What format is best when supplying artwork for screenprinting?


My Nan was from Glasgow.

She smoked too much, drank too much, and lived a difficult life where a practical mind-set ensured her survival through the Second World War, some heartbreak and some disappointment. She also made it to the age of 87. Her name was Violet Cunning.

She often had a clever quip or some sagely advice to offer, and one day, sometime in the late 1970’s she told me………

“Ye canny polish a turd me laddie!”

This roughly translates as ‘You can’t polish a poo’ or ‘you cannot produce great work from something that starts life from a poor quality baseline’.

The essence of this statement is timeless, succinct and utterly relevant to T shirt printing.

You are about to spend a load of your hard earned cash on getting personalised t shirts printed.

You have this great idea, a concept, an image in your mind of how great this is all going to look. You spend hours researching the clothing catalogue on the website, thinking about your colours and your sizes.

You then download that Jpeg of that image you saw on a website somewhere or you get your mate to send that bit of artwork they knocked up on their iphone app.

Your order is placed, you get the mockup emailed to you, you are busy running around doing chores and stuff so you look at it on your little mobile phone screen, it looks good, you give it the ‘go ahead’, your T shirts are printed and delivered to you and upon opening the box you see that your artwork has been printed beautifully but the image appears all jeggedy along the edges and this really isn’t what you imagined.

What has just happened?

To understand this, we need to know about ‘vectors’, ‘bitmaps (rasters)’ and ‘scale’.

Most images you see on a computer screen are in a bitmap format like a Jpeg, PNG or Tiff.

These are made up of tiny squares called pixels.

Most images on websites have been created or uploaded at the lowest resolution possible for them to function aesthetically on that web page. This means that they appear perfectly ok at the size you are viewing them at but that is all they are good for. They will probably be saved with a resolution range of 72 to 150 ppi (pixels per inch).

If you attempt to use that image for printing, you will need to increase the scale of the image and this is where the problems occur.

Those tiny little pixels, which are too small to see when the image is at the scale it was intended for on that web page, suddenly look like little jagged steps and blocks when it is enlarged for your chest print.

There are some clever little things in Photoshop that can be done to soften this and make some improvements but……….. That poo can never be ‘polished’.

How could this have been avoided?

If your print company cares about their craft, they will ask you before it goes to the mockup stage, whether you have better artwork.

This is not a statement designed to insult you about your design, it means ‘do you have higher resolution, clearer, neater, sharper or maybe even VECTORED artwork, if your design is block colours’..

Enter your Vectored artwork, which is created in programs like Adobe Illustrator and Corel Draw is based on a digital language using straight lines and control points.

It is the preferred format for block colour or single colour work where the image needs to be enlarged.

It is possible to convert bitmap images into vectors using certain filters in artwork programs but this often produces subtle alterations to the lines and detail in the design as the program used to make the conversion has to compromise to make the vector work.

It is also possible for a human to use a program like Adobe Illustrator to manually redraw or trace over the bitmap image but this is a slow and painful process and is not likely covered in the price you have paid for your T shirts.

Your print company is never going to want to have to redraw pixelly fonts so make sure you can provide the font file, particularly if it is an expensive licenced font or make sure you have converted your font to outlines if you have a vector program.

So what do you need to think about when supplying artwork?

1 It is always best to supply a vector file for solid colours.

2 If your artwork has gradients or tonal changes, supply the highest resolution you have.

3 Do not use web images and expect them to be scalable without encountering problems.

4 Most formats are fine. PDF, Jpeg, PNG, AI, PSD and SVG are all good. Avoid using Word.

As always, if you are using a good print company, they will guide you through the minefield and provide you with that customer service which seems to be difficult to find with modern internet companies.

If you are using a decent print company they will almost certainly have had a Scottish Grandma dispensing practical wisdom in the late 70’s.text here …

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