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10 Tips for Designing a Graphic for Screen Printing

Updated: Mar 8

Are you looking to create your own screen printing design? Whether you plan to print on t-shirts yourself or to submit artwork to a screen printing shop, this guide will help you make decisions that can save you time, effort, and money.

Here are 10 tips to consider when creating a screen printing design:

Tip #1: Avoid using unnecessary colors

When it comes to screen printing, each color requires a separate screen. This means that designs with more colors can result in more work and higher costs. If you plan to print a design with multiple colors, it's a good idea to explore ways to reduce the number of colors while still achieving the desired visual impact. This can help you save time and money in the long run.

Tip #2: Use thick lines

It's important to keep in mind that screen printing emulsion has its limits when it comes to holding fine details. For this reason, it's recommended to avoid using any lines that are thinner than 10pt. If the lines are any thinner than that, there's a risk that they might not wash out of the screen after it has been exposed.

Tip #3: Choose your software based on what's in the design

There are several graphic design software available, each suited for different types of graphics. For instance, if you want to create a design with bold shapes and clean edges, you should use a vector-based software like Adobe Illustrator. However, if you want to make graphics with gradients and photographs, then Adobe Photoshop would be more suitable.

Tip #4: Trap your layers

Trapping your layers adds a layer of security in case your color registration is slightly off. To trap your layers, add an extra outline or 'stroke' to the bottom layer so that the layers overlap. This way, if the registration starts to slip, the layers will still appear to be aligned, and you won't see the color of the t-shirt peeking out.

Imagine that the yellow is the bottom layer, the red outline in the top layer, and the orange is where they overlap. You can see that the more these layer overlap, the more wiggle room there is for registration slippage.

Tip #5: Base the sizing of your graphic on how it fits on a large tee

When you're screen printing, it's important to set up your press in a way that allows you to print the same-sized image on multiple sizes of shirts. Typically, a run of shirts includes sizes ranging from small to XXL, with large being in the middle. To ensure that your design looks good across all sizes, it's best to base the size of the print on a large-sized tee. This way, the design won't be too big on a small-sized tee or too small on an XXL-sized tee. For example, if you decide that you want your design to be printed around 10 inches wide, make sure that it looks good on a size large tee since that's the median size.

Tip #6: Double-check your resolution

When you send your design to a screen printer, it's important to ensure that they receive the highest-quality version of it possible. If the printer is provided with a low-resolution image, there may be some loss of detail and quality that can't be recovered. To avoid this, make sure that you set the resolution of your design to at least 300 pixels-per-inch in your software before exporting it.

Tip #7: Hand-drawn designs can be used, if prepared correctly

Printing hand-drawn graphics using screen printing technique can be an enjoyable experience. However, simply scanning the artwork is not enough to prepare it for being burned onto a screen. To achieve the desired result, you need to ensure that the background is as white as possible while making the lines of the artwork as bold and black as possible. This can be done by using the levels adjustment feature in Photoshop or by increasing the contrast. Even after this, you might still need to manually clean up the background a bit for better results.

Tip #8: If printing on black tees, make sure your artwork will translate

When working with graphic creation software, it's common to design graphics against a white background. However, if your artwork is intended to be printed on a black t-shirt, this can be misleading. Therefore, it's crucial to ensure that you view your artwork against a black background and make any necessary adjustments. Typically, you'll need to invert your text to white and add a white stroke around other elements in the graphic. This will help you achieve the desired result when printing on a black surface.

Tip #9: Add registration marks

In screen printing, whether you are working with a design that has a single color or multiple colors, it is crucial to add registration marks to each layer. Registration marks serve two purposes: first, they make it easy to align a design or layer onto a screen printing pallet, and second, they guide the printer in lining up the colors to each other. This ensures that the final print looks great and is of high quality.

Tip #10: Include color names on your films

When printing a design that requires multiple colors, it's essential to ensure that you don't mix up which color goes on which screen. To avoid this, you should include the color name on the film before burning it onto the screen. This way, the name will be permanently marked on the screen, and you will never forget which color goes where. I like to include the Pantone codes for each color on the film to make sure that I mix the correct color for each screen. Once the colors are registered, you can simply place a tape over the color name and start printing.

I hope this guide helps you in making the right decisions when preparing artwork for screen printing onto a shirt. Although it may seem like a lot of steps, with practice, it becomes natural. If you choose to send your artwork to us at Hard Eight for printing, we will take care of the design preparation for you at no extra cost. You can get a quote today if you're interested.

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