Figuring out where the artwork comes from and how to properly convert it to be used by the desired output device is one of the first steps a decorator must take for imprinting apparel. With digital printing, artwork is sent to a printer and either printed directly on a garment or on transfer paper which is then heat sealed to the garment.
There are four types of printing processes:
Digital Transfer (sublimation, inkjet, and color laser printer) – This is an indirect printing method where the artwork is printed onto a carrier paper to create a transfer. The transfer is placed on the garment and heat pressed to seal it.
Digital Direct-to-Garment (DTG) – With this method, the artwork is printed directly onto the garment with an inkjet device.
Vinyl Cutting – This is an indirect printing method that requires a vinyl cutter. Sheets or rolls of vinyl are inserted into a cutter and a blade cuts out shapes that make up the artwork. These shapes need to be weeded (remove the excess vinyl from the design) then heat applied to a garment using a heat press.
Printer/Cutter – This printing method combines the process of a digital transfer and vinyl cutter. A design is printed onto material and then cut to the contours of the design.
Raster art is recommended for digital printing. Vector art can be used, but avoid using vector art when the design has any large solid areas. It’s also recommended to use RGB color mode versus CMYK. The size and resolution for digital artwork is the same as screen printing. Typically, the artwork should be prepared no smaller than 300 dpi at 14 x 14 inches; this is considered a high resolution file. When the artwork is created, it should be done as a mirror image. Otherwise the text/graphic will appear backwards once applied to the garment.
A best practice is to avoid designing anything with a solid flat area of color, which can sometimes result in banding or streaking when using an inkjet or toner drum. This can be very obvious and take away from the desired design. Another best practice is to remove edges and background areas around the perimeter of the design so you don’t have a solid border around the artwork; this creates a more free-flowing look.
Vinyl cutting is a great way to achieve a layered look, however, limit yourself to three layers to avoid a heavy-handed design. Also, use graphics and text that are weed-friendly so you don’t have to struggle pulling out non-essential pieces of your artwork. A tip for creating artwork that will be cut with a vinyl cutter is to include little “connectors” from one part of the design to another so the excess can be pulled off in one motion. Try to limit the amount of cavities within your design to make weeding less tedious. If you have lines in your artwork, make sure the line weights are thicker so they stay on the carrier and don’t curl up when you are trying to heat apply. To cut your design in a continuous outline, make sure to merge separate elements together.
Regardless of the printing process you choose, there will always be some trial and error. But with the tips above, you now have a head start.
Click here to read the full article featured in the Fall 2017 edition of the SGIA Journal.