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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Custom Screen Printing: Preparing Art Files for T-Shirts

I got a call from a printer this week saying a file I had submitted hadn’t passed preflight. Given my experience with printing and prepress, I was somewhat chastened, but after a discussion with the custom printing supplier, I went off and did my own research, and I learned something.

This is what happened, what I had initially submitted, and what I wound up submitting as the final art file. Hopefully my learning experience will make your life easier.

The Initial Art File

First of all, I don’t do a lot of design work anymore. I used to be an art director. Now I just design a few jobs a year. The one in question was a logo for a t-shirt, which is considered to be a promotional item. That’s the category as noted by this particular custom screen printing vendor.

The logo I had designed and prepared for printing (requiring two completely different mind-sets: one creative and one technical) consisted of three figures in 100 percent cyan above several lines of type and a rule. The type was to be printed in either cyan or black. Finally, a black rule line completely encircled the logo. No colors touched, so there would be no trapping issues.

I had been asked (by the printer’s rep at the online custom screen printing vendor) to provide the file as an EPS. This was the only requirement voiced when I requested the printer’s specs for the final art.

To be safe, and based on my prior experience over the years, I prepared the art file in Adobe Illustrator. I still depend on Creative Suite 5. I find it perfectly usable, so I have not moved to the subscription-based Creative Cloud applications. I had initially created the logo in InDesign (because I am most comfortable designing a job within this software) to show the client, so this Adobe Illustrator file was a re-creation of the initial art to facilitate the custom screen printing.

I had ensured the correct and consistent use of color (only two colors), and I had converted all type to outlines (but with a “fill” only and no “stroke”). However, since I had initially created the three figures above the type in Photoshop (as bitmapped art), I left them in this format. The TIFF file I had placed was of exceptionally high resolution (and I had even reduced its dimensions slightly), so I was not worried about jagged edges, even though it was a bitmapped (or “raster”) file and not a “vector” file. (That is, the image was not composed of mathematical descriptions of curves and angles; it was a matrix of dots.)

Unfortunately the screen printer rejected the art, asking me to “vectorize” all elements of the logo (the three figures as well as the type).

The Revised Art

Since I don’t do a lot of design work anymore, I quickly gave up on Adobe Illustrator’s auto-trace function. Not because it is deficient in any way. I just wanted to do what I was used to doing. So I placed the Photoshop image (the three figures) in Illustrator and started tracing them using Bezier curves. The image was relatively simple, but this got old fast. It was slow, tedious work.

I also knew from experience that you could use Photoshop to select portions of a drawing (using the “magic wand”) and then convert the selection to “paths.” Adobe had developed this function to ensure that artwork and type would have crisp edges.

I selected the three figures in Photoshop, saved them as a selection and then as a path. Then I copied and pasted the path into Illustrator. Initially it had all the “points” showing it had been converted to paths (Bezier curves), but it had no color (neither the outline, or “stroke,” or the contents, or “fill.” So I set the stroke to none and filled the paths with 100 percent cyan.

At this point I knew that nothing in the logo file would be bitmapped, and everything would be vector art.

Initially I saved the three figures as a single EPS file, which I placed in the Illustrator logo file. Then I thought better. I remembered that in the past, printers had warned designers against “nesting” one EPS file in another EPS file.

Whether or not this is still a problem, I’m not sure. So I played it safe. I copied the three figures from one Illustrator file and placed the image (and all control points, which were still visible on the outline path of the art) in the Illustrator master file for the logo: all of one piece, with no nested EPS files.

We’ll see what will happen next and whether I’ll receive another call from the custom screen printing vendor.

What We Can Learn From This Experience

Here are some thoughts:

    1. Not all printers do things the same way, or use the same equipment, so their requirements for final art will often differ. (In fact, I had created another version of the same file with both bitmapped and vector art for three signs. They had been printed without incident.)


    1. In the case of the t-shirt screen printer, I had asked for specs for the final art, but I had not received explicit enough instructions. My advice is to save yourself time and trouble. If you can do so, either check the vendor’s website for explicit file creation instructions or talk with a technical rep (not necessarily just a customer service rep) at the printer. There are some general rules (for instance, most printers would prefer that the type letterforms be converted to outlines). Some printers want PDFs. Some want editable, native Illustrator or InDesign files. This printer wanted only an Illustrator EPS file. It never hurts to ask.


    1. Getting a call from a printer is not unusual. I recall at one point in my career when printers were saying that 80 percent of files had errors. That may or may not be the case now (it may be much lower), but it does happen a lot. Think of it this way. Prepress is complex. There are many variables and many options, so it’s much easier to get something wrong than to get everything right. A preflight check is like a proof. It’s an opportunity to identify and eliminate errors.


  1. Also, it’s better to receive a call and need to resubmit an art file than it is to have a flaw printed on hundreds of t-shirts.

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