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Preparing Digital Files for Screen Printing

(October 2002) posted on Wed Oct 09, 2002

Learn how to make other types of artwork fit the screen-printing mold.

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By Mark A. Coudray

One of my favorite quotes regarding technology came from Arthur C. Clarke, who said, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." I often feel that screen printers using digital prepress are viewed as some sort of magicians who can make any file provided by a customer into a workable graphic. In many cases we can, but learning the right tricks can be a painful process.


Screen printers typically inherit files designed for projects ranging from Web-page building to offset printing. But we rarely see files prepared specifically for our process. So we're forced to compromise, adjusting the file to get the job out on time while maintaining a reasonable quality level. However, customers are becoming intolerant of compromise, expecting us to maintain the quality of the original design despite the fact that it wasn't created for screen printing.


Our problems are further compounded by the drive for sales. Unfortunately, our sales people usually don't understand the nuances of digital art for screen printing, and their view is that we should be happy they got the customer to supply an electronic file in the first place. As they see it, the job of the prepress and production staffs is to produce the final product--no matter what the client furnishes.


Whether we inherit or create a digital file is immaterial. In either case, we must optimize the file for production and prepare it quickly and accurately. I could easily make a short novel out of my experience doing just that. But instead, I want to focus on some of the major factors that differentiate digital artwork for screen printing from graphic files used for other purposes. Among other things, we'll look at a few real-world approaches to improve the speed, quality, and consistency of our output, regardless of the process or end use for which a file was originally prepared.


The digital workflow


Let's start with workflow issues. This relates to how quickly the job will move through prepress, how easy the digital file is to work with, and what methods and procedures prepress technicians must use to prepare the file for screen printing. In today's production environment, speed is the top issue.



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