Artwork for T-shirt Printing

So you’re ready to turn your epic design idea into a finished piece of art ready for printing. What are the top 5 things you need to know about the file and formatting to get amazing print quality results every time?

Really great t-shirt design starts before loading up Photoshop, Illustrator or a similar design program. Without doubt, you should have a very clear idea of the design you want to create before reading this blog about artwork preparation. If not, have a read on how to develop your design idea so it’s guaranteed to be epic, in Part 1 – T-shirt Design ideas

You also will want to be fairly competent in finding your way around photoshop to draw, edit, cut and paste and generally create your design. If not, you can learn all about that here.

Lady sitting by water side in whale love t-shirt

1. Think portrait

Screens, or pictures, tend to be landscape but despite a natural tendency to design like that, the t-shirt is a portrait space. Almost all the t-shirts in the top 10% by revenue on Teemill is designed in portrait mode – it just looks more natural. The rest are circles in the centre chest. None are landscape, wider than they are tall. Stick to that format and you’ll find all your designs just start looking right.

2. Forget the rules

Most t-shirt design rules will tell you that it’s essential to be able to work in block vector form and use a limited range of colours, to suit screen printing. Whilst we do screen print a lot of stuff, Teemill is digital so t-shirts designed for our free Teemill print-on-demand stores mean that you can forget all those restrictions: Use as many colours as you like, even photos. And if you don’t like vector art, that’s cool – you can create production-ready artwork in raster format, in other words, straight out of photoshop.

3. Think about the printer

Designs on white tees and colour tees are processed a little differently. It’s important to think about it for a second, as it will help you create consistent results. White shirts are like paper, what you see on screen is what you get. Go crazy with blends, fades and blurs, full colour photos and any effects you want. The resolution of the print goes down to objects around 150dpi (considering we’re printing on organic cotton, that’s epic) so as long as you don’t have tiny text with a leading below 1mm, you can’t go wrong with white products.

Coloured tees require more thought, but there’s only a couple of little rules to remember if you really want to do a colour tee. Because they’re colour, we must put a white ink down on the fabric before the colour. It takes more time and costs us a lot more, which is why we pay more Teemill royalties for white tees than colour ones.

Because we have to base-coat with white, this means that blends and fades don’t work so well as they do on white tees. Avoid feather or blurry edges to your art and instead go for graphic, solid artwork.

Try and avoid huge swathes of white ink.The ability to render text is slightly less detailed, so avoid tiny little lines below 2mm on your design.

4. Don’t be a square

As you build up experience, one of things you’ll do is take into account the t-shirt base colour and think of it as part of the design – rather than placing your design on top of the t-shirt. This has the added benefit of accomodating the minor variances in print placement that are part of mass production:

With a big square block design, even a 2mm alignment variation will be more obvious and it can affect your return rate, causing a negative effect on profit.

Lastly, consider colouration: Whilst our screenprinting factory matches pantones exactly as a matter of course, there are too many variables for us to guarantee it with one-off print on demand t-shirts sold via Teemill. Your monitor, design program and image conversion software will make minute changes so we can’t guarantee pantone-standard colour matching. Luckily, our software analyses your design file and shows the customer an accurate representation of how the print will turn up. So if you’re wondering why your art looks a tiny shade different online to how it looks in your photoshop file, now you know – make yourself a tea and take 1st prize for attention to detail!

5. Save for Web, Transparent PNG24

How do I make my art not have a white background, or a border round it? A super common question for new Teemill designers – It’s super easy to solve.

We recommend using photoshop for Teemill designs. You should have downloaded our artwork template for your product to get started where you’ll find the latest advice on file formatting in it’s own layer. Once you’ve got this read, hide the layer and you’ll notice there’s no white background layer, it’s just a transparent working space.

When you use Save for Web, and select PNG 24 in the save for web window, this file format will keep all the great colour you see on screen like a JPEG photo but crucially leave all the space around your design completely transparent. Then, when you upload your design to Teemill, your design will just sit on the tee as you imagined it.

If you’re getting a white box round all your designs, you’re probably saving as a JPEG or have a background layer in your art.

6. Test print

Like all great t-shirt designers, at some point you have to commit and get your design printed if you want to see how it really comes out. At Teemill we’ve gone to great lengths to get the placement (up, down, left right) and colouration (image-adjustment software) matched between your site and what shows up in the post to your customer.

Please bear in mind that t-shirt printing still has artisan skill – each one of these tees is made by hand, printed by an operator using his or her hands and eyes, and each one is therefore unique with a variance of a few mm in every dimention – like every t-shirt.

Also as t-shirt sizes change, the print stays the same so if you order an XXXXL sample, the design will be slightly dwarfed by all that fabric. These are just things you’ll learn about t-shirt design as you go.

Next up: Bring your product to life

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