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Creating Artwork for DTG

(April 2014) posted on Tue May 07, 2013

Optimize your apparel designs for digital direct-to-garment printing.

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By Thomas Trimingham

Digital printers designed for producing quality graphics on T-shirts have reached a new level in quality and ease of use. This newer decoration method has its own challenges. There are particular styles of artwork that fit well with the digital process; however, many decorators quickly find out that clients don’t always provide artwork that is easy to deal with and make friendly for these digital printers. Most of the time, a few simple adjustments to the artwork can be made so that the work meets the approval of the client and the shop.


If you are designing your own artwork for a digital printer, or if you are buying art from a freelance supplier, it’s important to spell out certain issues and qualities in the art so that the final design is easy to produce and profitable. The most common challenges that can crop up with artwork for digital printing are design-border issues, underbase concerns, consistency with solid colors, and converting the artwork to work best with digital imaging.

Costs and labor
It is best to get a clear idea of costs before you start tackling art issues with the digital printer. The inks can be very expensive, so any scrap—especially with the tendency for orders of digitally printed shirts being smaller in volume—can quickly turn an order from a profit to a loss. A good way to finalize your cost is to track consumables against the square inches of coverage in the designs that have been printed, remembering to add a multiplier for a white underbase. Of course, some designs have more saturated colors than others, but if you have a variety of designs and then average it, you can at least then get a measurable number.

The next important factor is the labor involved in shirt prep (pretreatment or heat pressing) and then the curing of the design. A final factor that can be difficult to estimate, but necessary with digital printing is a certain amount of cost added for routine and unexpected machine maintenance. Some garment printers will help with the estimation of ink used, and this is great, but the real costs are often hidden in the labor and extra steps, including pre-testing the design.


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