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10 Useful Tips on How To Prepare a Design for T-Shirt Printing

Many of you graphic designers out there probably have encountered some problems when preparing your design for t-shirt printing. It is really annoying to work long hours on a t-shirt design and at the end to find out that the printer can’t print your work. Most of you probably know that doing graphic design and getting it ready for print is not the same thing.

To help you prevent some of the issues you might encounter, here are some easy to follow tips on how to prepare a design for t-shirt printing (some tips are for screen printing specifically).

  1. Keep The Number of Colors to a Minimum

    First of all, you have to know that with screen printing the price of your print rises with the number of colors you choose to use in your design. So it’s best that use a low number of colors as possible. Here’s a neat trick: instead of using several shades of orange, you can use a halftone instead of separate colors. And the most common way to do this, is to slide the color scale down to only a percentage of the base color used.

    If you create properly the design and you prepare it in this manner, you will get a more accurate print.
  2. Use Pantone Colors in Your Artwork
    In order to ensure the most accurate colors with a silk screener, instead of doing your artwork in RGB and CMYK color modes, you should use Pantone colors. By doing this, you will make the color separations a lot easier and more accurate.

    Usually, the printer should not charge you extra for Pantone color matching. In fact, you are actually making them a favor by being more particular for accuracy (even though you may encounter the situation when you will be charged extra, just because it’s another way for them to make more money).


  3. Convert All of Your Text to Outlines

    As a designer, you may want your artwork to have an obscure font or maybe even a hand drawn custom designed font. And it’s easy to understand why it would be really annoying to see that your font has been changed at the printing company. If you convert the text to outlines, your artwork will be seen as a shape on any computer.



  4. Create Your Design at Actual Size

    When you go to the printer, you should discuss about the way your end product will look. The way you see things may not be the same way the printer is seeing them. To avoid this situation, you should create the design for the t-shirt in its final size. Moreover, creating it to its actual size will ensure the best print quality. And if you don’t know what size you want it, just use a ruler and measure the t-shirt you are wearing, it’s that simple.



  5. Expand Your Strokes
    If you don’t want the color separation software to encounter any problems, you have to properly set all the colors you are using to Pantone swatches. The strokes are sometimes overlooked as the result of a human error and nothing else. This small mistake can ruin an otherwise great project, so don’t let this done at the end, because you may forget it.

    In order to expand your strokes, just select what you want to expand and then go to Object -> Expand. Also go to Object > Path > Clean Up to remove the unnecessary anchor points.


  6. Use Vector Art As Much As Possible

    The reason why I’m telling you to use vectors whenever possible is that it makes color separations a lot easier and the end print comes out cleaner in the small details. Designers today use more and more vector art rather than raster, but it is only a general rule for the everyday jobs and it’s not compulsory for absolutely all situations.
  7. Set Your Half-Tones with Pantone Colors
    This tip is an addition to tip No.2. Your design or your budget may sometimes call for the use of halftones in order to save on the amount of colors printed. And the best possible way to do this is to slide the color scale down to a percentage of the Pantone color. Usually, the color separations software used by the printer should be able to deal with the rest.

    As example, in the image below, notice in the upper right corner the number 60. Usually, that number is 100%. Just change it to 60% or lower to set a 60% half-tone.




  8. Group Your Vector Objects Together
    It is not unusual that, when handling the design, the artist or the printer mistakenly moved a vector element in a native Illustrator file. To avoid that, always group the elements of the illustration together and lock the layers.


  9. Only Use High Quality Graphics
    It’s only natural that you want your images used in your design to be high quality and that they don’t appear pixilated or blurry once it has been printed on the t-shirt. You have to take in consideration the fact that some printers will not print licensed or copyrighted images, so you have to make sure that you have the permission to print any image you use.

  10. Make Sure the Font is Readable
    Some t-shirt designs are promoting an event, company or message. In this case you have to choose some readable, clear fonts for your t-shirt design to make sure that your message will be comprehended properly. This doesn’t mean that you have to choose some ordinary fonts. You can use stylized fonts; the only thing you have to do is to make sure that what you are trying to say there can be read by everyone.


With these 10 steps on how to prepare your design for t-shirt printing should cover the majority of the problems that may appear. Moreover, this suite of preparations should help you save some precious time and obtain a more accurate print.

Alex is a graphic designer that runs Designious.com, a source for vector artwork and TShirt-Designs.com, a source for royalty free t-shirt designs.
 

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"Usually, the printer should not charge you extra for Pantone color matching. In fact, you are actually making them a favor by being more particular for accuracy (even though you may encounter the situation when you will be charged extra, just because it’s another way for them to make more money)."

Good article, but this statement is not very true. Most screen printers will offer a wide variety of standard ink colors. When a custom Pantone color is requested, it has to be custom mixed which takes time and money and can be more wasteful since slightly more ink will need to be mixed. Some shops offer simple pricing with mixing charges, but it is not free and it is just built into their pricing structure and business model.

If a shop charges for pantone matching then ask for a standard ink color list, since most colors may be close to a standard house color, this will save extra work and save you money.
 

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Thanks for the concise explanations of design. I'm definitely going to reference this when talking with customers submitting art work.

It's also important to remember that lots of great artwork is submitted with Photoshop. With PS it is especially important for the artwork to submitted "at size" due to the loss of quality when expanding pixels.
 
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