Cambridge-based Litographs lets you wear your favorite books

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As a stellar example of creative entrepreneurship, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based small business has found an innovative way to make the characters of your favorite book jump off the page.

Litographs brings together readers and authors through a new style of printing that actually prints the words of a book on a t-shirt or tote bag.

It’s a fascinating process to watch. Each Litographs product is made through a special process called dye sublimation, in which the picture is printed onto heat-resistant paper and then pressed into the shirt, permanently dying the fabric to prevent fading.

From far away, the shirt looks like a beautiful picture. But moving closer, it’s easy to see the exact words from a famous book or play printed in tiny colorful letters. The average Litographs t-shirt will have 40,000 words. Litographs posters contain the entire text of a book, and are especially popular with schoolteachers and librarians.

The Princess Bride t-shirt (Litographs)

The Princess Bride t-shirt (Litographs)

“As book lovers, we wanted a product that would combine art and literature in a way that would encourage conversation around that book and literacy more generally,” Jack Neary, Litographs’ head of community, told Opportunity Lives. It seems to be working well — wearing one of these shirts, you’ll often get stopped on the street as people recognize that you’re literally wearing the words of your favorite book.

Over the last several years, Litographs has printed several hundred thousand shirts and bags, with many more to come. There are currently more than 100 titles available to print — everything from Shakespeare to Phantom of the Opera to the Bible. Users are requesting new titles every day.

Rapid growth has been a challenge. “As with any small business, there’s a lot to do and just not enough time to do it all,” said Neary. “Making sure we prioritize what’s best for the business and our customers and staying focused on our mission is something we try to keep front of mind at all times.”

Litographs has a partnership with the International Book Bank. Every time someone buys a Litograph product, a new book goes to a community in need. It’s this mission — encouraging reading and literacy around the world — that motivates Litographs to continually develop new products.

Litographs began with public domain classics because of the enduring appreciation for these famous works, but Neary said the company wants to branch out with licensing to offer more contemporary authors as well. “Ultimately, the goal is to make every book available as a Litograph,” he said.

Daniel Huizinga covers business and politics for Opportunity Lives. Follow him on Twitter at @HuizingaDaniel.