By Melissa Donovan
Basing success on one printer can be risky business, but if you make an informed decision and subsequent investment all while believing in the purchase and its capabilities, the results are positive. RAM Group, Inc. of Milwaukee, WI is a real-life example of this. It acquired an EFI Reggiani ReNOIR Compact printer a little over four years ago for dye-sublimation (dye-sub) printing and prototyping of one-off garments.
The company began in 1994 producing technical drawings for manuals. A one-man operation, Rick A. Marino, president, RAM Group, worked out of his extra bedroom drawing motors and couplings for technical companies. In 2004, he was researching customized club sporting team uniforms and was unhappy with the results. For Marino, a whole different type of personalization need was not being met and he set out to change that.
Originally, his process involved sublimating logos, names, and numbers to existing garments, but six months later Marino and another employee realized the efficiency of digital printing for individual garments and switched to printing the entire garment and then sewing it.
RAM Group quickly outgrew its original location and moved into a 600 square foot office with a hand press for sublimation. Soon after, an opportunity to rent a 2,000 square foot space presented itself. The move allowed the company to enter into wide format printing and offer sewing services in house.
Above: RAM Group, based in Milwaukee, WI, used its EFI Reggiani ReNOIR Compact dye-sub transfer printer to print 10,125 square feet of graphics that were manufactured into a sweat suit for special Arby’s customers.
Today RAM Group employs 34 out of a 16,000 square foot facility. Designing, printing, cutting, and sewing are all conducted at this one location. Besides the 34 full-time employees, the company also utilizes part-time employees and outside sewing contractors when production requires more man power.
Main services involve producing garments for sports and athleisure. Clients include corporations, teams, lifestyle brands, startups, and private label. It has several websites for private lines including ShirtsandLogos and SluggerCustomUniforms or Ontal, which offers customized high-end golf apparel for men and women. The company is best known, according to Marino, for producing softball/baseball uniforms. It’s worked off field for USA Softball and sponsored the Louisville Slugger Warriors. Since the company is mostly based online, it services clients internationally, for example providing softball uniforms to teams on military bases worldwide.
Marino understood early on that digital printing fit his company’s style. Take for example the design freedom afforded by digital printing. “In the beginning, we were known for our crazy numbers and wild designs. Because of our background, we took designs to the extreme—creating logos and using elements from the logo in the pattern of a shirt or taking little mascots and masking them in and out of numbers on the garment,” he explains.
The group initially worked with an Epson Stylus Pro 9600, which was succeeded by a series of Mimaki USA, Inc. printers. In 2014, Marino’s son went to a trade show and purchased the EFI Reggiani ReNOIR Compact—one of the first in the U.S. for apparel. Both the speed and consistency made it a logical choice. The transfer dye-sub device is set up based on the garment manufacturer’s specifications. Since three quarters of what the company prints is individual garments or runs of one, file manipulation is unique and RAM Group worked with Reggiani—the purchase was prior to Reggiani’s acquisition by EFI in 2015—to create an efficient workflow process.
In addition to a custom printing setup, its finishing process differs from most apparel manufacturers. For example, those using transfer dye-sub commonly place cut parts onto prints for transfer. “Since we had no apparel background, it made sense to print the entire garment and then cut it out after. When we showed the manufacturer, it quickly changed its marketing to highlight our methods,” explains Marino.
This also happened when RAM Group looked into purchasing a digital cutter. “When we first bought our cutting machine, the sales representative advised us not to buy the equipment because it could not cut one-off production. Now the cutting machines are set up for this type of production,” he continues.
Increased efficiency and decreased turnaround times were two main goals when purchasing the EFI Reggiani ReNOIR Compact. Marino says both were achieved and the RAM Group continues to look for new ways to further these goals. One of which is streamlining the front end of the production cycle with a proprietary online ordering system. At press time, the company was in beta testing with a solution that allows the purchaser to choose from over 8,000 SKUs on a men’s shirt, for unlimited versatility and custom designs.
While RAM Group regularly completes work for sports teams and other athletic groups, it also has a good deal of business come in from high-end agencies of reputable big brands. Just before Christmas 2017, an advertising agency for fast food chain Arby’s reached out to the garment manufacturer for a unique request.
The Meat Mountain is an off-the-menu item available at Arby’s. When the sandwich was ordered, customers were asked to provide contact information so Arby’s could acknowledge that they conquered the Meat Mountain. The agency hoped to surprise the customer by sending them a sweat suit—Meat Sweats—that featured a pattern of all the meats in the sandwich.
In less than two weeks the RAM Group took an actual image of the meat in the Meat Mountain sandwich and created an ’80s style look using a brand new pattern. It printed approximately 675 linear yards or 10,125 square feet of graphics on the EFI Reggiani ReNOIR Compact, which were then transferred onto fleece. In total, 150 tops and bottoms were created.
“We had no lead time, no proper trims, our contractors were busy, Christmas is a pretty hard deadline, and we had other commitments during the holiday season,” shares Marino. Additional challenges included color correcting the photo to ensure the image accurately portrayed the meat and rearranging the image so the meat was placed appropriately on the sweat suit.
Recipients of the Meat Sweats were more than surprised. According to Marino, the marketing campaign created a social media explosion.
99 percent of the work performed by the RAM Group is printed on the EFI Reggiani ReNOIR Compact. With it constantly running, the RAM Group is poised to capitalize on its “phenomenal” throughput.
Apr2018, Industrial Print Magazine