One of the most frustrating things that can happen in the t-shirt design process is when the t-shirt designer and the screen printer aren’t on the same page. When this happens, the printed t-shirts can come out significantly different from the original image the designer had created. At that point many hours of labor and a great deal of resources have been used leaving everyone involved unsatisfied. However, there are some very simple checks to make on your artwork to ensure a large majority of the print errors are avoided in the first place.
Expand All Strokes
The first recommendation that I would like to make to designers is that they be careful to expand all the strokes in their artwork. A stroke is a scalable outline around the lines in the artwork. Strokes are often added to accent the fill color of a design element to set it apart from the rest of the design. Strokes can be a great tool in the design process with most vector programs offering different sizes and style options. It is important that the strokes be expanded to prevent them from becoming colored wrong, lost, or distorted when going through the color separations for printing.
Color The Design with PMS Swatches
The next important step in preparing artwork for t-shirt printing is to color up the artwork with PMS swatches to ensure accurate print colors. The Pantone Matching System is the industry standard for selecting print colors and it takes a good deal of subjectivity and guesswork out of the process. This is crucial because the perception of what a color is really supposed to look like can be very different from one person to the next. For example – how dark is dark purple and what happens if your idea of kelly green is someone else’s idea of Irish green? To make matters worse color, settings on computers can vary but referencing an official PMS color book will not change. This simple step can put both the designer and printer on the same page so expectations can be fulfilled.
Design at the Actual Print Size
The next major step in the design process is to size your artwork at the actual print size that you want on the finished t-shirts. Whether the artwork is extremely detailed or minimalistic, having to re-size artwork after it is completed can add in some unexpected glitches. There are a few potential pitfalls with the artwork not being sized correctly including pixelation in the design when sized larger, some parts of the design not scaling proportionately with the rest of the design, or design flaws exposed at a different size. Ultimately you should begin the design at the final print size but at the very least you should re-size it and review it with a fine tooth comb before forwarding it to the printer.
Of course there are many more tips and tricks that you will pick up as you continue to design t-shirts for screen printing but being aware of these three simple tips can make a big difference. Doing a good, thorough job of preparing the artwork is an essential first step that will go a long way in quality control. However, remember that there is no substitute for developing good communication with your screen printer so that even minor mistakes that slip through have a better chance of being caught before going into production.