The Best Way to Prepare your Artwork for Custom T-shirt Printing

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t-shirt idea

We offer tons of t-shirt design ideas as templates to show our customers what is possible to create for print in our design studio. But most of our t-shirt printing website visitors come to us with their design already in mind or prepared. Although we have artists that review each and every art submission to ensure the image will print perfectly, we realize the importance of educating our customers on the best way to prepare artwork for a custom t-shirt print. Here is a rundown of our professional knowledge on art preparation that will make you look like a rock star of t-shirt design.

Design using PMS colors

Most professional graphic designers work primarily in RGB or CMYK for web or printed publications, however to ensure spot on accuracy of your chosen colors, design your t-shirt using specific PMS colors. The reason behind this is Pantone colors are developed using precise formulas. These formulas were created with consistency in mind. If a screen printer is worth their salt, they will use this matching system and not “eyeball it” to match what looks close. CMYK colors are simulated to create the final output and will not be consistent to PMS so if you are creating a design that will be used across all types of advertising platforms and consistency matters, use PMS colors. Another advantage of PMS colors is a screen printer can simulate multiple colors through the use of halftones with one PMS color. If you’re looking for the biggest bang for your buck, talk to us about this method.

Pantone colors

Design your art as actual size

If you have a specific output size in mind, why not design it with these specs from the beginning? If you know the t-shirt product you’ll want for the print it doesn’t hurt to print out a full-sized image, cut it out, and stick it on the shirt to see exactly what it will look like when printed, that way there are no surprises. We’ve printed millions of custom t-shirts over the course of 14 years and always use our best judgement if we haven’t been given explicit instructions.

Vector art rules

We print a lot of t-shirt art that is submitted in raster format, meaning the image is made up of pixels but for a serious t-shirt artist, vector is the only way to go. Vectors consist of lines that are controlled by points and nodes. The beauty of vector art is that it can be scaled up or down to any size and never lose its clarity. Raster or bitmap images lose information each time the image is resized because it’s being recalculated to adjust to the new size. If you must use raster art, for a photo t-shirt as an example, it must be submitted at 300 dpi or higher to provide a high quality final t-shirt print. If you found the perfect foundational piece of clip art for your t-shirt design but it is in raster format to start with, it can be converted to vector, (we do this all the time as part of our printing services,) but be prepared to clean it up quite a bit in Adobe Illustrator or CorelDRAW.

Vector graphic for t-shirt

Always convert text to outlines

Awesome t-shirts designs will often feature a signature font that might represent the entirety of the design or be a critical part of the integrity of the design. When outputting your file from Adobe Illustrator or a similar vector program, always convert text to outlines so there is no chance your font is corrupted when digitally transferring the file. Converting to outlines turns your font into an image that cannot be altered. If you’re worried about the necessity of altering the design at a later date, like changing the year for future reprints, simply save a copy before converting your text.

Convert strokes to paths

This is similar to converting text to outlines except it has to do with objects in your t-shirt design. This ensures that your design stays exactly the way you created it without the worry that another program will handle strokes differently. Expanding the strokes before converting to paths is also beneficial to keep your design precise.

Be specific in your design and printing instructions

A perfectly executed t-shirt design is just part of the submission. Our design studio offers a great preview of what the final product should look like but specifics that cannot be visually represented should be communicated in the note areas of your order form. Some examples are an unusual placement, if you intend for the design to be off center, if you need a color replaced with another color, if the final print needs to be specific size, specific PMS color requests, two sizes of art for youth and adult sized blended orders, and removal of background. Basically anything you can think of that could possible impact the final print. While we don’t hesitate to reach out to our customers if we’re not clear on something, we don’t know what we don’t know and depend on your communication to provide a product that you’ll be delighted with.

Graphic desing programs

Designing custom t-shirts can be a rewarding experience whether you’re a seasoned designer or just starting out. Some t-shirt designs have become part of our culture and define periods in history. When you design a shirt, it has the potential to be seen by many people and hopefully will fulfil its purpose whether it is about advocacy, business promotion, or a fashion statement for a clothing brand. Submitting great artwork is the first step towards realizing the goal you have in mind for your t-shirt design.

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