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Limited Editions: T-shirt printing process


We’ve all had that great idea of getting our t-shirts customized, for a special occasion, an event, a race, and a holiday or as a promotional for the company. Speaking in professional and graphic design terms we must be clear that to print T-shirts there are different processes of file preparation. So we will discuss these, including some general and other specific points of the most common printing processes. We will start with one of the processes that requires more work in terms of preparation:

1) Screen-printing: One of the main things to take into consideration for this printing method is that you should manage colors in separate layers, and thus create different screens for each one. Personally I think that the best software to make these designs and processes is Adobe Illustrator since it is specifically made to create and handle vectors. Other valid software programs are: Corel Draw or Freehand (if you can still find a computer compatible with this software that has been discontinued, but it is still used in some countries). Something that we must be very careful as designers is NOT to send files in pixel formats such as Photoshop or even Paint, Word, Excel, Power Point, or even .jpg; we may have issues with the printing press and the process will become more expensive.


T-shirt printed sample.

Whenever we design for screen-printing we have to use spot colors in our designs, in this printing method only direct colors are used, I recommend the Pantone Solid Coated color palette. Another thing to keep in mind when working with screen-printing is to use as few colors as possible, the difference in price between a logo in 4 colors and one using one or two is very large, whenever possible and the corporate image is not distorted, it is important to use only one color for logos and brands.

2) Sublimation: Personally this is the easiest technique to do any type of design since its restrictions are very few, we must take into account the quality of the final result to a large extent depends on the quality of the original image. That is why I would recommend delivering designs in the appropriate vector formats ready to print (.ai or .eps) or high resolution files (. TIFF, .jpg), at least 300 dpi and real print size images. Where it can cause a bit of confusion, if you do not prepare the final art correctly from the beginning, is when we have our file in CMYK as this could slightly change the colors if we do not take it into account.

Another important point is to know well the type of material in which we are going to print (for example color and fiber type) since we could have surprises when printing the file on different surfaces.


T-shirt printed sample.

3) DTG (Direct to Garments): This method of printing is very similar to the one mentioned above in terms of the specifications of the preparation of files, an element that we can exploit to the maximum is that currently many companies have large machines and excellent inks that allow a very good print quality especially using bright inks. This does not only work for shirts but also for promotional logos.

  • If we print an illustration I recommend preparing the file in programs such as: Adobe Illustrator or Adobe Photoshop in order to take advantage of its maximum quality.

DTG allows creating high quality gradients. If your logo or your design has gradients with this printing technique it is not a problem.

The main tip to introduce us to the world of t-shirts is a good management of the different software and to know what are the advantages and disadvantages of each of the different types of printing. A bad management of the files can make your project not go as expected and represent problems not only with the client but with the budget.




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