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Beginner's handbook

Everything You Need to Know to Prepare the Perfect Print File

By Reading Time: 5 minutes

You’ve set up your store and you’re ready for the first sales. But your entire business hinges on this one element – getting the print file just right, so that your design can be displayed in its full glory.

And just when you think you nailed it, an order has come in, goes to processing, and the unimaginable happens – your order’s put on HOLD! Printing is delayed, and you have to tinker with the design to get the right print file.

I’m here to say you can get it right the first time! I spoke to Printful’s graphics team to identify the most common errors with print files so that you can avoid them the first time around.

Basic print file graphic requirements

The quality of your product depends on the print file you submit. So if you want to make your designs look the best they can and avoid order holds, carefully follow basic graphics requirements. Some of the things you must keep in mind are:

  • Maximum size of print area depends on the product you choose. For example, for t-shirts it’s 12×16 inches, but for mugs (11oz) – 9x 3.5 inches.
  • File resolution recommendations: Your print file has to be at least 150 DPI (dots per inch) to ensure optimal print quality.
  • Accepted print file formats: PNG, EPS

Each product might have slightly different set of guidelines, so make sure you carefully follow graphics requirements provided in Print file guidelines tab.

print-file-guidelines-tab-printful

Finally, your design has to correspond to Printful’s Acceptable Content Guidelines. If the content of your design is hateful, illegal, or it violates intellectual property rights, it can be removed at any time by our print file graphic specialists.

Top reasons your order is on hold

1. Bad print file quality

Low-quality designs, or designs that are too small to be qualitatively scaled up are one of the most common reasons why orders are put on hold.

When it comes to size, make sure the print file you submit is as big as you want it on your garment. Remember, that it’s better to submit a larger print file that we can scale down, instead of vice versa.

Resolution is no less important. If we printed a low-resolution file that’s scaled up, design would be blurry and pixelated. And that probably isn’t something you’d like to send to your customers.

As it’s been already mentioned, we require files to be at least 150 DPI for DTG and sublimation products. Print files for smaller items like mugs or personalized phone cases need to have higher resolution because prints are small and often detailed.

  • How to know if your print file quality is suitable for printing

If the size of your files is not suitable for printing, you’ll see different warnings in our mockup generator:print-file-too-small-warning-example

You may think that enlarging the print file size, or increasing its DPI will solve the problem. But the root of the problem is that you’re still submitting low-quality image. Even 300 DPI doesn’t guarantee a quality print if you use a low-quality file in the first place.

bad-quality-print-file-example

Bad quality image (left), bad quality image enlarged (right)

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. We don’t recommend scaling the file to a point where resolution drops below 150 DPI.

2. Incorrectly used transparencies

While transparent elements in print files are OK for some products (all-over print products, mugs), they aren’t recommended in DTG printing because the white underbase will show through. This will create a very speckled look that can be associated with poor quality.

If you’re not sure whether your design has transparent elements, try switching off the solid white background in the editor you’re using to create your print file. If the grid is showing through the elements – they’re transparent. Take a look at the image below to understand this better.

white-vs-transparent-background

Design with a white background (left), design without a background (right)

As you can see, the majority of elements on the left side of the design without a background are transparent. To fix it, you’ll have to select a specific color you want your design to “fade into” and use it at full opacity. That way, the colors in your design will be solid and printer won’t have trouble printing it.

3. Print file has a solid background

Avoid using background unless it’s a part of your design – this is especially important for the designs you want to print on apparel. Why? Because if a product you want to print on is the same color as the background of your design, it might not look as sharp once printed.

Let’s say you decided to print a design on a white t-shirt. If your design has a white background, it’s likely that the shades of white in the printed design and the garment won’t match and your final product may look odd (check the image on the left below).

Similarly, if you’re printing design with a black background on a black garment, you’ll be left with a greyish rectangle around your design. That’s because prints on dark garments require a white underbase, and as a result, the printed black will be a lighter shade than the actual garment.

If you’re not sure whether your design has a background, open the file in Photoshop, add a different color background, and duplicate the layer several times to make any residue show up.

4. Missing or incorrect inside or outside label information

If you’ve decided to print a custom inside label on your shirt, bear in mind there are a few things you have to include in the inside label by law:

  • size of the garment
  • origin of the garment (where it was made)
  • information about the material of the garment

As you can probably guess, these details are different for each product variant, so make sure you got all the information just right info before submitting your print files for the inside or outside labels.

We have put together an inside label guide for tear-away tag t-shirts that has all the information needed in one place.

Once again, you have to keep the safe print area in mind. Inside and outside labels are 3×3 inches big, and the minimum font size for the information in them is 6 pt.

For the cleanest print results, submit white-only graphics for colored and dark apparel. You can use any color for white or light-colored garments, but keep in mind that dark inks can peek-through the other side of lighter garments.

A few more things to keep in mind

Make sure your print file doesn’t have multiple layers

Even though we accept print files in PNG and EPS formats, we recommend you to stick with PNG.

You see, print files submitted in .eps format often have hidden layers that printers can’t read. If these files aren’t exported properly, all layers get printed and that’s usually something you weren’t originally planning to have on your design.

Pro tip: Get in touch with Printful design services if you need help creating, editing, or formatting your print files.

Choose the right products for the best outcome

Every product has a different texture and feel when printed. That’s why, when choosing products for your designs, think about what the print’s going to be, and whether or not it will look good on that specific product. For example, patterns look good as all-over prints, photographs work well as posters, and typography designs are perfect for DTG products.

If you’re selling apparel, remember that your designs will also look slightly different depending on the fabrics and fabric blends you print on. For example, as a rule of thumb, ink is more spread out and looks more faded on sweatshirts than t-shirts since it’s made from a thicker fabric.

Pro tip: To be on the safe side about the quality of your prints, order a sample before introducing it to your store.

Prepare a perfect print file

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.

If there’s anything to remember from this post is – check the guidelines, use high-quality graphics, accurately size your files, and voila – you’re set to start making that uber cool independent online store that just happens to be raking in the cash.

This article was originally published in November 2017; it has since been updated.

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    1. Giedrė Kronberga

      Hi Shirin, you can’t add designs to products in bulk. That’s because each product has slightly different print file requirements.

      1. Innocent

        Hie ,i currently moved to South Africa and wanted to know if you ship here as well ? Your help will be greatly appreciated as continuation of my business is dependent on this thank you

  1. Finn Heidenreich

    Where would one find an image with high enough resolution and correct file size? I have a few designs from Shutterstock that, when uploaded to Printful, get the “print file is too small” warning, regardless of how much I alter my DPI or image size on Photoshop. How can I tell, prior to downloading stock images, that they will be the right file size for Sublimation? These are funky 80’s pattern designs by the way. Let me know 🙂

    1. Edward Zarins

      Hey Finn,
      You’d need to check this on Shutterstock before downloading your files. Make sure the resolution is high enough for the designs. You can click “Edit” under the vector file on Shutterstock and it will take you to the Shutterstock Editor. You can then set the desired DPI and size and then download your file. Hope this helps!

  2. Charlie

    I am trying to do all over print on leggings but when I upload the picture it starts off big and covers the product but the picture says bad quality by the time I change the size to where it is average the picture becomes to small and I can only use five pictures per product. I am trying to figure out how to size it correctly while keeping the quality

    1. Giedrė Kronberga

      Hi Charle, when you enlarge a small print file, it loses the quality.

      Make sure you’re using a file in 150 to 300 dpi, as per our print file guidelines. You should also download the print file template for the leggings you’re creating. This will help with creating the print file and sizing it correctly.

  3. Leo

    A newbie w/ a couple of questions.

    1) I’m designing my graphics using Inkscape, which only produces RGB files PNG exports. Should I convert those to CYMK before sending them over?

    2) I’ve been messing with the “mock-up” tool, which is fun. However, one of mine looks strange with the graphics too high on the chest so I need to shrink the image. Thing is, there’s no resize tool available in the mock-up secion. Is it available in the production software?

    ANyways, thanks in advance for your help.

    1. Leo Walsh

      Oops. Just answered my first question on my own. Looks like you only accept PNGs & not TIFFs, so there is no CMYK option. TO make sure it’ll look okay, I’ll just color-proof my PMGs in Gimp to make sure that it looks okay.

    2. Leo

      Ugh. Answered my first question as well. I was looking for a classic re-size w’ handles on the image. I just found the resize option, which is on the bottom-right of the design frame.

      Anyways, thanks again. Like I said, I’m a newbie here.

      Cheers.

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