The reboot of Spilt Ink stemmed, as all good things do, from local music. “We both had bands, and we wanted to print our bands’ posters and merchandise,” Milne says. Conder plays in satanic heavy metal band Settle Down and the super-polished, ’90s-influenced pop band Bon Vivant. Wilkinson plays in Red Telephone, a crock pot of ’60s-revival love music with some “satanic, devil-worshipping, Black Sabbath–type stuff,” as he puts it, and the surfy skater-punk, garage-rock band Breakers with Milne, who also plays in Pest Rulz. Preece is in Max Pain and The Groovies, which is all about those psychedelic blues tunes.“The music is what got us all into this industry,” says Milne. “It’s what keeps us all cracking jokes every day at the shop, laughing like hyenas.”
After changing hands, the shop landed in the lap of a new owner. After a year and a half, the new owner was ready to toss it, but the idea of losing the shop didn’t fly for Conder and Milne. So, in 2010, the duo decided to buy Spilt Ink. “The shop was near and dear to our hearts,” says Conder. “The idea of it being nonexistent didn’t seem quite right to us.” Their intent was only to salvage the company to keep it around. “It didn’t ever seem like it was going to be a full time gig,” Conder says. “It grew into that.”
After operating out of a small space on Kilby Court for three years, the shop quickly began maxing out on space as the business’ success grew. Out of necessity, Milne and Conder moved the shop to a second, larger location on Kilby Court, with the intent of the space lasting them three to five years. “It was six months later that we were looking for a bigger space to move into,” says Conder. “We found this [new] location, and it’s awesome. We’re really excited about what’s happened with the business over the four years that we’ve owned it.”
Spilt Ink’s need to expand was evident by the many businesses that utilize their quality craftsmanship. From favorite hangout spots like Raunch Records, Brewvies and Kilby Court to bands such as Gaza, Merlin’s Beard and SubRosa, to sports leagues like the Salt City Derby Girls, Spilt Ink provides signage and merchandise to suit all screen-printing needs. The right to boast about their customers’ experiences and their reach in the valley is much deserved. “We print for everybody,” Conder says, “but the especially cool businesses, well, they only get printed by us.” With an impressive client list representing over 175 local and national clients, it’s easy to see how crucial the new move is to continue upholding the superior reputation.
Designing printed items for a customer first begins with assessing what the customer wants. For customers and clients looking to get prints done that don’t have an exact design set, Split Ink helps get them set up by working with local graphic designers based on the style the client is looking for. “Our customers come to us with great ideas but very little knowledge of the screen-printing process,” says Milne. “We’re here to educate them and walk them through the process so we can take it to the level where we can produce.” While the traditional merchandise ranges from T-shirts to posters, the options of what can be printed on are endless. Conder says that the team actively enjoys the challenge of a tricky job. Bike chassis and stereo amplifiers are two examples of some of the more difficult tasks Spilt Ink has mastered, proving that no task is too large for them to tackle. After designs are laid, the process for creating screens for each color in the image begins, followed by creating the final project.
With all the expansions Spilt Ink has undergone in the past year, Conder believes that the integrity of the operation is something that will never be sacrificed. While convenience can be found in similar operations utilizing mass-production assembly lines, he doesn’t believe the ease of throwing down a shirt and pressing a button holds any appeal. “We’re not there yet, and we don’t want to be there,” he says. “We want to be busy as hell and keep growing. But, there is still a lot of craft that goes into our screen-printing style, and we want to keep it that way.”
I can’t say enough about the bad-assery that is Spilt Ink. Customers and friends from the community are invited to join the troll-stomping that will commence at their open house on May 3 as part of their grand reopening. More details can be found on their Facebook page or at spiltink.net.