Written by Murie Gillett
Photos by Jacalyn Meyvis
Tony Esteves may not be a Rochester native, but he is a Rochesterian at heart. Learn about how Tony is leaving his mark on Rochester, one print at a time.
Tell us more about yourself and how Tiny Fish Printing came to be.
We started in 2001 as Angry Penguin Productions, a music production company doing concert promotions. From that name, we started a clothing line called Angry Penguin Clothing. Then, we started printing the shirts for that clothing line. Shortly after that, we became AP Printing. AP printing sounded kind of lame, so around 2007 we decided to come up with a better name: Tiny Fish Printing. That’s when we started printing for other people. I was there from the beginning, and myself and my business partner, we just kinda went through all the different iterations until we got to Tiny Fish.
How did you first learn screen printing?
We learned by watching videos online. When we initially started screen printing we didn’t know much about it other than that there was a screen. But we didn’t really know anything about screens, either. We bought a bunch of equipment off of eBay and figured that it was all the equipment we needed. Then we started watching videos, learning by trial and error, and practicing. We watched people who we admired and we worked to duplicate a type of work that we weren’t able to get in the local area: high color counts, water based printing, soft stuff, fine detail work. That wasn’t really available, so we just started from nothing and started working towards that ideal goal. We were all self taught.
What is the most difficult part of screen printing for you?
The most difficult part is that there are so many options. There are so many variables between what the customer has in their head and what the end product could be. There are so many different types of garments, so many different types of ink, so many variables with the artwork, so many different things that can be printed on. Probably the hardest thing is making sure that everyone is on the same page.
You mention on your website that you are interested in keeping Tiny Fish in Rochester. Why is that part of your vision? What is special to you about Rochester?
I moved to Rochester nine or ten years ago. When I moved here, I didn’t really know anyone. I used to hang out around Thread, and the people who started that boutique. They knew some people, and they knew some people, and I really quickly got to see how interconnected the city is. I also got to see how many good things, positive things are going on here. People are trying to make interesting businesses and businesses that give back.
The city has been helpful with the business and giving us customers, the word of mouth, the networking, and helping us meet other people so anything we can do to give back to that community is great. A lot of business comes from the people starting things up. It’s a big enough city that we really could just focus on Rochester, and it’s a cool city. There aren’t too many other places that are like it.
Do you have a background in design?
I wasn’t a designer at first - I would work at LensCrafters and then come home and work on the flyers and learn Photoshop, play around with that stuff. I made the early website, so I was playing around with HTML, Dreamweaver- all those programs.
When we started the actual print business, I was the one doing all the print separations in Photoshop, doing all the artwork, designing all the websites too. I didn’t have a strong background in it, but I’ve dabbled in it since we started. Even now, the new website that’s coming out in a couple of weeks will feature some of my design work.
It’s not a specific design background, it’s more of a hobby.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about screen printing?
I think the biggest misconception is that people don’t really understand how prints get onto things, regardless of if it’s screen printing, digital, sublimation, lithography, or any kind of printing. Unless you’re really in that world, it never occurs to you to think, "how did the print get on this?" I think when people see what’s involved in screen printing they can kind of be turned off because there’s so many steps, at least in a shop our size. There’s so much automated equipment and they're all big- it’s loud and it’s hot. It’s very different from just using a small screen in your house. We get pretty technical with stuff here but at the end of the day, it’s just a screen with ink going through there’s not much to it.
Do you have a favorite project you’ve worked on?
All of my projects are my favorite projects.
I’ll always have a place in the Tiny Fish history book for all the Angry Penguin stuff we used to do: the comic book, the t-shirts, selling shirts on the road- that kind of stuff. That’s a big part of how we got to where we are now. Aside from that, any kind of cool project that is outside of the standard t-shirt we are printing. Any time we add a new item, that process of trying it out and seeing people get really excited about it, and seeing the potential of the product. There’s no one specific project that’s my favorite.
Tony teaches classes regularly at Rochester Brainery. His class this Monday is sold-out, but he'll be teaching again on November 21st!