Advice for printing a custom design on T-shirt.
April 20, 2014 11:21 AM   Subscribe

Stuck abroad with a graphics tablet, laptop, stores closed because of Easter and a need for new clothing, I've decided to explore the idea of getting own design printed on a T-shirt. Looking for both general and specific advice, more inside.

I have limited experience with vector graphics and design and would love to expand these skills further. Getting own designs come to life has been on the to-do list for a long while, but wasting two dozen euros per experiment of trial-and-error of T-shirt printing is not. Some of my main concerns:
- What is the upper DPI/resolution that I should go for when preparing the graphic?
- Limitations on colors: pros/cons of using halftones; any certain approaches like limiting color palette?
- Anything I should know when preparing files for being given to the print shop?
- General design advice and style guide - optimal routes/learning resources for improving the quality and appeal of own work?
- Opinions on how to improve upon this thing so it looks OK.
- Etc.

posted by 9080 to Media & Arts (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you've got access to an inkjet, you could print them up yourself. Special transfer paper exists for both dark and light fabrics that you can just iron on to a t-shirt, though the longevity is a bit of a crapshoot. Don't know where you are in Europe, but the paper stock is readily available for not too much money (you can get 20 sheets from Amazon in the UK for £10, for example) and then buy a few cheap t-shirts to experiment on. If you're doing this, remember to reverse the image before printing it. If you want to get them done professionally, every place has their own quirks and working methods, so ask the place you're getting them from how they want the file before you supply the image. Some places, you can take a paper image and they'll do what they need to do. If you supply a digital image, as a general rule of thumb, the higher the resolution the better. A 300dpi jpeg at the correct dimensions for printing should be about right for a colour image, they can always resample it down if they need to.
posted by peteyjlawson at 1:55 PM on April 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is the best site I know of for t-shirt printing questions.
posted by the big lizard at 6:53 PM on April 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

One thing you really want to keep in mind is white space - in this case, the blank t-shirt space in-between your graphic bits. Make sure there's plenty, otherwise you end up with a big thick rubbery graphics that doesn't move, and unless your torso is perfectly square it's going to look and feel weird.
posted by radioamy at 7:11 PM on April 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you're preparing vector artwork, dpi/resolution won't be an issue. If you are printing a digital image, aim for 300dpi at full size.

In my experience (10ish years preparing customer art for screenprinting), halftones do not print as well as people want them to. Halftones print in small dots, and don't look as smooth as they do on-sceen. Halftones on white shirts end up looking better than dark shirts, generally speaking. Dark shirts also often require a white underbase (a layer of white ink underneath the colored ink), which can affect the way halftones print.

Digital printing will ensure that the image looks more like it does on a computer screen, but digital images can usually only print on lighter shirt colors, and aren't as vivid or long lasting as screenprinted images.

Grab a Pantone book or look at the Pantone Solid Coated swatches in Illustrator to get an idea of color limitations. Pantone colors are the industry standard, and a lot of print shops have stock ink that they'll list on their website, but these standard colors vary from shop to shop (my current company uses PMS 116 for gold, while my old company used 123, for example). Colors outside their stock ink will cost extra. Some shops can print upwards of 16 screens (16 different colors), but it will depend on the machines they have. Each screen will up your cost.

The image you have can be easily re-drawn in illustrator, but I would be concerned about the halftones butted right up against eachother. Most shops have an artist or several on staff to handle art requests, and they can answer a lot of questions specific to how they print.
posted by picklesthezombie at 6:03 AM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

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