Written by: Robert Hartland. This article assumes that you (the reader) have already started your company, have designs that you would like to print and have found a printer to work with. It is intended to walk you through the process of your first print and bring up any “did you knows”. Enjoy!
- Prepare your files for print.
- Select your printing method.
PREPARE YOUR FILES FOR PRINT
As a clothing company the first thing you should know is designing for print (4-color process) and designing for t-shirts are two different worlds. Make sure you or your designer make it as easy as possible for your printer to print your shirt without compromising your design. This will not only make it easier for you in the long run but it will give you a better product for your customers because you did not make last minute changes during the process.
As a designer and company owner, I am very familiar with how to make my life and my screen printers life a lot easier. Make sure you convert all of your text to outlines, use pantone colors, create your artwork to size (exactly, not bigger or smaller), use vector artwork when possible and expand all stroked lines to at least 0.5 points.
What do you need to know before talking with your printer?
- Where the print is going.
- How many colors are used.
- The Pantone color codes for all colors used.
- The type of printing method you are using.
- Are you using specialty inks?
- How many units you are printing.
- The type of ink you are using.
Where the print is going. The easiest way I have found to indicate where the print will be is to create a line sheet. This will show if you have multiple print locations and if the designs will go over seams (neck, waist etc.).
How many colors are used. Your line sheet should also indicate the number of colors used. You can do with by creating a shape and filling it with that color. This will be a helpful visual indicator later on. If you are using multiple colors and halftones please check to make sure your printer can printer halftones and ask how it would be be prepared for them depending on the printing method used. If you do not know what halftones are, that is a topic for another time.
The Pantone color codes for all colors used. Where do you find these you may ask? You or your designer should be using a Pantone swatch book. If you are not, buy one! Most design programs such as Adobe Photoshop come with the Pantone libraries built in. You or your designer can use the color picker tool to sample a color from your design. Once you have done that, double click on the foreground color in your tools pallet. When the menu pops up simply click the color libraries button and use the Pantone Solid Coated library (3-4 digit pantone # followed by a C). This color will be the one you tell your printer to use when printing. If this is confusing to you, you can probably find a more in depth tutorial online or ask your designer.
The type of printing method used. The standard type of T-shirt printing is screen printing, most often used with plastisol ink or water based ink. Simply put, plastisol has a thicker feel on the shirt and water based soaks into the shirt giving it a very soft hand. There is a brief explanation of different printing methods in the section below.
Are you using specialty inks or applications? Before, most chosen designs were printed with plastisol inks, some with a chino additive and a few with water based or discharge inks. But now, designers can now use up to 8 colors, specify super glow, puff, high density, suede, UV color change, shimmer, metallic clear, glitter, blister, flock, vinyl, foils, embroider, gradients, simulated process and even belt printing. See the printing method section below for more info.
SELECT YOUR PRINTING METHOD
The process of screen printing can seem intimidating the first time you approach it with no past experience. Make sure the screen printer you have chosen is very friendly as your printer can prove to be an invaluable asset in your first venture and moving forward. When I did my first print my screen printer taught me how to keep the small detail during print, choose my inks correctly based on the shirt and when inks would work best for the look I was going for. After you become familiar with your screen printer and how they work, the process of printing can become seamless. There are many printing methods with their pros ad cons. I will inform you of the methods but ultimately it is your choice.
Printing method types. There is a brief explanation of different printing methods used below. All pros and cons were gathered by a collective effort at http://www.t-shirtforums.com.
Screening Printing – Creating screens pressed up against cloth to place paint onto shirts one color per screen. Pros: cost effective, high quality, professional, durability. Cons: each color requires a separate screen, messy, need to print many shirts at once with the same design to be feasible.
Heat Press/INKJET/LASER Transfers – Print transparent inks using a computer onto a special piece of paper. Use heat to adhere the ink and paper onto the cloth. Pros: easy to print multi colors and complex designs, does not require different colors to be applied separately, great for small orders, easily customize different shirts. Cons: heavy feel of transfer, the cloth is the brightest part of the design: works well on white shirts, but doesn’t work on dark shirts, cracks, fades away easily.
Heat Press/Plastisol Transfers – Where you have plastisol ink printed onto transfer paper so it can easily be added to the garment via a heat press.
Vinyl Cutters – Use a machine to cut out designs on special solid color sheets of vinyl. Use heat to adhere cut vinyl to adhere vinyl to paper. Pros: high quality, durability, easily customize different shirts, great for small orders. Cons: have to separate and cut out each color independently, doesn’t work well for designs with complex patterns or designs that show a lot of background of the shirt inside the design.
Direct to Garment – Print inks directly onto cloth. Pros: reduces steps, patterns doesn’t have heavy feel like screen printing, great for small orders, easily customize different shirts. Cons: the cloth is the brightest part of the design: works well on white shirts. There is more of a challenge to the DTG operator to get dark prints to come out correctly, but it can be done.
Dye Sublimation – Dye sub is great for full color designs on white or light colored garments. It has no feel to the design but is a little trickier to master than inkjet heat transfers. Also, it tends to be a bit more expensive. You can also use this process on non textile products such as mugs, mousepads, tile, puzzles, coasters, key chains, etc. Dye sub is used only on man made fabrics like polyester (with various results on blends and pre-treated fabrics). You cannot print on 100% cotton t-shirts with dye sub.
Belt printing was really popular back in the 70’s and has been making a comeback lately. A belt printer uses huge screens that cover the entire front and back of the garment. It’s great for all-over pattern printing, but can be used in many other creative ways. Belt printing works best on designs with a limited color palette that don’t require tight registration. One thing to keep in mind when designing for a belt printed tee is that the colors used in your design should never touch each other because registration is never exact. For this reason, one-color designs are recommended. Also, the same design will vary slightly from shirt to shirt when belt printing is used, due to the shirt size and how it’s placed on the printer. These characteristics give each individual belt printed shirt a unique look.
Specialty ink application list. I have gathered the below information from http://www.threadless.com.
Super glow is what it sounds like… glow-in-the-dark ink, on steroids. It is very transparent and looks “water-color-ish”. Super glow is really cool on light color shirts because it has a tonal clear effect that glows. It’s great if you want to play around with the idea of hidden messages or design elements. Keep in mind that it’s not 100% transparent, so elements in super glow will show up slightly even when not glowing.
Puff is a rounded, raised ink that’s best when used with organic shapes and lines. Hard edges and angles are often softened or lost when printed with puff. It can hold some detail, however the finer the detail or smaller the line, the less it “puffs”. Puff isn’t effective for large fill areas due to its heaviness, and the area won’t appear as puffed.
High density ink raised, square stack ink. It’s much better than puff for elements that have hard edges or angles. Similar to puff, areas of fine detail or with elements that come to a point don’t translate well. It’s also not recommended for fill areas, as the center of the fill tends to “sink”. Essentially, high density ink would be used if you don’t want the “rounded, raised” look of puff, but wanted a “squared, raised” look. High density ink also can be printed in “clear”, which produces a darkened, tonal effect on a tee. Pretty neat stuff!
Suede ink isn’t actually suede, but a raised ink with a fuzzy nap reminiscent of suede leather. It’s pretty fun to play with texture and raised design elements as it softens geometric shapes. There needs to be a certain thickness (1/8″ – 1/4″ at least) to any line work so the nap is visible – otherwise it looks like puff. Not good with really large fills or super fine detail.
UV Color Change. To begin with, UV Color Change ink doesn’t work on dark tees at all. If you’re still interested in using it… read on! With this ink, colors disappear indoors but appear when exposed to any ultraviolet light. The colors achieved are bright but tend to lack vividness of regular inks due to their translucent nature. Color remains true on light colored tees such as white, cream or silver. The ink will appear on other light shirt colors, but is unpredictable. In other words, the shirt color affects the color of the ink.
Shimmer is basically sparkly, metallic ink. It’s available in silver, bronze, black and gold. We’ve previously experimented with special formulas for a pinkish-red shimmer and a bluish-aqua shimmer, but the results ended up looking like grayed-out, non-sparkly versions of the color. It does not hold super-fine detail well and starts to look flat grey in areas of finer detail.
Metallic Clear. This ink is really cool when printed on top of any ink color. It can be printed on its own also and produces a darkened tonal effect with sparkles on some shirt colors.
Glitter ink has a fairly dense concentration of tiny glitter flakes. It’s available in a range of basic “crayon colors”. We don’t recommend it for tiny details. When it’s printed over another ink, or directly onto a tee, the underlying color can slightly show through the glitter.
Blister. Think puff with dimples. This is super cool, especially when it’s “stacked up” for some great sculptured texture. You want to have a decent fill area or line thickness to allow ink to texture up. Keep in mind that it does tend to get heavy on a shirt, so large fill areas could end up being uncomfortable to wear.
Gradients and gradient blends tend to print with a banding effect similar to how it appears in an Illustrator file. Even if you transfer the file to Photoshop, gradients create a troublesome issue to
overcome, so it’s best to create nice smooth gradients in Photoshop. Gradients can be achieved by using half-tones as well. The lightest halftone that can be printed is about 10%. Sometimes we can accept less than a 10% half-tone, but it really depends on the individual artwork. If need be, we can simulate “process” (CMYK) to achieve very fine gradients or images with high tonal quality such as stylized photography or photo-realistic elements.
Embroidery. In addition to the inks and heat applications you can also now spruce up your designs with a good old fashioned needle and thread.
Congratulations, you did everything right, your printer hasn’t kicked you out for being a rookie and your going to print! Make sure when you order your shirts you have a few extras for each color so that you can run some samples before going to print. This is needed especially when using discharge as a printing method because the color result varies on the shirt color. You don’t want dozens or even hundreds of shirts misprinted. Most printers use one of their own sample shirts before printing but the result can also vary based on manufacturer. When you bring your garments to the printer it would probably be a good idea to have them separated first (if you are local) instead of shipping direct. This will avoid confusion later. I personally separate my garments by sex>design>color>size. Once you have the design ready, and the files and shirts at the printer, you are ready to go!