Put your Art on a T-Shirt - Overview of most common printing methods | Maggi Fuchs | Skillshare

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Put your Art on a T-Shirt - Overview of most common printing methods

teacher avatar Maggi Fuchs, Do more with less.

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

10 Lessons (36m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. The Artwork

    • 3. DIY Transfer Paper

    • 4. Screen Printing

    • 5. Sublimation

    • 6. Direct to Garment Printing

    • 7. Plot Printing

    • 8. Embroidery

    • 9. Tips and Tricks

    • 10. The End

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About This Class

Are you ready to put your art on a t-shirt? But maybe you're not sure which printing process is right for your project and how to set up the print file?

This class is for you if you.
* Want to create a t-shirt or other product with your art.
* Want to start a print-on-demand business
* Create an apparel brand

In this course we will talk about the most popular printing methods for t-shirts:
* how they work
* their advantages and disadvantages
* how to prepare your print files to turn your art into stunning t-shirts.
And as always, we've tried to include helpful tips and tricks we've learned over the years.

We'll cover the following printing methods:
* DIY: Heat transfer paper
* Screen printing
* Sublimation
* Direct to Garment (DTG) printing
* Plot printing: Flex or Flock
* Embroidery

In this course, we're going to talk about t-shirts to keep things short and simple. But most of what we talk about can be used for a variety of products, from hoodies to mugs to stickers.

And as always, if you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments.

Meet Your Teacher

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Maggi Fuchs

Do more with less.


Hello, I'm Maggi.

I am a location-independent (content) creator as well as a trainer for Direct to Garment printing and T-Shirt design. 

Before I decided to become a location-independent trainer, I was working in Research & Development and - at the same time - as Head of Marketing for a DTG printer manufacturer. As a side hustle, I am uploading on numerous print on demand platforms for more than ten years.

I have a bachelor's degree in Management and Economics as well as a master's degree in Online Marketing. I also hold industry-related certifications, like the Idealliance Color Management Professional Master's Certificate. 

See full profile

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1. Introduction: Have you ever wanted to put your art on a t-shirt or wanted to design a t-shirt for your next family trip, school or business? Custom T-Shirts are a great way to express your individuality. And in these days you can even make some money off your art if you want. But maybe you are not sure which printing process is right for you and your project. And how do you have to set up the files for this? At the end of the day nowadays, there are many options to get your t-shirts printed. And in this course, we are planning to discuss the most common printing methods from do-it-yourself to professional options. And we're also going to show you how to set up the files. Hi, we are Maggi and Everson and we are both trainers in Direct to Garment printing and T-shirt design. We also have a YouTube channel where we talk about how to create print files for DTG printing. We often get the question about how to set up print files for other printing methods. And since this really does not fit the theme of our channel, we thought this would be a good topic for this course. So, we chose three different design types and many of them can be used for different printing methods. So hopefully when we discussed the printing methods, you will be able to understand which design types can be printed with which method. We will talk about the following methods: Heat transfer papers, DIY mode, screen printing, sublimation, DTG printing, Plot printing (flex or flock) and embroidery. And for each process, we will give you an overview of how it works. We will also discuss the pros and the cons. We will talk about how to prepare your art and your print files to get the best results. And by the way, to keep things short and simple. We are talking about t-shirts in this course. But in reality, many of those printing methods can be used to print on other products as well. And be sure to stick around to the end of the course where we will discuss a few general tips that will help you achieve better results. Your class project will be to post a picture of your art on a T-shirt. And as always, if you have any questions, please feel free to ask. 2. The Artwork: In most cases, your design will fall roughly into one of these three categories. Each of these design files can be printed using different methods. So when we discuss printing methods in detail, we will talk about which of these designs you can use. The first category is a simple design where wit one or a few solid colors typical of a logo or typo design. This type of design can be created as a vector or pixel art. The second type of design looks more like T-shirt art. Although it to only uses one color. It has a lot of detail and it looks best when the print is large on a t-shirt. This type of design can be created as either vector graphic or pixel graphic. The third type of design usually has lots of colors, gradients, and details. It can either be a hand draw T-shirt design, like the ones you see here, or it can be a photo or photo manipulation. This type of design is usually created as a pixel graphic. It can also be created as a vector graphic, but that is not as common. If you are wondering why we haven't included details like required size and resolution, it is easy to explain. Even though you can reproduce these types of designs using different printing methods, they all have different requirements. So we will discuss this separately for each method. However, please always refer to your print provider's specification and check their requirements. 3. DIY Transfer Paper: The first method is to use heat transfer papers. It is the perfect Do It Yourself project and can be done at home by anyone with an inkjet printer and an iron. Although the exact application may be a little different from each manufacturer, the basic steps are as follows: First, print your design on that special type of paper. Then, cut out your design. Then place it on the t-shirt. As a rule of thumb, you should place your design about three inches below the collar. The last step is to iron the design on the T-shirt, let it cool down and peel off the paper. There are two types of paper available. One can be used for white t-shirts and the other for colored or dark t-shirts. The difference between these two types is that the paper for dark t-shirts, will create a white background under your t-shirt. In this way, the colors will be visible. So when it comes to your print files, you have two different cases to consider. One for white garments and one for a colored and black garments. For both types, the maximum print size is either Legal size or A4 depending on your printer. So ideally, your design should be the size you want to print it at, at 300 dpi. So if you want to bring to your design at, let's say, 10 x 10 inches, your design needs to be 10 x 10 inches at 300 DPI at that size. For this printing method, you can use either pixel or vector graphics, and you can use as many colors as you want. The only limitation you have is the color gamut of your printer, which is a fancy term for the colors it can actually print. If a color is out of gamut, such as usually neon colors, like neon green, the printer will match it to the closest color it can print. This is why you often see color changes. So your design may be bright green on his screen, but the print will look much darker and expect the same color changes when you use the heat transfer papers. So that's about all that these two types of paper have in common. And next we will look at the differences. So let's start with white garments and have a look at our three types of designs. The good news is that on white, all three of these designs are printable. The only thing to keep in mind is that you will need to mirror your image before printing. Since you are placing the paper with the printed site on the t-shirt so your print is directly on the fabric, it would be the other way around. And for dark t-shirts, the case is a little bit different. First of all, you don't have to mirror the design anymore. In this case, you don't flip the paper over when you place it on the t-shirt, you place it with the print facing up because the paper underneath will create the white back ground. So when it comes to black t-shirts, all three t-shirts are printable again, theoretically, because you will run into one little problem. Remember that the paper acts as the white underbase? That is, the paper becomes the white background when you iron it on. And if you would just iron the whole paper on, there would be a white square around your design. This means that you need to cut out your design by hand. So even if you don't have any restrictions on the colors, it depends on the design. If you can print it on dark garments. One of the great advantages of this method is that it's very easy to use. It is a great way to create t-shirts that you need quickly or just need for a special occasion. The prints are usually of good quality and it's very affordable. One of the downsides, however, is that the prints can be of lower quality than other methods, especially when it comes to washing. You can only use it on cotton, in some cases, in a cotton blend t-shirt. And this method only works with inkjet printers, not laser. And the quality of the print depends a lot on the quality of your printer. For example, on my printer, this method does no work because it creates a lot of banding. Banding are those visible lines and streaks through the print. So before you invest in the paper, check your printer conditions. And another disadvantage for us is that the print size is limited. Usually printers only print in Legal size or A4, but a full sized t-shirt print is much, much larger. 4. Screen Printing: Screen printing, also called silkscreen printing is one of the oldest and most popular printing processes. The process is still very manual. Screen printing machines basically consists of two parts. There's a pallet on which you place a t-shirt. And then there's a screen that goes on top. The screen acts like a stencil and the ink is press a directly through the screen onto the t-shirt. Each screen can only be used for one color. So if you have a design with multiple colors, you will need more than one screen. In this case, the pallet with the t-shirt is rotated on the screen printing machine to the next screen. Then the next color is applied. It rotates to the next screen, and so on. After the printing process is completed, the print must be cured with heat. What makes this method difficult to set up is that you need to create these screens before you can start printing. As I mentioned before, you need one screen per color. This means that the design needs to be separated, which basically means that you are creating a separate image for each color. If there is a design with two colors, red and blue, there needs to be one design that contains all the blue parts and another that contains all the red parts. The separate images are expose it onto screens. If you're not printing on white t-shirts, there will be another screen for the underbase. The underbase is applied under the colors of the design so that the colors are actually visible on the garment. Otherwise, it will be like painting with watercolors on black paper. The underbase can be either printed with white ink. Or sometimes they use discharge, that basically bleaches the color out of the t-shirt fibers to lighten the fabric up. So let's have a look at our three t-shirts. Design number 1 is perfect for screen printing with its solid colors and both design elements. As you can imagine, it will be very easy to separate the colors and create the screens for this design. The same goes for design number 2. For screen printing, you can create these two types of designs as either a vector graphic or a pixel graphic. If you choose to use a pixel graphic though, make sure you set it up at 300 DPI and at the actual size it will be printed. If possible your design should have a transparent background. Especially if you want to print some parts of your design in white. The screen printing companies may automatically remove the background and white parts of your design file, but they will not be able to tell the difference between an unwanted white background and the desired parts of the design white. The third design is usually not printable with screen printing. It has many different colors and gradients. And even though there are some companies that offer screen printing with CMYK inks and they tried to replicate the results on an inkjet printer, there are better printing options for designs like this. So here I have some good news for you. Normally, you don't have to worry about color separation within your design file. The print that does that for you. Most of the time they don't even give you the option to do it yourself because they optimize it for their processes, for example, they have to choose the correct rasterisation method that fits the mesh size of the screens they use. So it's a little bit complicated. And they also create the white underbase for you if necessary. Unfortunately, you have to pay for the creation of each screen separately. So, apart from the fact that you can only use a limited number of colors, the more colors you use, the more expensive it becomes. And when it comes to setting up your design file, you don't have to worry too much about colors, either. The colors you set within your design, are just placeholders. Because when you order the print, you will need to specify the colors you want and usually they are based on Pantone colors. For example, you need to tell them that the red parts of your design needs to be printed with a certain Pantone value. And then they will premix the color of the paste to match exactly the shade you want it. And this paste then gets transferred on the t-shirt. So always check with your print provider to see what colors system they use. As I mentioned for most printers, it's going to be based on Pantone. And to make things easier, you can access Pantone color palettes in many design programs like Photoshop. However, you should be aware that your monitor may not show you the actual colors. If you want to be sure, you can buy a printed Pantone color book. So don't forget that the color in the design is just a placeholder. If you want your logo printed in white on the dark t-shirt, you can also send that design file where the logo is black, as long as you specify that you want it printed in white. So don't worry about using the right colors within your design. And you don't have to worry about color profiles or whether your file is in CMYK or RGB. The beauty of screen printing is that the pastes are pre-mixed and you'll have lots of choices. You can even use neon or metallic inks. And because of the system, screen printing has a very high color correctness. If you have a brand and your corporate identity is based on a specific Pantone value, such as, for example, the famous Coca Cola red, this is the printing process for you. Another thing I would like to mention is that you can also use the t-shirt color within your design. For example, if you are printing on a black t-shirt and you have black image elements within your design. You can remove them and make them transparent. For example, you have black colored lines as part of your design. Once they're transparent, the color of the t-shirt will show through in those areas and it will give it the impression that the black color is there and you will save some money for an additional screen. It is also very common for the printer to ask you to provide a work order form along with your print files. I this, you usually specify details such as the size of the print, the placement on the t-shirt, and the colors. As we mentioned earlier, screen printing has some advantages. You can only use limited amount of colors reading a design but for those colors you have tons of options. The prints are also very durable and last a very long time. And what Maggi likes best is that you can bleach the T-Shirts with discharge, which creates a fantastic hand-feel. You can almost not feel any difference between the t-shirt and the print. Also, this method is compatible with almost all fabrics that can't be printed with other methods. And it is possible to print over obstacles like zippers, buttons, seams, or uneven surfaces. The downside is definitely the setup costs. Each color requires its own screen and it's printed separately. The setup needs to be done whether you are printing 1 or 1000 t-shirts. So in many cases, it's only an option if you buy large quantities. Often the minimum order quantity is about 20 to 50 t-shirts. 5. Sublimation: There are different kinds of sublimation, but the one we will discuss here is dye sublimation. It is almost the same as the heat transfer papers we discussed at the beginning as a DIY option. They have in common that the ink is first printed on a carrier paper and then transferred to the T-shirt. Designs are printed with CMYK inks on a special printer. Sometimes the printers have additional colors to create a wider color gamut and more vibrant colors. This method is only suitable for synthetic materials like sports t-shirts. And the print can only be transferred to a white substrate. Often companies use a cut and sew approach with this method. They first transfer the print from the paper to a fabric using heat. Then they cut it out and sew-in into the garment. In this way, it is possible to create All-Over prints. Now back to our three t-shirts. All three would be possible with this printing process. The only thing you have to keep in mind is that the color of the garment is always white. Therefore, transparent pieces of your design will be white on the t-shirt. If you want your print on a black t-shirt, like we have here with number two, you would need to add the black background to your printing file. The file will always be rasterized into a pixel graphics before printing. So it doesn't matter if you create your original graphic as a pixel or as a vector. Just make sure that the pixel graphic, has a very high resolution and again, aim for 300 DPI for the actual printing size. If you created a vector graphic, I would recommend rasterizing the image. This is because often, especially with cut and sew, you will need to place it on a template. And before you send it to the printer, make sure that the placement and the size of your design element is what you want. And here is where I would recommend you to rasterize. Just to make sure that no more changes occur. If your design is too small for the area you have to cover, you can just repeat it several times or turn it into a seamless pattern. The file sizes can get quite large, especially when you are doing an all-over print. And one thing is completely different than with screen printing. The color you place in your design is the color that will be printed and it will be created with CMYK inks. So you need to make sure that you are using the correct color profile and embed the colors you want. However, since your monitor may not be calibrated and you don't know the actual print the profile always expect some color changes. One of the main advantages of this method is that you can create vibrant colors with no restrictions on the amount of colors are used. You can print anything from clip art to photos. It is one of the few methods where all-over printing is possible. It is available for many different products from sports t-shirts to leggings. It produces long-lasting prints in vibrant colors with a very silky comfortable hand-feel. However, there are some disadvantages. Usually the garments are limited to polyester and blends. It does not work on cotton or on dark colors, only on white. This can be a bit of a problem if you want to print on a tight T-Shirt or leggings, if your print is dark and the substrate is white, you will see some white showing through as the material is stretched. Also, expect the color to be different from what you see in your screen. This method may also not be the best if you only want to print a small logo on the chest. Also, sometimes it can be difficult to print solid color blocks, such as large fonts. In such areas, printing errors will be visible first. 6. Direct to Garment Printing: As the name implies, with Direct To Garment printing, your designs are printing directly onto the t-shirt. It's very similar to your inkjet printer at home. In the case of DTG, you put the t-shirt or in a printer and print directly onto the fabric. This allows you to create colorful and photorealistic designs. And you have almost no restrictions when it comes to color. But we will talk more about that in a few minutes. So how does it work? The design is loaded directly into a special software called, RIP software. There the design is translated into something the printer can read and it's sent directly to the printer. During the printing process, the first step is a pre-treatment. This is necessary if you want to print colored and dark t-shirts. If you ever noticed a strange vinegar-like smell on a printed garment, this is the pre-treatment. But that smell goes away after the first wash. The pre-treatment is necessary for the white ink to adhere to your garment. Once printing begins, the printer applies a white under base. This is necessary, so you can see are printed colors on top when you print on a green or blue or black t-shirt. Then the colors are printing with CMYK on top of the white. And then print needs to be cured with heat. So now back to our t-shirts. All of them are printable again, but the one that really plays to the strengths of this printing process is the third one. And again, for DTG printing, you will need fairly large files. A normal full-size print is usually around 40 x 50 cm. One design size that has become very popular through print on demand services is 4500 x 5000, 400 pixels. And that's usually a good starting point. However, it's always best to check with your print service provider about their requirements. And one thing is very important to note, because thanks to the white ink in the device, every white part of the design will be printed when you print on colored and dark t-shirts. So if you don't want the white square around your design, you will need to remove the background and make it transparent. The only exception is when you want to print on white t-shirts. In that case, the white ink is not used. And you don't have to remove the background. And don't worry, the white underbase is automatically created during the printing process. So you don't need to do anything here. And for DTG printing, you can usually use many different file formats and you can use vectors as well as pixel art. Just be careful with JPEGs though, because they don't support transparencies and will automatically fill any transparent parts with white once you save it. And this can destroy a lot of work. The simplest format you can use is often PNG, and that's what many printers asked for. But there's one thing you need to be aware of with PNG, and that is that it can only support RGB. As you may know, there is this kind of rule that CMYK is for print and RGB is for a screen. But in the case of DTG, that's not necessarily true. Many times, the color gamut of a DTG printer is wider than the one of a CMYK printer for paper. That's because of the different substrate colors and the additional inks that some printers add to their machines. So our recommendation is to design an RGB. The colors you embed in your design are the ones that will be printed. And if the color is out of gamut, the printer will automatically match it to the closest alternative. But do you have to be smart about it because no printer is capable of correctly reproduce colors like neon or gold, for example. So unfortunately, you always have to expect some color changes. Another thing that is very typical is that they do not give you the option to place your artwork when ordering. For example, Merch by Amazon ALWAYS wants a 4500 x 5400 pixel file. So what can you do if you just want a small logo on your chest? Well, it's quite simple. Just create 4500 x 5400 pixel image and consider it your canvas. If you just want ta chest print, position a small print there and export the entire art-board. One of the advantages of the DTG printing is that it's very inexpensive for small jobs. There is no set up required like with screen printing. So each t-shirt can be unique. It is good for printing complex designs with lots of details and color. However, one major drawback is color accuracy. You don't know what colors you get. And since there are no profiles to check your work is often a blind run for designers. Also is not possible to print specific color values. For example, if you need your logo to be a certain Pantone value, you better off sticking with screen printing. There are also some limitations in terms of fabric selection. DTG printing works best on cotton t-shirts. When it comes to placing your design on the fabric, you are usually somewhat limited. Digital printers require a flat surface. So the usual print areas are the front and the back of the t-shirt. All-over printing is not possible. And just as with sublimation, large solid color areas can sometimes be tricky. This is where any printing problems show up first. 7. Plot Printing: Plot printing used to be popular because it was the cheapest solution to create custom t-shirts at an affordable price. This was before the advent of DTG printing. So this method has lost a bit of its appeal. The method is quite simple. A plotter cuts out your image from the foil, then the unwanted elements of the image are manually weeded out. That is after the plotter has carved the lines into the foil, someone has to go in and manually remove the unnecessary parts of the sticker. Then the foil is transferred to the substrate with a heat press. Foils are available in a variety of colors. There are also special foils like glitter, metallics, or flock, where you have a velvet surface. Out of our three t-shirts, the only ones who can print using this method are number one and maybe number two. Since unwanted image elements get weeded out, your design details must be a certain size or they will disappear in the process. For example, very small text. So always check the minimum size needed for lines and details. Since the design is cut out with a plotter, it needs curves and therefore your design must be a vector graphic. You will need to convert everything to paths. However, make sure that your curves are closed. The plotter usually closes open curves with a straight line to the next point. But this can mess up your design. So to avoid incorrect prints, check this before you submit your file. And often the number of colors is limited to a maximum of three. As you can imagine, it can be quite tricky to manually line up one sticker after another on a t-shirt. Especially when there are lots of details. If you are creating a design with multiple colors, make sure the image elements in your original file don't overlap. For example, one circle on top of another. In a software like Illustrator, it's best to use the Pathfinder tool to remove the hidden parts. And as you can imagine, you are very limited on colors. Your design will be the color of the foil. So whatever you embed in your design is again, just a place holder. This method is suitable for all garments and surfaces and can be used on almost anything from cotton and polyester to ceramics, wood, and metal. As a rule, you get quite long-lasting results with this method. One drawback is that you can only use one to three colors in your design. And the design pieces must be offered a certain thickness since or need vector files. Creating the file is a bit more complex. And because of the manual process of aligning the foils on the t-shirt, there are often alignment issues. Also, you can feel the print. Because it's a thick foil, the flexibility of the t-shirt is often compromised. 8. Embroidery: This is not actually a printing method, but we wanted to include it in this course because of its popularity. Embroidery, involves stitching the design into your t-shirt and other garments. There are different types of stitches, such as flat or 3D. This is a very popular method of getting logos onto a T-shirt or in a cap. So out of our three t-shirts, I would say that only number one is suitable for this method. Embroidery can only be used for smaller image sizes. So number 2, shown as a full size print, is most likely too large. If you could find someone to do this embroidery, it would be quite expensive. But of course, you could reduce that image size to some degree as long as all the details and lines are thick enough to fit the requirements, your file can either be vector or pixel, though many companies prefer vector. In that case, your design must be digitized before it can be used by embroidery machines. And this is usually done by the embroidery company. So this method works best for clean designs with bold elements and text. And as for colors, you can choose the color of the yarn that will be used for the stitches. Again, the color within the design is just a place holder. The advantage of this method is that embroidery last almost forever, which is why it's a popular choice for logos on workwear. The disadvantage is that you can only do, normally, smaller designs. Also the embroidery look is not everyone's cup of tea as it can look quite patchy. Due to the high setup costs, this metric is only suitable for larger productions. 9. Tips and Tricks: Before you go, we want to give you a few tips and tricks along the way. If you want to order a lot of t-shirts order a sample if possible, then you can check if everything looks the way it should look. We usually recommend to design energy RGB. Even though some printers technically use CMYK, the "CMYK" that's embedded in the graphic programs was created for paper printing. So even though the printing technique may be similar, textile printing has very little in common with paper printing. If you're designing in CMYK, you would most likely restrict yourself from using colors that would be printable. It is also possible to draw your design by hand and then scan it. In this case, use the maximum resolution your scanner has to offer. And if you can, clean up the file in a graphics program. This file should be suitable for printing with sublimation and direct to garment. But if you want to print it on a color or black t-shirt with direct to garment, you will need to remove the background. Your design might also be suitable for screen printing if it consists of solid colored areas. One thing we want to point out again is color changes because this is a very common complaint. With many printing methods like screen printing, plot printing and embroidery, it doesn't matter because the color embedded in your design is just a placeholder. But with other printing methods, you really need to pay attention. A common complaint is when people print files they have created for screen printing with DTG. Well, the colors they have embedded in their design often have nothing to do with the colors they actually want, and then they are unhappy with the result. So if you are using a printing process that mixes colors during the printing process, double-check them before you submit your design. Files for printing can get very large. Typical print size on a T-shirt is 40 by 50 cm, which is almost 16 x 20 inches. Therefore, another problem we run into very often is that the file size is too large. This often happens when you create a large design with a lot of detail. For example, the original file for our print number three was over 50 megabytes. But many companies only accept files up to 20 megabytes. This is something I hate so much. You spend all this time drawing, and then they only allow such ridiculously, small files. The best way to reduce the size of your design without compromising the quality too much is to use Photoshop and compress your PNG. If you don't have Photoshop, you can try use one of the image compressors on the Internet. Last but not least, please respect other people's work. Specially in T-Shirt Printing, it is common to copy other people's work, especially when you start print-on-demand. Don't. Be creative and come up with your own ideas. Don't be a copycat! You can also buy designs form on a honest source. 10. The End: Well, you've made it to the end. We hope that you by now, you have a better idea which printing methods you can use for your project. And if you have any questions, please feel free to ask them in the comments. And we will try to help as good as we can. Thanks for watching and we'll see you in the next course. Bye, bye.