How to improve your screen printing art


I guess there are plenty of times when press operators struggling to make a design work mutter under their breath, “Who designed this?” We’re not just talking about simple images – we’re talking about high-end complex images or even simple images with lots of gradients and shading. Here are some tips, tricks and ideas to make your artwork more screen printing friendly.

Stop over-designing and over-thinking: great artists learn to keep it simple. If you look at websites from 15 years ago compared to today, you see that all good sites have moved away from raised characters, mixed fonts, lots of colors, etc. They are clean and easy to read.

The images of the t-shirts must be identical. It seems that young and/or new artists love to use effects because they are cool. It’s not about being cool for the artist, but about being readable and printable for the client and the printer. Figure 1 shows a sample of an actual job. I can’t show the whole picture because I have to protect the innocent. Never forget the purpose of a T-shirt graphic: to convey a message, show branding, show a company name, and be readable. If you do all of these things, it should print better.

Figure 1: Avoid over-designing with too many “cool” effects, as shown. Focus on clean, easy to read designs.

Reduce the amount of subtle gradients: Again, this comes from designers who don’t do a lot of work on t-shirts but create images with lots of very subtle color shifts and shades. Sometimes it’s almost impossible to separate two colors that are very close, and if they’re different shades of the same color, once you factor in the point gain to the press, the two colors will look the same . See Figure 2.

How to improve your screen printing art

Figure 2: Subtle color gradients like this will be lost during the screen printing process.

If you must use shading (no problem with that), be bold and brave. Keep in mind that the image will probably end up looking flatter once the work is converted to halftone dots, put on a screen mesh, and printed on a shirt. Midtone dots gain about 30% to 40% and subtle edits are lost.

Work at the right resolution: The standard resolution for t-shirt images is 300 dpi. The problem is that a lot of artists work at lower resolutions like 72 dpi for web graphics and then wonder why the image looks so soft when scaled up to t-shirt size and oversampled to 300 dpi . Try to work at 300 dpi. If you’re using a 72 dpi web image, make the file at least 300 dpi BEFORE you start adding text and other elements.

Learn how to fix low quality JPG images: I’ve written here in the past about how to fix low quality JPG. (You can also search the web for inexpensive JPG enhancement programs and tutorials.) A poor quality JPG will have artifacts and blotchy areas that can show up in color separations.

Design to Make Your Journalists Love You: Again, artists who don’t screen print often have the problem we have of the “wet on wet” feel where colors touch and can blend into each other. I’m always shocked when I receive a separation job that has a yellow print next to the red (usually as an outline). It will never work on press unless you can harden one of these colors first. It would be so simple to put a little “gutter” or dash (make it the color of the shirt) between two colors so they don’t touch each other on press and the integrity of the image doesn’t change . See Figure 3.

How to improve your screen printing art

Figure 3: Adding a gutter between two colors in “Roadster” will make printing much easier.

In addition to taking these steps, be sure to talk to your reporters about what else you can do to help them get in and out of their jobs faster.

Scott Fresener has been in the industry since 1970 and is the co-author of How to print t-shirts for fun and profit. A popular speaker at trade shows, he runs the website. Contact him at [email protected]


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