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Designing a Shirt for Screen Printing

By Edited Oct 26, 2016 0 0

Many individuals, charitable organizations, and businesses have shirts screen printed as a way to commemorate an event, promote awareness of their brand, or to make some money. Companies that will print shirts on your behalf are easily found in most cities. The web makes it even easier to find a company to perform this service for you.


However, customizing a shirt can often present an overwhelming array of options. To help, we’ll explain some of the most important decisions to make and things to consider in making them, as well as some of the most popular choices.


Screen printing requires a separate setup process for each color in the artwork. This means that fewer colors will be cheaper for you. Artwork can be created looks great even with only one or two colors, so insisting on more colors can be counterproductive.


Remember that using darker colors on darker shirts, or using very light colors on light shirts, or using colors that are the same as or close to the color of the shirt, will result in designs that are less visible (and can result in designs that are impossible to see). Use strong contrasts to make sure your design gets seen.


On the other hand, you can sometimes leverage the color of the shirt to reduce the number of colors in your print. For example, if your design contains blue and white colors, and you pick a blue t-shirt, then you may be able to get away with using only a white print, just letting the shirt color show through in the blue areas of the design.


Usually, you won’t have an exact color in mind, and won’t care if the print is within a few shades of the color you were imagining. If need be, though, it is possible for a screen printer to match an exact color.  The Pantone matching system is the most typical way to precisely communicate a color. The best way to make sure  the shirt comes out the way you expect it is to give your screen printer the Pantone number of the color you want to use.


Usually, the color of the shirt, as opposed to that of the print, is more difficult to match precisely. Most screen printers don’t create the shirts themselves and so must choose from the options available from the shirt manufacturer.  Ask the company you are working with for the options available in the particular garment style you are using.


Where can you print on a shirt?


The most popular - and a great choice - is to put a full-sized graphic on the front/chest area, or “full front.” Using a full-sized front design will maximize its visibility. Anyone facing the wearer will be able to see your awesome design.


For a subtler look, a smaller logo in the left chest area is a popular choice. (Left from the perspective of the wearer - right chest designs are unusual).


If you already have a design on the front, then you might consider adding a design to the back. It’s common to use a full-sized design on the back (9-12 inches). But it’s almost as common to put a small logo just under the rear collar.


Usually, the price of a screen print won’t depend much on which location you choose. However, using multiple locations - such as a print on the front and on the back - will usually raise the price, since the printing press will need to be set up more than once. Sometimes you can combine locations as long as they are close enough together (such as full back and just-under-the-collar).


If you’re trying to define a more specific location, remember that you usually need some clearance (an inch or so) from any hems/seams on the shirt. You also can’t screenprint across seams.


The dimensions of the print will largely depend on your choice of location. Most screen printers will have standard sizes or size-ranges they use for a given location - it’s recommended that you stick with those. Small prints, such as on the left chest or on the back just under the collar, will usually be about 3 inches in width. Full sized front or back prints are usually about 9-12 inches in width.


Art that’s wider than it is tall should usually be on the wider end of these ranges. Also, if you are printing on especially small shirts (such as youth sizes or women’s sizes), you might want to stick with the smaller end of the ranges so that the design doesn’t look too big on the shirt. However, having a different print size for different sized shirts is usually prohibitively expensive because each print size will require a separate setup. Usually, a print that looks good on a small will look just fine on a double extra-large as well.

Garment Style

You will probably have in mind that you want some particular style of shirt - short sleeve t-shirts, long sleeve shirts, hoodies, etc.


But even within each of these options, there are often many, many styles to choose from. Would you like your t-shirt from American Apparel, Gildan or Hanes? Would you like the 5.1 oz or 6.4 oz cotton? The range of choices can be overwhelming, but you can ask your screen printer for their standard options. They may have catalogs available that will help you make your decision, so ask for these if you can’t find any.


Sometimes you can choose garments with heavier cotton, or ones made of fancier, softer blends of cotton and other materials. Though these options can be pricier, the look and feel of a t-shirt can make a big difference to the people wearing your t-shirt.


Some garment manufacturers are known for treating their workers better than others. Some manufacturers are known to exploit sweatshop labor. You might want to research this before you make your selections.


Everyone loves getting new shirts, and the process of seeing your design come to fruition is always great fun. Despite the many options, we hope that you enjoy the process of designing and printing your shirts.



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