit idle if you don’t have the jobs to run on it.”

This year is shaping up to be one of the best yet for Ink13. Year-to-date, sales already have doubled. But, as with any growing business — especially one with such a unique home base — the question persists: When do you start thinking of expanding?

“If sales continue the way they are, space and manpower will become an issue that has to be addressed,” Costanzo says. “No matter how much I enjoy the space I’m in now, it will be time to look for something in the 3,000-square-foot size range. The 12-14 hour days for a one-person shop takes its toll and it will be time to hire someone.”

Michael J. Pallerino is an award-winning writer who has written for a number of national consumer and trade publications. For more information or to comment on this article, email Michael at

Ink13 At A Glance

Company Name: Ink13
Address: 9 Deerfield Trace, Burlington, CT 06013
Founded: 2010
No. of Employees: 1
Services Offered: Graphic design, screen printing, embroidery, promotional items
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