Putting a mark on sports scene

Shirts, hats printed for clients nationwide

September 13, 2006|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,special to the sun

Anyone who has worn a T-shirt from a Howard County sports team or purchased a sweat shirt with a local school's logo most likely has been a customer of Nightmare Graphics.

The 25-year-old company based in Columbia does silk-screening and embroidery for T-shirts, sweat shirts, hats, blankets and other items. Clients include Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks, most local schools and sports teams, as well as athletic events throughout the country. Nightmare Graphics also does contract work for Six Flags and other places nationwide that require shirts with their own designs.

Sam Andelman, 59, started the business in 1981 with $10,000 from his retirement fund, which he used to buy a four-color manual silk-screening machine. He paid $245 a month for 1,600 square feet of office space in Oella. It did not have a bathroom, he recalled.

These days, his factory, warehouses and offices on Red Branch Road total about 30,000 square feet. The clean and spacious factory contains three automatic presses and five manual ones.

Nightmare Graphics has 34 employees, including three art designers who take the often-unusable logos and artwork submitted by customers and turn them into memorable designs suitable for wearing. Sometimes the designers start from scratch because clients know they want something special but cannot give more guidance than that.

"A lot of times, they don't know what they want," Andelman said.

The factory can produce 50,000 pieces a week, he said. It operates five days a week, running 16 hours on four of those days.

After graduating from the University of Maryland, College Park, Andelman became an art teacher at a Montgomery County high school. As head of the school's art department, he taught photography and silk-screening. After about 12 years on the job, he quit because he wanted to take more risks in his career - he did not like the idea of knowing exactly how much money he would make 30 years down the road.

He spent several months job-hunting, then decided to start a business.

People often ask Andelman how he came up with the name of his company. First, it was Graphic Concepts, but when Andelman decided to incorporate, he learned another company also had that name. He chose Nightmare Graphics simply because it is memorable.

"It works for us more than against us," he said.

The process of creating the shirts has not changed much. A screen - no longer silk but polyester - is coated with a light-sensitive emulsion. Then a transparency of a design is placed on top, and a giant cameralike piece of equipment photographs it for 60 seconds. The screen is washed, and the part that was exposed to light stays put, while the part that was dark washes away.

The screen is then ready to be placed on an automatic or a manual machine. The automatic machines are generally for projects of more than 150 pieces, Andelman said. A shirt goes on a press, then color is pressed through the screen, either by a machine or by an employee such as Kevin Moore, who was working on red T-shirts recently.

The machine turns so that the shirt is placed under a dryer, then more colors are added the same way. The automatic machines can do as many as 10 colors, creating up to 60 dozen shirts an hour.

Andelman notes that his paints are plastic-based and biodegradable and that his company can create any color that is requested.

"We kind of bill ourselves as a one-stop shop," said Andelman, who also designs trophies for sports events such as the recent Iron Girl Triathlon at Centennial Park. The trophies are made elsewhere, but an embroidery shop, which was purchased two years ago and brought in-house, can add individual names to shirts or hats, or, as it was doing recently, emblazon blankets with Howard Lions logos for Howard High School.

The sports connection started early for Nightmare Graphics. One of Andelman's earlier customers was Robert Vigorito, now race director for the Columbia Triathlon. Andelman created shirts and other items for the event, starting in 1984. When Vigorito was elected to the Triathlon National Board of Directors, he recommended Nightmare Graphics to other race directors.

"I think what he does is offer a wide variety of products and super-good customer service," said Vigorito, who has his race office in Andelman's factory.

Nightmare Graphics is at 9005A Red Branch Road, in Columbia. The phone is 410-772-9677, and the Web site is www.nightmare grahics.com.

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