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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. Yinna Wang

    I used a logo with no background, just type. And still it ended up with a white box around it. Looks like the boundary box (that gray space you load your image into) is excluded from my all over print. Is it possible to just have type? Or do I need something behind my logo.

    1. Giedrė Kronberga

      Hi Yinna, your print file should have a transparent background. If you want to use typography in your designs, consider using Printful’s mockup generator text tool. It has more than 25 fonts – I’m sure you’ll find something that works for you 🙂

        1. Giedrė Kronberga

          Hi Per, using typography in your designs isn’t a problem. What I was referring to is the typography design saved with a background 🙂 unless, of course, the background color is part of your design. If that’s the case, there’s nothing you should worry about.

  2. Corry

    I haven’t been here for a while, I thought there were print guideline files for everything we could download? I don’t see them anywhere..

  3. Adam

    I like to use AI as it is a vector based and better for text. It would be good if you guys had AI template and proper colour profile for PS and AI. Right now it looks like one must order each product that one wants to sell in order to have colour numbers. I have a T-shirt which is very good quality. Can the colour numbers on it be used for everything or should I order mug and so on? Thanks

    1. Edward Zarins

      Hey Adam,

      You can download our print file templates and use the PNG file for Adobe Illustrator. We recommend ordering samples because colors may look different on each product and product variant. You can check our color matching disclaimer here.

    1. Edward Zarins

      Hey Debra,

      You should go to your file library and click the “trash” icon that will show up once you hover over your file. 🙂

    1. Giedrė Kronberga

      CMYK is recommended for any printed material. However, keep in mind that you can’t export files created within CMYK color mode to PNG – accepted print file format at Printful. So if you’re creating your designs within CMYK, you’ll later have to convert it to RGB.

        1. Giedrė Kronberga

          Hi Dominick! RGB has a wider gamut (the range of colors that can be expressed). That’s why we suggest you design your file within the CMYK color space, but convert the file to RGB before saving. This way your colors will stay within the gamut 🙂

  4. JWoods

    After following all of the directions and guidelines, twice, I am stuck with a shirt label that is not centered in the print area. The first one was printed askew. I was told that the error rate is something like 10 in 20,000 shirts, so either this is not the case or I have the absolute worse luck. What are your suggestions and do you have any additional information on how to mitigate this issue?

    1. Edward Zarins

      Hey,

      Sorry to hear about your experience. Our error rates are within the industry’s standards but if you ever happen to receive a damaged product, you should submit a problem report right away and we’ll fix it as soon as possible. Have you checked our inside label generator? It should ease the process of adding inside labels for you. 🙂

  5. Ben

    Thanks for the article. I’ve been looking around the printful website trying to figure out how you handle scaling designs across multiple sizes of the same garment. I’m probably just missing it, but thought I’d ask. Thanks!

    1. Edward Zarins

      Hey Ben,

      We use “M” size clothing for our product and mockup generators and we don’t scale up designs but we may scale down for smaller sizes like “S” or “XS”.

  6. Stephane

    Hello,
    I want to print a black and white photo of a person on my white shirt. Can you tell me about the render of the final print?

    Thank you!

  7. Natalie

    Hi there

    I have used the template for a poster and added my image to it in photoshop. I turned off the instructions using the eye icon tool, do I now need to flatten the image or just save as .png as is? It seems to be taking a while to upload. Thanks for your help.

    Many Thanks
    Natalie

    1. Edward Zarins

      Hey Natalie,

      Saving as .png should be fine but I’m also not sure what you mean by “flatten the image”. 🙂

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