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I’m Jacob Cass, the founder of JUST™ Creative. I’m a multi-disciplinary graphic designer, working with clients all around the world. My specialty is logo & brand identity design. JUST™ Get in touch.

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6 Great Tips On How To Prepare Artwork for T-Shirt Printing

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Recently I have been posting about sweet t-shirt designs (here & here) so I thought this would be a good time to share this guest article. Blake from YouDesignIt, a t-shirt printing company, will guide us through some tips for preparing artwork for T-Shirt printing.

As many of you probably already know, doing graphic design, and doing graphic design specifically for t-shirt printing can be two totally different beasts. Have you ever worked extremely hard for long hours on a t-shirt design for yourself or a client, only to have the printer tell you that your design won’t work for t-shirt printing? This problem is not that uncommon and I would like to provide you with a few easy tips on how to prepare your artwork for printing on t-shirts.

1. Use PMS Colors in Your Artwork

You may typically do artwork in RGB and CMYK color modes, but to ensure the most accurate colors with a silk screener, definitely use PMS colors in your artwork. This also makes the colour separations a lot easier and more accurate. Here is a link on how to work with Pantone in Illustrator.

On a side note, the printer should not charge you extra for PMS color matching. That is an old fashion way to get more money because you are actually doing them a favour by being more particular for accuracy.

2. Convert All of Your Text to Outlines

Sometimes your artwork may call for a very obscure font or maybe even a custom designed font. When sending your artwork off for print, the last thing you want to to see, is a substituted font in your design. By converting the text to outlines, any computer that opens the artwork will view the text as an image.   Therefore, no substitutions will be made.

To convert text to outlines right click on the text with the selection tool and then click Create Outlines.

3. Create Your Artwork at Actual Size

Do not trust the printer’s judgment without discussing it with them first. I am a printer… so why would I say that? Because the vision you have of the end product can be very different than what the printer has assumed as your vision. The safest way to defend yourself in this situation is to create the artwork in its final size. Don’t know what size you want to use? Slap a ruler to the shirt you are wearing. Sounds simple, but it works.

You can set the artwork size in the Document Setup menu, found under File.

4. Use Vector Artwork As Much As Possible

This is not an argument over raster versus vector, just more of a suggestion to use vector artwork when possible. It makes colour separations easier and the print comes out cleaner in the small details. This is a general rule for the everyday jobs and not an automatic in all situations.

5. Expand Your Strokes

If you have properly set all of your colors to PMS swatches, then the color separations software will have no problem. This is more of a human error that occurs because sometimes strokes are overlooked. I put this tip at #5 because it is one that can save you from a small mistake ruining an otherwise great project.

To expand your strokes select what you want to expand then go to Object > Expand.

6. Set Your Half-Tones with PMS Colors

This one goes along with Tip #1. Sometimes your design and/or budget may call for the use of halftones to save on the amount of colours printed. The best way to do this is to slide the colour scale down to a percentage of the PMS colour. The colour separations software used by the printer should handle the rest.

In the image below, notice in the top right corner, the number 40? Usually that is 100%. Change it to 40% to set a 40% half tone.

These six great tips on how to prepare your t-shirt design for printing should cover the majority of the problems you might face. This kind of preparation should ensure a faster turnaround time and a much more accurate print.

Do you have any more t-shirt printing tips or questions? Share them below.


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70 JUST™ Creative Comments

  • Andrew Kelsall Reply

    Great tips, I have one too…

    Tip #7

    GROUP YOUR VECTOR OBJECTS TOGETHER

    You wouldn’t believe the amount of times either myself or the printer (yeah) have mistakenly moved a vector element in a native Illustrator file, so alwaYs group the elements together and lock the layer(s)

  • Aaron Irizarry Reply

    Great tips Jacob! I have quite a bit of shirt design lined up so i am gonna keep these handy!

  • Preston Lee Reply

    We always ask our customers to learn how to use the layers palette in Adobe Illustrator. Most people dont even know it exists like in Photoshop. This helps us when it comes to graphics organization and color separation.

    Thanks for the post.

  • Kelly | Purple Lemon Designs Reply

    These are VERY helpful tips. They are things that I usually think of, but it is nice to see the list…I also think the tips about the PMS colors & halftones are brilliant and well explained.

    THANKS a million!

  • Syuxx Reply

    wow, now that what make me want to make my on tees.
    thanks for the tips!

  • Angie Bowen Reply

    Thanks so much Jacob. We’re planning to do t-shirts at Dead Wings and I’m still in the learning process for print design so this was extremely helpful!

  • Ben Jikoiono Reply

    a good article you got here jacob.. thanks for the tips. I happened to stumble on your site.. its cool mahn. A lot of great resources for people starting out..

    a big vinaka(thanks) from Fiji.. keep up the awesome work..

  • Mike Cerdeiros Reply

    this is right up my alley thanks so much!!

  • Teeopia | t-shirt utopia Reply

    Very well explained and easy to understand.

  • Levi Blackman Reply

    Fantastic tutorial. I am working on building my own t-shirt website and have had a lot of problems with my graphics and tshirt quality. I had no idea about most of this stuff, so thanks.

    Do you have any suggestions on designs that work well on t-shirts? How fine of detail can we get into with our designs?

  • OllieJ Reply

    Along with what Preston Lee mentioned about using the layers palette of Illustrator, whenever possible assign your spot colors to their own layers.

  • Steve - Eightyone Design Reply

    Definitely agree with Ollie J – always split your separations on to separate layers!

    I am not so sure about the PMS thing on clothing. In our experience pantone colours can come out looking VERY different when printed on fabric (the worst we have found is trying to achieve a stone / ecru like colour from pantones!). The best way we have found (although it is more expensive) is to provide the manufacturer with actual swatches of fabric and prints for them to match the colour to. We have a whole library of t-shirts that we buy when we see a certain colour we like. They all have squares cut in to them now as we take swatches to send out to the manufacturers but we find providing a physical sample is much easier to show them what we are trying to achieve, the PMS in clothing really has not worked for us!

  • Andris Reply

    I’m planning to do some t-shirt-design for my singer-/songwriter-project. so this comes just at the right time. thanx for that.

  • minanube Reply

    thanks for the rockin tips :D

  • Shane Reply

    Might be a dumb question but here goes.

    If I want to use a service like http://www.wordans.com/ and want my shirt to be of a photographic nature, what resolution should my graphics be to match the final output resolution?

    I know that my image will be something around 11″X11″ but what’s the typical resolution?

    And since I’m going with a photographic look instead of a logo type design, I’m assuming there will use some sort of an iron-on type of deal right?

    Thank you for your time,
    Shane

  • Priyanka Reply

    Cool article! Just tweeted it; quite sure our designers at Inkfruit would love these tips!

  • Marco Reply

    Just ran across your article. I’m actually a designer and screen printer. On your question about the photographic type design, sending elements as bitmaps in your design should be possible, although you would want to check with the actual printer you’re using to deterimine the resolution. I think 150 to 200 dpi should be good though. One other thing to think about is that if it’s a full color type photo, process or simulated process may be an option. Again, I would visit with the printer you’re using to be sure they offer it, but most can actually screen print instead of doing a transfer (iron on).

    One thing I did notice though. You mention that printer’s shouldn’t charge extra for PMS color matching. This isn’t always the case. In my case, we stock a variety of stock colors that we use on a daily basis, but don’t have an in house PMS color matching system which can be expensive. When we order a quart of a specific PMS ink from our supplier, it is the price of a standard quart plus $20 for the color matching. So if a client orders a specific color that needs to be PMS matched, it costs me around $50 just to get that quart mixed and shipped to the shop.

    Just some addl info. Hope it’s helpful.

    • Jason Reply

      Thank you Jacob for these great tips! And Marco, thank you for your added insight. Hopefully replying 3 years after your post won’t diminish my chances of a response too much! I’ve been trying to find out more information on simulated process design and how to set up files in Illustrator and Photoshop properly for that. If you know of any online resources or have any tips, that would be great! Thanks!

  • Jacob Cass Reply

    Marco,
    Thank you very much for the tips. Based on my experience dealing with online printing to apparel, most places do ask for 150dpi or more so you’re correct there. Thanks again.

  • gurjeet Reply

    Well this is very interesting indeed.Would love to read a little more of this. Great post. Thanks for the heads-up…This blog was very informative and knowledgeable

  • Gohar Reply

    Wow…nice tips jacob!
    thanks for sharing this post…and i m looking forward you can post more articles like these..
    for helping to make cool design on t shirts.!!

  • Fibers Reply

    Great tips, don’t forget to design in organic shapes rather than square or rectangle blocks.

  • Merry Angel Reply

    Don’t know what size you want to use? Slap a ruler to the shirt you are wearing. Sounds simple, but it works.

  • Yolonda Younger Reply

    wow nice post………….
    http://www.longbeachflowers.info/

  • Mackenzie Lemieux Reply

    When sending your artwork off for print, the last thing you want to to see,

    http://www.honoluluhawaiiflowers.com/

  • Kayleen Reply

    you that your design won’t work for t-shirt printing? This problem is not that uncommon and I would like to provide you with a few easy tips on how to prepare your artwork for printing on t-shirts.

  • Shane Reply

    Hi Jacob, just came across your post.
    Excellent suggestions. Thank-you.
    I myself print with DTG and I must say that tips no. 2 and 4 are particularly relevant, especially when resizing. Although in my case I would prefer the original art work at 300dpi. (Again for resizing).
    Thanks again for a great post.
    Take care.

  • Dreama Reply

    This problem is not that uncommon and I would like to provide you with a few easy tips on how to prepare your artwork for printing on t-shirts.

  • Jared Reply

    On a side note, the printer should not charge you extra for PMS color matching. That is an old fashion way to get more money because you are actually doing them a favour by being more particular for accuracy.

  • Laure Reply

    This problem is not that uncommon and I would like to provide you with a few easy tips on how to prepare your artwork for printing on t-shirts.

  • Motor Cycle Repair Reply

    Great article! I had a GT541, perfect for making TShirts.

  • apartment rental search Reply

    This problem is not that uncommon and I would like to provide you with a few easy tips on how to prepare your artwork for printing on t-shirts.

  • Doreen Winn Reply

    This problem is not that uncommon and I would like to provide you with a few easy tips on how to prepare your artwork for printing on t-shirts.

  • Ajay Rana Reply

    Really great tips. We at “LetterNote” follows the same while designing custom Tshirts. Have a look http://www.letternote.com/tshirts.html

  • rommel Reply

    where i can buy all these materials? machine, printing stickers for tshirts, i want to start designing but i don’t have all this things. please guide to complete my needs..

    regards,
    rommel buenaventura

  • Afsana Ali Reply

    Wow thanks a lot for all the tips jacob!! Really helpful!! :D

  • Lookboard Reply

    Thanks for great tips! I like the way you control the colors. It will make good effect on T-shirt.

  • Chanell Keech Reply

    I am no longer positive the place you’re getting your info, but good topic. I needs to spend some time studying more or understanding more. Thank you for fantastic information I was looking for this information for my mission.

  • Rachel Reply

    I just learned the hardway, that this is NOT the correct way to make halftones. A tint is not a true halftone. Here’s a good tutorial: http://joshnh.com/2012/01/29/how-to-make-a-halftone-effect-in-illustrator/

  • Screen Print Philadelphia Reply

    Nice tips!!..now i have an idea how to deal with my T-shirt :)

  • Justin Brewer Reply

    I’m a graphic artist for a T-shirt company.

    A few more tidbits that I’d add.

    Keep in mind that whatever you are designing is being printed on a T-shirt and not paper.

    These are two separate worlds. Paper is ALWAYS white and ALWAYS flat. Dot gain and Total Ink limit are totally different. Also for halftone stuff, the dots are MUCH smaller. Shirts are RARELY white and NEVER flat. Get down to the micro level of a t-shirt and you have repeating “grand canyons” of woven yarn for halftone dots to get lost on. Even the best screen printer, for everyday printing is going to lose dots in the 0-5% range. There is a bunch of physics and math in this that I won’t get into. If it were a competition print, I could use a higher mesh, use different mesh tensions and screen angles and make magic happen. For your ever day print, sorry, it’s not worth the money or headache.

    Additionally, that 40% halftone really doesn’t mean much of anything. for me, because of dot gain from screen printing, that we’ve got pretty dialed in, I’ll curve it back 18% or so. Give or take. Dot gain for average Automatic Printing is around 38% @ the 80 and upwards of 45 @ the 80 for manual printing, depending on the strength of the printer, tension of the frames, type of ink.

    A few notes:

    1) NEVER HALFTONE SPOT COLOR AREAS OF TEXT. This looks bad, it won’t turn out good, and is just plain CHEAP. Yes, it looks solid with great area definition on your screen, but an ordered array of dots will cause missing dots on straight edges, etc… that don’t look good.

    2) NEVER use UNCOATED colors thinking they’ll look the same. Most screen printers reference the Solid Coated book.

    3) Avoid fine lines under 1.5pts, especially for small imprints.

    4) Keep in mind the color of the shirt you’re having something printed on. Colors shift, although, where I work, we are pretty vigilant with making sure that we underbase (White/Grey/Tan under print) things correctly and adjust (darken or lighten) colors so they print appropriately. This will ONLY be approximate. Getting it perfect is almost impossible. Ask any graphic artist, all color is relative, especially when it comes to monitors.

    Example of above: Black shirts. Red 186C Print. This will turn out 185C 99.9% of the time. In fact, I don’t even know what the 0.1% of the time would be, but there is the whole Schroedinger’s Cat Philosophy thing, so I can’t be 100% certain. However, I digress.

    5) Keep it simple. I’ve printed some super intricate simulated process prints. I’ve done lots of those separations and they’re really cool imprints. But keep your audience in mind. If you’re advertising, advertise on the back, but don’t do too much. Average T-shirt viewing distance is 6-10ft. Your website and phone number don’t mean a darn thing…. No one will write it down.

    6) Don’t have straight lines of text printed on a t-shirt. Shirts, contrary to popular belief, are round. Also, they’re sewn by humans, so getting that imprint to be visibly straight, while off of a person, is virtually impossible. This is just My .02 here.

    Hope these things help too. Otherwise, a very well written article.

  • Maria Waley Reply

    I truly loved reading this post and all these tips are worth taking before printing on t-shirts. You have endowed the best advice that can be helpful for aspiring designers. I would love to experiment this method. Thank you so much, I really appreciate it!

  • north face Reply

    Hey would you mind letting me know which webhost you’re working with? I’ve loaded your blog in 3 different browsers and I must say this blog loads a lot faster then most. Can you suggest a good hosting provider at a honest price? Thank you, I appreciate it!
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  • Jordan Caron Reply

    Thanks for these tips. My friends and I have been wanting to get some shirts printed so we’ll use these tips.


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