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Web designing is a valuable skill. It takes time and effort to perfect and learn all the intricacies required to produce first-class creatives for the web. While you may think that designing for the web is the pinnacle of an artist’s career, you might be asked by a client or even a friend to use your amazing design skills for a t-shirt print. Don’t make the mistake of approaching this type of project with the same mindset as web design. Designing, prepping, and delivering art for screen print is an entirely different animal.

DPI differences are critical. Web design only requires a resolution of 72 DPI, any higher and you can impact the time it takes to load an image on a web page in a negative way. Just as with print publishing, producing art ready for screen print requires a minimum DPI of 300 and frankly, preferably a vector file that does not rely on DPI at all but we’ll get to that later. Many online t-shirt design websites will take whatever you upload and print it without counseling you concerning poor resolution. They simply don’t care and have the attitude of garbage in, garbage out. Rest assured we contact our customers that upload low resolution files and coach them on how to improve the art for a screen printed apparel product they’ll be proud to call their own.

As a web designer you’re used to having all the effects under the rainbow at your disposal to create the WOW factor. In screen printing, some of the special effects can either cost you significantly more money or a less than satisfactory result. Some special effects that do not translate well into screen printing are glow, gradient drop shadow, blurs of any type, reflections, displacement effects, lighting effects, and faded edges.

poor effects

There are some workarounds to creating a gradient effect when using halftones but the expectation has to be that it’s not going to look as seamless as a fade in Photoshop will look.

If color matters, and it usually does for any designer, you’ll need to submit color guides using the Pantone matching system, PMS. The Pantone color guide system is a standardized color matching system created primarily for designers that work in fabrics. HEX and RGB colors vary depending upon the monitor and are not sufficient for a guaranteed color match. Purchasing your PMS guide will only make sense if you will need to use it on a regular basis as they can be pricey. Our customers are more than welcome to visit our Tempe location if they are local.

Another option for a PMS match is to let us do the work. If any component of your design or logo is different than our stock ink colors, you can simply choose “Let us do the work” while uploading your file to our design studio and pick how many colors are in your design. We’ll then use your file to pick out the colors on our end using a program such as Illustrator to help us identify the best PMS color(s). We’ll compare what the program recommends to our PMS book and standard mixed inks and choose a different color if needed based on how the color looks on our computer monitor.

One issue that we sometimes see is when a customer has a business card printed and doesn’t understand that the color matching of CMYK vs. PMS is completely different. For example, a red non-coated piece of paper that was printed using CMYK is going to look different than the same red coated PMS color. We use our best judgement, but certain comparisons like that are difficult to match because the mixing systems are different and not translatable to a PMS color.

When screen printing custom apparel, color is money. There is a huge difference when comparing screen printing to web designing because in web design, colors are limitless. For any screen print job, each color requires an individual screen to be burned. Not only is there additional work there, when the garment is being processed on the press, it requires additional setup. There are techniques we can use to pull up to 3 colors from one color which is done by using halftones. This technique can actually produce some pretty outstanding effects but as a designer you’re probably already aware that halftones are dots. For screen printing, there is a limit to the percentage we can use before losing clarity.

Example of 3 color effects from one ink

halftone effect

halftone effect from a distance
Example of 2 color effects from one ink

halftone 2 color effect

Example of 2 color effects from one ink

halftone 2 color effect from a distance

Another issue for large runs and halftones is the probability of dot gain. Dot gain is inevitable in screen printing and is usually unproblematic but has to be acutely monitored when using a halftone method of pulling multiple colors from one ink. Problems are bypassed by either using multiple screens or by halting production and cleaning the screens to continue the run. The timing of this is critical to keep the appearance of the design consistence from the beginning of the run to the end.

Resizing artwork for the web can sometimes be a pain but it’s necessary if you plan to publish on different websites. Facebook requires 1200×630 pixels for a post, Instagram is 1080×1080, Pinterest is 190 x scaled height, and banner ads are all different sizes and so on. Resizing for custom apparel is considerable more work as it requires additional screens and multiple setups on the press. If you have a large order that requires multiple sizes of apparel, from youth to plus-sizes, we suggest you think about multiple sizes of artwork. A single size can work, but you and your client will be much happier if the design looks consistent across sizes. Burning multiple sizes of artwork onto screens requires additional costs.

The web is made up of raster images which work fantastic for the purpose of displaying images. As a designer you’re well aware of DPI, but even a raster file that is high resolution will not translate as well as a vector image. Vectors are made up of paths that are defined by a mathematical formula. The reason why screen printers prefer vector is because no matter how you resize the image, the image remains true and crisp. Since raster images are made up of pixels, resizing the image stretches the original pixels out of shape and you get pixilation. Pixilation is rarely used in design on purpose; it’s usually a regrettable mistake from not understanding the difference between vector and raster.

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