There are numerous steps involved in printing great custom t-shirts. If unfamiliar with the subject, you’re probably going to have plenty of questions. That’s fine with us, here at Fifth Column. We’ve printed millions of garments and can advise on all aspects of the process. One question that we get asked a lot concerns the most suitable artwork file types for t-shirt printing. What kind of image file is necessary for printing t-shirts?
If you have a graphic designer on your team, this kind of stuff won’t faze them in the slightest. They’ll be able to prepare your artwork to the required specification. If you don’t have a resident creative, don’t worry, help is at hand. We’ve put together a short article, part of our t-shirt printing tips series. Some useful reference information when you settle down in front of the computer and finalise the designs for your new line of customised clothing.
Our top priority with any printing and embroidery is to get a great finished product and the graphics file is clearly a vital element. Achieving the best results starts with having the right components. Bearing that in mind, we prefer the following artwork file types for printing t-shirts:
.PSD | .TIF | .EPS | .AI | .PDF | .JPG
There’s no need to panic if the above just looks like a lot of random letters. We’re going to take some of the mystery out of things. One important point to note is that files need to 300 DPI. That’s if you’re talking about a raster file. The alternative is to use a vector file. Artwork also needs to be scaled to the necessary print size – a standard Fifth Column screen is 28cm x 40cm and this pretty much fills the whole front of a t-shirt. More gobbledygook? Read on, these terms and specifications are further explained below.
There are two major digital image file types we need to look at with the artwork used in customising clothes. Each can be saved with different extensions. Which is the most appropriate for your particular design will depend on the circumstances, but both have a place in the world of screen printing, DTG printing and embroidery. Vector graphics are generally more versatile than raster images and tend to be favoured in screen printing and embroidery. However, either may work, depending on your project.
In basic terms, a vector file is made using mathematical equations to form the lines and shapes. This means that the saved artwork can be scaled (up and down) without the image losing quality. If supplying vector style artwork, create the text as outlines. This way, if we don’t have the same font on file, it won’t change it to ‘something similar’.
There are more than those listed here, but the vector file extensions that we find easiest to work with for printing and embroidery are as follows:
.ai – this stands for Adobe Illustrator and is a proprietary file format developed by Adobe Systems. It’s a graphics file that was developed in order to contain vector based graphics in a single page.
.eps – stands for Encapsulated Post Script and is another product of Adobe. One of the older vector graphic formats, an EPS file can contain text, as well as graphics, but does not support transparency.
.pdf – short for Portable Document Format and developed for cross-platform document exchange, it’s one you may know, even if you aren’t a graphics wizard. PDF files are often saved from existing files, rather than originated in PDF.
A raster image is composed of tiny squares of colour (called pixels). The resolution is determined by the DPI (dots per inch). For example, if you hear 300 dpi, it means 300 pixels per square inch. This will be a more detailed image than 72 dpi which is generally used for online graphics and why we stipulate 300 DPI for t-shirt artwork. Saving images in a raster file format has inherent limitations. The quality deteriorates when you increase size. The three most common raster file types that we get are:
.psd – the quick way of saying Photoshop Document, this is a layered image file, the default format in Adobe Photoshop. It allows the user to work with the individual layers, even after the image has been saved.
.tif – Tagged Image File Format (you sometimes see it shorted as .tiff) was invented in 1986 by an industry committee in an attempt to standardise computer image usage across multiple platforms. TIF files are high quality.
.jpg – all of us will have come across a Joint Photographic Experts Group image (also known as .jpeg). It’s easily the most widespread file type for pictures and artwork and can be opened by the majority of image editing software. That said, you need to be aware that manipulating your artwork in .jpeg means every save can reduce quality.
This is only a very quick guide to the artwork file types for t-shirt printing. As with any subject, an understanding of the basics will make life a lot easier. You don’t need to become an expert, that’s why we’re here, but having a good grasp on the fundamentals can save time and expense.
And remember, if you need advice about printing and embroidery, get in touch. We welcome general enquiries and are always happy to answer any specific questions. In our experience, the best relationships can often start with a friendly chat.