My dad used to say that, to a man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. I have always liked that saying, and I have always tried to be the kind of person who doesn't get tunnel vision by looking at every problem through the lens of the tools I happen to currently have at my disposal. That kind of thinking limits your options and your opportunities.
Recently, I have seen a number of questions, conversations and arguments about the "best" way to print custom bass drumheads. As by far the largest and most experienced custom bass drumhead manufacturer in the world (we will have printed our 50,000th head as of December, 2017!!!) with by far the broadest and most comprehensive array of print technology under one roof, I have more knowledge and understanding of the process, options and pitfalls than the average bear.
That said, the biggest thing to understand is that, contrary to what you may read or hear, there is no "best" way to print custom bass drumheads. If done right (and DrumART ALWAYS does it right), there is no perceptible difference between a direct printed drumhead (which we offer) and a laminated drumhead (which we also offer). Instead, the type of head you want and the type of finish you're looking for should dictate your choices. As a gigging drummer myself for more than 30 years, I know that SOUND comes first and IMAGE comes second.
Over the years, we have acquired every major print technology and assembled it all under one roof -- all of it dedicated to the sole function of printing bass drumheads. Every. Single. One. Direct-print UV? Yep. Solvent-based inkjet? For more than two decades. Aqueous inkjet? We don't use it much, but yes. Dye-sublimation? Absolutely. Even screen printing on occasion. So, you won't get the standard marketing mumbo-jumbo from us. Instead, we'll use the right technology for YOUR job that will realize YOUR vision. Printers of custom bass drumheads (generally sign shops full of non-musicians who thought adding custom printed drumheads would boost their bottom line) will tell you that whatever option they offer is "best." Bottom line: it's not. And I say that as someone who owns and uses, again, every single one.
If they have a UV printer, there's nothing better than printing directly on the drumhead. Solvent-based inkjet? Vinyl is where it's at. Simple plotter? You don't need fancy graphics when simple cut and layered shapes and letters will do. The truth, like most things, lies somewhere in the middle. And that truth is that there are benefits and tradeoffs with each of them.
UV printing directly on the drumhead -- which has gotten a lot of press lately and which we are heavily invested in -- is great, but the argument you usually hear in favor of it is something along the lines of "printing directly on the head doesn't change the sound." True, but the implication is that other print technology does. Total and complete bunk. IF (and only if) the manufacturer of your custom bass drumhead knows how to mitigate the affects of the laminate, there is no audible difference in the same image printed on two separate drumheads using the two technologies. Remember, these are large drums with a huge surface area that generally have a big hole (or more) cut in them as well.
I can't speak for others, but our use of ultra-thin, ultra-flexible materials and proprietary application process make our laminated custom bass drumheads sound every bit as good as our direct-printed heads. Just ask the tens of thousands of people who own and love them. Yes, uneducated or unscrupulous manufacturers have been known to use thick, inexpensive, low-quality vinyls and dubious application techniques on their drumheads which has given the technology a black eye for use on music instruments, but not one of them has been from DrumART.
That said, if your artwork calls for a deep, glossy finish, you're not ever going to get that with direct-print UV. Laminate vinyl is the only way to go, and there is no substitute for that look. On the other hand, if you prefer a rich matte finish or want to print on clear heads, mirror-chrome heads or coated heads, there's nothing better than direct UV printing.
My point in all this is simply to say, as with anything, consider the source of what you're hearing, wade through the marketing BS and make a good, educated decision. The truth is out there and, as a company that has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in every technology to solely produce products for the music industry, we're here to help you find it. Hopefully we'll build some trust through the process and you'll give us the opportunity to amaze you with what DrumART can do.
Regardless, you should always consider this: custom bass drumheads are an investment in your band and your music. I go to shows ALL THE TIME, and I am regularly shocked by bands who are (a) playing good music that (b) people are interested in who (c) do not have their band name on their drumhead so no one knows who the hell they are. Absurd. We hear the argument fairly regularly that custom bass drumheads are like tattoos -- you get one with your (now ex-) girlfriend's name and you're stuck with it forever. Um...no. Unlike a tattoo, if/when your band breaks up, you can take the head off the kit and hang it on your wall as a nice sub-$100 memento (they make FANTASTIC wall-hangings as you can see in this photo from our friend Brian Riggs of STiiLPOiNT). Or burn it, depending on the circumstances of the breakup. What tattoo has ever let you do that?
In the meantime, why would a gigging drummer who is dragging his or her drumkit up on stage every night not want advertise their band every second of every minute that they're playing? Your drums are going on stage either way, so use that black hole on the front of your bass drum as the marketing opportunity it is! I'll never understand the argument against that. Whether you get your heads from us at DrumART or from one of our many small competitors, that's just good business.