Mean Street Graphix: Dye Sublimation Printing That’s Anything But Mean

Thursday, February 9, 2017
By Phil Elmore

“Send me your logo,” Keith Miller of Mean Street Graphix told me. That was it; I didn’t give him any instructions. I simply sent him a high-res version of my Internet Gunslinger logo (which was custom designed for me by John “Johnny Atomic” Jackson). The items you see here were the result.

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The mug contains an altered version of the design, in which Miller added a shadowed echo of the logo behind it. The other items are a simple reproduction of the logo as originally created.

Miller’s Mean Street Graphix, based in Louisville, Kentucky, specializes in dye sublimation transfers. This is a process of printing a high-resolution image with a special dye solvent ink on transfer paper. They then apply heat and pressure to the image and a pre-treated product (a mug, a sign, a phone case, a key chain, a coaster, etc.). This imprints the picture onto the product.

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The process is not printing. It’s not a sticker or an applique. It essentially changes the color of the item’s surface. That means it will never peel, chip, or wipe off. To damage the image, you basically have to scratch the product itself. Dye sublimation printing can be used on a wide array of products and promotional items.

Miller explains that he ran several failing martial arts gyms for many years while learning to make his own graphics, signs, and shirts to save money. After he gave up the gym business, he started a small vinyl and sign business. It was then that he learned about dye sublimation and fell in love with the process. “We still do signs and stuff,” he told me, “but it’s not our main focus anymore.”

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In a market saturated with competition, Miller prides himself on personalized service — and the ability to edit a creation for the client’s approval. “You can probably save money by buying a coffee mug or phone case on Etsy or someplace like that,” he admits. “Our process takes longer and requires more work than just clicking ‘Buy Now,’ but it also guarantees you’ll be getting a 100% personalized product.”

Miller has produced a vast array of dye-sub items for his customers, but says the most fun he’s had to date was for a client’s “emoji party.” Each attendee was assigned an emoji and had to dress up as that symbol. “It wasn’t particularly weird,” he says, “but it was fun.”

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Mean Street doesn’t actually sell the items its clients purchase; it sells memories, Miller asserts. “We do corporate and small business stuff, but the bulk of our customers are just regular folks,” he told me. “They bring in a picture of their baby that they want it on a tile display, or they want to make a memorial piece for a deceased family member. It makes each job the most important one you’ve ever done. When you hand a mother a personalized dog tag with a picture of the son she lost in Iraq…damn. All I can say is, damn. This is the best, most rewarding job I’ve ever had.”

The biggest challenge facing a company like Mean Street is getting its product out there. While it’s been said that if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door, that doesn’t exactly work if nobody is aware of your innovation. “I’ve got a pretty good damned mouse trap,” says Miller. “But if they don’t know about it, then they don’t know about it.”

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With some chagrin, Miller explains that before discovering dye sublimation, he invested nearly ten thousand dollars in printing equipment he doesn’t use… and which he can’t sell because it’s leased. He takes this in stride, however, On the horizon for Mean Street is, he says ,more corporate work, which will help justify opening an actual store front.

“A steady flow of production level work will fund the upstart and monthly operations when gift-giving seasons are slow,” he explains. “We have scouted several locations in the Louisville area that we think would be ideal. We’d like to have a gift shop in the front and a production facility in the back.”

For now, customers interested in purchasing Miller’s products may do so by visiting him online at http://meanstreetgraphix.com, or on Instagram and Facebook. The company can also be reached at 502-438-8682. Miller promises that you will be happy with the work he provides.

“I’m pretty convinced that I don’t have to sell anything we do,” Miller says. “I just need you to see it. It sells itself.”

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