You’ve set up your store and you’re ready to start making your millions. But your entire business hinges on this one element – getting the printfile just right, so that your design can be displayed in its full glory that your customer will then bask in for the remainder of the lifetime of that garment.
And just when you think you nailed it, an order has come in and it goes to processing, and the unimaginable happens.
Your order’s put on HOLD! *gasp!*
Delaying the process, making you tinker with the design to get the right printfile.
I’m here to say you can get it right the first time!
I spoke to Printful’s graphics department to identify the most common errors with printfiles so that you can avoid them the first time around. We’ll be focusing on the most popular product – the DTG t-shirt.
Basics of graphics
To get started, here are some general rules of thumb to keep in mind when thinking about printfiles:
Max. printing area: 12×16 inches, with exceptions (see below).
DPI: Files have to be a minimum of 150 dpi (digital pixels per inch). If the dpi is higher, we can expand the image. Any lower and the image will be put on hold.
Best format for submitting files: .png
Worst format for submitting files: Adobe Illustrator files
File & image size is the top offender
One of the most common issues is with the size of either the file itself or the image you’re printing.
File size – the guidelines are key!
Our graphics department says that 80% of hold issues could be solved if the printfile guidelines were followed. Why? Because there are exceptions to standard printing sizes for different models, cuts, and sizes of shirts. Here are some of the main transgressions in regard to file size exceptions:
The standard printing area men’s or unisex t-shirts is 12×16”, except for men’s XS, which is 10×12”.
The standard printing area for women’s t-shirts is 10×12”, except for women’s XL and larger, which is 12×16”.
Image quality and size
One of the most common issues is submitting a low-quality image, or an image that is too small to be qualitatively scaled up.
It might look fine on your screen when it’s only a few inches wide. However when the image is printed out on a real life t-shirt, the image also turns out to only be a few inches wide, meaning that it looks tiny in comparison to the life-sized t-shirt. Make sure the image you’re submitting is actual size, and that it reflects how big you actually want it on your garment.
If we do print out the unqualitative image, then it will be blurred, stretched and the edges will be pixelated. Generally not what high-quality online stores should be aiming for. All images should be submitted in no less than 150 dpi, however if your image has fine details, we suggest submitting the image at 300 dpi. So that in the case that you’re printing on dark garments, the white underbase won’t be visible.
However, keep in mind that even 300dpi does not guarantee a quality print, especially if the artwork is being printed on a dark garment – some of the white under-base may still be showing.
Tip: To quickly find out if your image is large enough to be printed in a good quality, upload it to the mockup generator and see if you can scale it to the desired size. If you want to print designs on shirts, you can do this even faster on our make your own shirt page.
Insufficient information leads to mistakes
Sometimes ambiguous orders come through. For example a design comes in at 6×6 inches (looks pretty small on a t-shirt), but in a high quality resolution (300 dpi). We don’t know if it should be printed in the 6×6 size, or if it should be expanded to full size (12” in width).
Note: with the resolution of 300dpi we can generally double the size of your image – this means it will be printed at 150dpi. However, if you want to keep the resolution at 300dpi, we suggest adjusting the actual file size. Communication is key – make sure to add mockup images and/or printing notes to get what you had intended.
File formatting for most accurate printing
We suggest submitting your printfiles in .png or .jpg. You should avoid PDF files, Illustrator files, and vector files as they don’t always convert properly (they end up printing hidden layers, or there can be missing fonts).
When going for a “glow” effect, don’t use the transparency function (aka lower the opacity) in photoshop. When it’s printed out, it will look like a bunch of polka dots due to the white underbase that’s applied underneath. On lighter garments, prints will come out a lot more concentrated that you might have intended since printers don’t always recognize transparencies and will print them as solid colors.
To avoid this result, use half-toning to achieve the same “glow” effect.
Removing background images
Always remove the backgrounds. Even if you’re printing on a white garment and you think it’ll be fine if you leave the white background – don’t. Although your graphic is being printed on a white garment, the white background may actually cause the print to appear slightly muddy and blurry.
If you’re printing on black, then you’ll be left with a shiny rectangle around your design. That’s because these prints on dark garments require a white underbase, and as a result the printed black will be a different shade than the actual garment.
Orders frequently are put on hold because the backgrounds haven’t been completely removed. If any residue at all is left over, it will be visible when the shirt gets printed. The way we test this (and you can, too) is by opening the file in photoshop, duplicating the layer several times to make any residue show up.
We suggest you avoid solid backgrounds entirely. Unless it’s an express part of your design.
If you’re printing on a white t-shirt, we suggest removing any white elements in the design. That way white ink won’t be printed onto the design, and it will lead to a more crisp result. (same goes for black on black).
Making sure the colors on the screen match the printed colors
The colors you see on your screen are not always what you see when the garment has been printed. We suggest you order our RGB swatches onto the garments you want to print to see how they’ll show up in real life.
Pro tip: If you’re offering your design on many colors, it might get pricey ordering all of those swatches. You can get in touch with our design services, tell them which garment you want to print on and what design, and they’ll do the color matching for you to identify the correct values for the effect you’re going for.
Choosing the right garments for the best possible outcome
100% cotton shirts will always yield best results, with the exception of Gildan (remember what your mother always said – you get what you pay for).
Blended shirts will have a less vivid print, which is totally ok if you’re going for the “vintage” feel.
Tip: When printing on totes, we suggest you avoid white. Because of how the white underbase reacts with the fabric, the ink tends to scrape off. If white elements are an important part of your design, we can print the white under-base with your approval.
Keeping an eye out for these most common mistakes is a must – it’ll speed up the time your order goes from submission to shipping, and it’ll lead to happier customers (aka more moolah for you!). If there’s anything to remember from this post is – check the guidelines, accurately size your images, add mockups, and communicate what you want to the graphics department via print notes. And voila – you’re set to start making that uber cool independent online store that just happens to be raking in the cash.