How To Prepare Your Artwork For Custom T-Shirt Printing

T-shirt printing is the art of making a t-shirt via the process of heat transfer, most commonly on pre-printed blank textile. The shirt’s image is imprinted on to a cotton or other textiles using an industrial heat press machine, inks and dyes. The typical artist will then use various techniques to personalize their product such as silk screening, lettering and dying, embroidery and silkscreen over embroidery etc. There are also special effects like watercolor rendering or sandblasting which require specialty equipment or chemicals to achieve desired effects. Custom T shirts are made for various reasons such as events, sporting teams costumes or celebrations with one’s favorite band logos.

How to prepare your artwork for custom t shirt printing

Below are various ways to design and prepare your artwork for custom t shirt printing.

  1. Prepare vector based artwork

If you are designing a print that will be transferred to aluminum, metal or metalized material such as clear plastic you can use vector based artwork and import it into the software as a vector. This way each shape or line is saved as a separate element, making the layout much easier to manipulate. In many cases it is less expensive to make the transfer on pre-printed textile than to print on metalized material (like plastic) because of labor savings and materials cost. Another reason is that many new machines designed with printing on pre-printed textile in mind so by using this method you save money by avoiding unnecessary production spending.

  1. Prepare raster based artwork

For custom t shirt printing on pre-printed material, the artwork must be submitted in a raster based format. Raster files are also known as bit maps or .jpg files. These have limited resolution and contain pixels or squares of color. When converting from vector artwork to raster, it is best to make sure that the image resolution is high enough. A minimum of 300 dpi is recommended for images intended for print on pre-printed textiles while 600 dpi is recommend for transfer on metalized material. When transferring your artwork to pre-printed textile; it is advised to use a high resolution image (300 dpi or higher) because you want the artwork as crisp as possible. Choosing a lower resolution will result in a blurry, poor quality print.

  1. Artwork preparation

Your artwork should be designed so that the most amount of ink and dye will be printed on the t-shirt. To achieve this you must create a clean image with no background or unnecessary elements included in the design. For example, if you have drawn an image of a beer mug with foam pouring out of it then you would not want this element to exist within your design when transferred to textile through digital printing. On the flip side however, if you were to design a vintage looking tee shirt and include a stenciled rustic style frame around an image of black and white letters that have been printed on silk, then this element of the design can be included in the final artwork transferred to textile. It is always recommended that you remove any elements of your design that are not being used. You will not be able to repeat or resleeve it should something change during production.

  1. Color prep

Before uploading your raster file into the software you should make sure that there are no colors within your image that are not actually part of your artwork. For example, if you are designing a t-shirt with a sexy girl on it then it is not necessary to include the beige dress or the green background in the design because this would not actually be part of your design. Also try to avoid using solid and pixel colored images, because these will require more ink and dye to print. If you do use color within your design then try to use complimentary colors or use images that utilize shades of one or two colors. Black is not recommended as it will require much more ink and dye than white or other solid color images.

  1. Output resolution

The output resolution is dictated by the size of the image as well as what type of material your artwork can be transferred onto. It is best to provide high resolution images for artwork that will be transferred to pre printed textile. A 300 dpi image should produce a crisp result. If you used commercial printing service this is also a good idea. However, if you plan to transfer your artwork onto other material like metal or plastic then use 600 dpi.

  1. Color Mode

The color mode you choose depends on the type of print your making. For example, if you have an image that is all one solid tone like a gray scale photo then it is best to use CMYK color mode. When designing a custom t shirt or if printing images on pre-printed material then RGB is the mode of choice. When preparing artwork for transfer onto metal or plastic then use CMYK as well. If your in doubt, use RGB to keep things simple.

  1. Transparency

One of the most important things you will want to avoid is having an artifact in your design that you can see through. This may occur if you have included an element in your design that is transparent. For example, if your image is a black and white photo of two people kissing and there are two windows behind them then the window frames would show through the image and would be seen on the final product. To avoid this problem make sure to use opaque elements such as solid colors, patterns or lines when designing custom t shirts or any other type of print over pre-printed textile so that this problem will not occur and can be avoided.

  1. Measure your design

Always measure your artwork before you submit it to a design house. It is important to know the dimensions of your design so that it can be properly prepared for printing. It is always recommended to create a test image at the size that you need in order to accomplish this task. One of the reasons why this is important is because sometimes print-ready templates or pre-defined layouts are not always accurate, they might be too small or too large and therefore are not able to accommodate any type of artwork, no matter what its final file size will be. Therefore, make sure that you are able to accurately measure the artwork and if possible use a template or layout designed for exactly what you plan on printing.


The process of getting your artwork ready for print can be time consuming and confusing if you are new to digital printing. The most important thing to remember is that the more accurate your file and the more detailed your artwork, the better the quality of finished shirt will be. It is best to start with a vector based file, this way you can save time and money in production because it will print on a much smaller scale than raster images or pictures.

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