How to take your T-Shirt Artwork from Good to Great

by liz on September 12, 2008

in design resources

This post is by one of our guest authors, Blake from You Design It. Read more about Blake at the end of his article.

Have you ever spent countless hours creating a masterpiece for t-shirt printing only to receive bad news back from the printer? You have probably heard something to the effect of “the resolution is bad” or “we can’t separate the colors” or even the silly response of “we can print this but it’s not going to look good”. Now why would you want someone to print something, if it isn’t going to look good?

We want to take this opportunity to identify some of the problem areas in a t-shirt design, and how much better the artwork can look for print. We’re actually going to do this with a real world example of a very advanced t-shirt design that was submitted to us and how it looked once we cleaned it up. With the money spent on custom T-shirts, I think we can all agree that the design needs to look the very best it can.

First let’s begin with the original image that was submitted to us for print:

At first glance it looks great and we were very impressed with the artist’s skills. Once we took a little closer look, we noticed that there were a few rough edges and some shading that would not translate well into t-shirt printing. Here are three closer images on areas that needed some improvement because of the usage of glows, shading, and an overall lower resolution.

Need Improvements

Need Improvements

Need Improvements

The way we solve these problem areas is by converting the jpeg or raster image into a vector format. This is a process that needs to be explained in a different/longer blog post because of the complexity. For now though, we just want to help with the awareness in identifying areas needing improvement.

Here is the final artwork after being converted to a vector format:

Cleaned up Version

And here are those three close-up images with much cleaner lines, less shading, and more solid colors.

Cleaned up Version

Cleaned up Version

Cleaned up Version

Ultimately, printing the t-shirts from a vector format made them go from good to the very best they could be. Don’t just settle for good after you have put so much into your project.

*Disclaimer: T-shirts can be printed from raster images in 4-color process for screen printing or they can be printed digitally. This post is intended for specific situations and does not cover all t-shirt design scenarios.

About Blake Poutra at You Design It
You Design It
Blake Poutra has been in the t-shirt printing industry for 10 years and learns new tips and techniques every day. He works for You Design It where they print thousands of t-shirts a day and he rides an electric scooter to work. :) [editor’s note: lucky bastard!]

Popculturetees.com t-shirt blog. Also, look for new coupons, discounts, & promo codes!

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Derek September 12, 2008 at 8:06 pm

I like how the 40oz bottles of beer are a different twist to regular crossbones. Great idea!

Reply

Derek September 12, 2008 at 1:06 pm

I like how the 40oz bottles of beer are a different twist to regular crossbones. Great idea!

Reply

Jake September 15, 2008 at 8:39 pm

One other thing to note are point sizes for type. I ran into this problem on our latest batch of shirts. I’m sure the type on this demo is fine, but anything around 6-8 pt or smaller can pose a printing problem for most vendors. A couple factors play a role in this.

One would be the typeface used within the design. For example, a 6 pt. geometric lineale will print better than an 8 pt. old face with detailed serifs, as the geometrics lack the small details and stroke modulation of old face serifs and the old faces were originally designed to be pressed into paper as to enhance the serif.

Two has to do with the mesh count of the screen or the threads per inch (tpi). Generally speaking, lower count=less detail because the open areas that the lower mesh counts form cover more surface area. Think of them as tiny squares like pixels.

Reply

Jake September 15, 2008 at 1:39 pm

One other thing to note are point sizes for type. I ran into this problem on our latest batch of shirts. I’m sure the type on this demo is fine, but anything around 6-8 pt or smaller can pose a printing problem for most vendors. A couple factors play a role in this.

One would be the typeface used within the design. For example, a 6 pt. geometric lineale will print better than an 8 pt. old face with detailed serifs, as the geometrics lack the small details and stroke modulation of old face serifs and the old faces were originally designed to be pressed into paper as to enhance the serif.

Two has to do with the mesh count of the screen or the threads per inch (tpi). Generally speaking, lower count=less detail because the open areas that the lower mesh counts form cover more surface area. Think of them as tiny squares like pixels.

Reply

liz September 15, 2008 at 9:02 pm

Jake: awesome points, and very true.

One trick we used where I used to work when you HAD to do small text is to actually run small text on a separate screen than the rest of the elements of the same color.

This obviously isn’t a great solution if your tiny text is a bunch of different colors, but it works well if you have one particular color that has big blocky areas (that require the large mesh) and small detail areas.

Reply

liz September 15, 2008 at 2:02 pm

Jake: awesome points, and very true.

One trick we used where I used to work when you HAD to do small text is to actually run small text on a separate screen than the rest of the elements of the same color.

This obviously isn’t a great solution if your tiny text is a bunch of different colors, but it works well if you have one particular color that has big blocky areas (that require the large mesh) and small detail areas.

Reply

Blake September 16, 2008 at 2:58 am

I would definitely agree with both of those solutions. We often have to run additional screens because of the mesh size…especially when doing half-tones.

Reply

Blake September 15, 2008 at 7:58 pm

I would definitely agree with both of those solutions. We often have to run additional screens because of the mesh size…especially when doing half-tones.

Reply

Jake September 16, 2008 at 9:05 pm

What is the best way to blend colors using half-tone patterns that will translate well to screen-printing? Any common mistakes or things designers should be aware of?

Reply

Jake September 16, 2008 at 2:05 pm

What is the best way to blend colors using half-tone patterns that will translate well to screen-printing? Any common mistakes or things designers should be aware of?

Reply

liz September 17, 2008 at 6:10 pm

Jake, check out this article, which should answer some of your questions ;)

Reply

liz September 17, 2008 at 11:10 am

Jake, check out this article, which should answer some of your questions ;)

Reply

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