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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.  For best results, we recommend using our templates that can be found in the File guidelines tab under each product. That way you don’t have to worry about dimensions or DPI settings—we’ve set it all for you!
  • File resolution recommendations: For most products, your print file has to be at least 150 DPI (dots per inch) to ensure optimal print quality. There are, however, some products that require 300 DPI so be sure to check File guidelines when choosing your next product.
  • Accepted print file formats: PNG, JPEG

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

Resolution is very 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—most products require files to be made with 150 DPI. Print files for smaller items like mugs or personalized phone cases need to have higher resolution because prints are small and often detailed. We recommend submitting designs for these products with 300 DPI. If you’re not sure which products require which DPI settings, take a look at File guidelines under the product you have chosen—we’ve added the must-follow guidelines there.

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

print-file-too-small-warning-example

If the size of your files is not suitable for printing, you’ll see different warnings in our mockup generator:

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. 

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. However, if you accidentally don’t export the file as a PNG file, you’ll see the unnecessary background color when uploading the file in our mockup generator.

4. Missing or incorrect inside 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.

Look for inside label guide in File guidelines under each product.

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 JPEG formats, we recommend submitting your embroidery files in EPS format.

It allows us to pin-point the necessary layers way easier. If you are not comfortable using this format, we suggest sticking with PNG.

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.

Does this all sound like a bit too much and you just want to have some fun designing? No problem! We’ve created some awesome typography designs that are ready to use. Download them below.

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

Download free typography designs

Subscribe to our blog and get your free typography designs!

  1. Scott Larsen

    “To avoid this result, use half-toning to achieve the same “glow” effect.”

    You don’t draw any distinction between types of transparency: 100% clear, no ink goes on at all, vs somewhat clear as in that fade in your glow effect… The first is okay, the second is not.

    What “Line screen” should this halftone shoot for? It’s probably worth describing for people how exactly to create a halftone… and note that a halftone is very fine detail so 300dpi is a minimum resolution. If I were doing a halftone I would probably submit the art at 600 just to help keep the round dots round…

    1. Adam

      When creating your halftone: First off, I don’t work for these guys. I own my own graphics studio and silk screen shop. I do not use any post-script software printers or printing profiles. So I make all my separations individually.

      In Photoshop, after you’ve isolated the part of the image that you want to create halftoned (and of course it and the rest of your spot colors have been put together and scaled to the correct size for output), you want to take that isolated image; bring it into a new file; convert to grayscale (still at 300dpi) and then create your bitmap. You’ll see the first prompt in “Color Halftone” is dpi input and output. It will already recognize your 300dpi image and ask for you to enter the output resolution. I use 720dpi.

      From there, you set your LPI and frequency. There are many forums out there for the math you’d want to implement here for ideal results on an ideal screen mesh. Once bitmapping is complete. Convert back to grayscale; use the Magic Eraser tool (tolerance around 11 w/ Anti-ALias checked) on the white from the BG imagery. Zoom in closely and you’ll notice it lightened all the edges of your halftone dots. Duplicate the layer and merge. Problem solved and you now have a high-res workable , halftone file that can be printed as a composite print.

  2. Rana

    Does this go for posters also? I get why Illustrator files are bad for T-shirt printing but they’re the best for paper printing as far as I know. Can you please clarify? I’ve spent weeks preparing my print files in AI and really hope I can use them and not have to redo them in another format. Thanks!

    1. Julia Gifford Post author

      Hi Rana,

      Yes, this is ESPECIALLY true for posters. We’ve had damaged poster cases because of hidden Illustrator layers, that end up getting printed out. To avoid that potential issue, we suggest .png for the most consistently qualitative results.

      1. Rana

        Bummer. Ok thanks for the clarification!

        Side note – are there any plans to add a bulk delete feature for print files? Deleting them one by one is so time consuming and tedious.

          1. Moni

            Question 1 : I wanna do a design for hoddie. What will be the size of the transparent file.?
            Question 2 : I’ll make a design for sleeves also. Please tell me the size of sleeves…

          2. Edward Zarins

            Hey Moni,

            You can check the file guidelines from the product page (under the “file guidelines” tab).

  3. Scotch

    Agree with Rana – need a bulk delete feature for print files. Taking this a step further, a bulk edit feature. For example, used 12×16 template for XS men’s instead of 10×12. I’d like to edit that print file for only the XS products (20 designs x 7 colors), but doesn’t seem possible, other than manually editing every XS product.

  4. Kristin

    You have a rather funny typo in the short paragraph just above the skulls. Otherwise, extremely helpful. Thank you!

  5. marcus

    I`m just starting out with you guys and back “Scotch”, would want selective bulk editing as well.

      1. Jacki

        Hi Nora, I’ve a follow-up question… If the RGB is getting converted to the CMYK color space, then why not prefer files be made in CMYK to begin with? Also, I thought the Brother GT-3 printed in sRGB…has Printful changed its DTG printer type? Sorry, but I want to be sure I give the bright and pastel colors in my baby clothing designs the best chance they can get!

        1. Nora Inveiss

          Hi Jacki,

          No need to apologize! You’re correct, the Brother printers are programmed to use RGB color values. So to simplify the whole process, we ask for RGB files right off the bat, so we only convert to CMYK once (as opposed to CMYK-RGB-CMYK).

          1. John

            That wouldn’t be a problem. CMYK to RGB would do nothing because CMYK has less color options than so RGB, going from CMYK to RGB would not effect the image. going from RGB to CMYK loses colors so it conforms the image to the new palette.

  6. Raquel

    I’m new to this so I’m trying to upload files but they’re in AI and some of them look transparent on black tees. What am I doing wrong and do I need to just submit all in .png or .jpg. Should they have a transparent background or is white ok? I’m clueless as what program to use to get it how you guys want. Any help would be appreciated.

    1. Nora Inveiss

      Hi Raquel,

      You can find some helpful info in the “print file guidelines” tab within each product page in Products & Pricing. Couple of quick tips:

      1. You should submit your files in either .png or .jpeg formats
      2. Your files should have a transparent background
      3. The program you use is up to you! We find that the majority of our customers use Photoshop.

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