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The Golden Rules When Preparing Artwork For Shirt Printing

The shirt printing process can feel a little detached to first-time t-shirt designers. All the effort and thought goes into the design. Once the design is ready to print, the file is the responsibility of the printers and they feel they can sit back and wait to see how it all looks. This isn’t entirely true.

While responsible printers will always make sure that they do the best possible job, they can only work with what they are given. It makes the shirt printing job a whole lot easier of they have a file that is correctly formatted, with all the right information, for a smooth transition from image to product. There are some important things that you can do to increase the odds of a great result before you send a file.

The first thing that you need to do is be careful with your palettes and colour schemes.

All designers should understand the importance of matching the right garment colour and ink colour, as well the importance of complementary colours. The look of the tones of the garment can effect the look of the ink. There are big differences between a washed out look and bold approaches on what is actually the same design. There is a clear readability issue here with different effects with tones. Do you need a bold image that is sharp and clear across a room to highlight a nice brand? Similar tones for a washed out, distressed look may not be so apparent at a distance, but suggest a much loved tee from an established brand.

Therefore you should always create plenty of mock ups with lots of different variations. It doesn’t cost anything to run through different ideas, and it is better to discard an option that didn’t work than miss out of the perfect combination that might sell 10 times as many units. Mock ups also help with negative space issues. Does the negative space in the lettering or image replicate that of the garment below, or is it jarringly different? These test runs will pick up on issues like this. Work with tools like Alstyle 1301 and a Color Palette Generator such as Kuler by Adobe. Also, don’t forget to save everything as swatches to avoid losing work and the best ideas.

Why are Pantone colours so important?

There are too many t-shirt designers that are fixed onto their standard colour charts from their much-loved apps like Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator. However, you can’t use this and expect to see the same results on the finished garment. There are clear variations in tone in the final print that wont reflect the image created. These shifts may be subtle enough not to matter too much, or they may look out of place in the general concept. Ideally, you need to be looking at the exact same palette as a printer for the perfect replication of a design. Ergo, start looking at Pantone colours.

The ideal Pantone book is the Solid Coated Formula Guide, which highlight the tones used by printers. The only problem is it is pretty pricey. Is it worth the price? Yes and no. Yes for those with large scale business, big orders and enough money for the investment. No for those just starting out. Weigh up the pros and cons of mis-matched tones and the cost with your current budget and needs. With this new Pantone book, you have a clear reference point to colours that you can add to your order submission.

Stick to designing in Adobe Illustrator with vector formatting

Why is vector formatting so important for your final printed product? The simple answer is that a vector graphic can be resized to infinite dimensions, with no compromise on the quality. This means blowing up an image to larger prints, without distorting and pixelating it, and also shrinking it to a perfect miniature. This is important for those that want to branch out with a design, especially those printing with a specific brand or event in mind. This means printing for t-shirts, bigger designs on the back of hoodies, even bigger flags and banners, small scale coasters and cards.

When scanning in the image for the best look, be sure that it is at the right resolution. Ideally, drawn artwork at real-size should be scanned in at 300 dpi. Any artwork on a 50% scale should be at 600 dpi. Work with this ratio and you shouldn’t go too wrong. Colour separations should be left to the pros. When you are trying to include all the best information, and help the printers as best you can, manual colour separations can seem like a good idea. There can be between 8-12 spot colours on a full colour image, and they are printed as halftone screens in order to create photorealistic prints. This is essential for all those using artwork and photographs rather than block images. The problem with creating your own colour separations here is that they may not correspond to the automatic versions of the pre-press department. In trying to help them, you may actually create more work as they correct your mistakes. It really isn’t worth the effort here. Assume they know what they are doing better than you do – which is probably true.

Finally, you need to know the right approach for sending the file

Once everything is correct with the image and you are ready to send it off, the last thing that you need to do is make sure that everything is saved correctly so that all the information is there for the printer – in the right place. Save a final print file to send to your printer using the following guidelines. If it is in Illustrator, make sure to outline all fonts in the correct vector shapes, embed all the right raster link and save it as AI, EPS, or PDF. For those using Photoshop, you need to rasterise all of the text layers, merge all of the printable layers and then save it as a PSD, TIF, PNG or PDF.

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