A Guide on How To Provide Art to a Screen Printer
How To Provide Art to a Screen Printer
John David Wilson
Owner of Rimshot T-Shirts

(This post has a nice addition to it since i first published this in 2018)  If you have money to burn, read no further.  This post is for those who know their way around a computer and want to save money when they provide their design to a screen printer.  Of course it is not all-encompassing but will provide enough info to make the process less stressful – and result in a better print.  Not to mention negate most if not all art charges.  So, here we go!  A list of How To Provide Art to a Screen Printer. side note: Need a screen printer?  Contact Rimshot TShirts.

Bitmap vs. Vector

There two types of files when providing art to a screen printer: Bitmap and Vector.  Below is a great video on YouTube by Anya Smilanick showing the differences.


99.9% of screen printers prefer (a lot REQUIRE) vector art files.  Typical apps used to create vector art are Adobe Illustrator, CorelDraw, and Adobe Acrobat.  If you have an app, such as Microsoft Word, that has the ability to export or save as a PDF, all art created within those apps will be vector. Here are the steps needed to avoid most if not all art charges: 1) provide the art at actual size.  There are many reasons why this is a good idea, so just trust me on this one. 2) convert all text.  In Illustrator this means the command “Create Outlines”; In CorelDraw it is “Convert to Curves”.  It is a good idea to ALWAYS provide your printer a PDF file.  The reason why is that your fonts will be embedded.  If you forget, or are unable to convert your fonts, a pdf will ‘remember’ the fonts you used.  Never, EVER, provide your printer a Microsoft Word or PowerPoint file (as mentioned before, save them as a PDF), because these apps will not even prompt the opener of the file that they do not have the fonts the creator of the file used.  So the elegant script font you used can end up being a kiddy cartoon font. 3) Make every color a spot color from the Pantone Coated or Uncoated Series.  It is easy to do this in CorelDraw and Illustrator but as of the date of this post apps like Word and Powerpoint cannot.  This is always a good idea because most apps by default create color using process color, which can be interpreted differently by other systems and monitors.  Your bright emerald green can end up looking like a dull forest green when printed. One of the main advantages of vector art is that it is scale-able.  So if the 3.5 inch wide left chest print needs to be a full front at 14.5 inches wide, you are good to go, not extra work needed. Of course there are tons of other tweaks but these are the main ones that will make your printer smile.


Fact: almost ALL images on the web are bitmap – and almost ALL are not usable.  Here is the most common ‘mistake’ made when art files are provided to a screen printer that results in art charges:  a file lifted from a website, a screen capture, a pic taken on your smart phone, etc. are all bitmap files.  Bitmap files are not bad, but in 99.9% percent of these instances the size of the image is small and it’s default is 72 dpi.  Example: you want to put your company’s logo as a large back print on a sweatshirt.  So you go to your website and right-click the logo’s image on your website.  This will ALWAYS result in art charges.  The reason why is that image might be 3 inches wide on the website and a bitmap @ 72 dpi is not scale-able.  A 3-inch wide bitmap blown up to 14 inches ends up looking like a fuzzy pixilated mess. Nowadays there are a lot of apps out there to create bitmap art.  Of course the flagship is Photoshop and recommended. 1) This step cannot be skipped: you must CREATE and provide the art at actual size.  It always breaks my heart when a creative high school kid makes a killer design in Photoshop but they started with a file that was 5 inches wide set at a low resolution.  All that work was wasted.  From the get-go start with a file at actual size at a dpi of no less than 300.  Use even higher dpi if there is very fine details.  In a nutshell: create a new file at actual size at no less than 300 dpi and create from there. 2) Unfortunately, bitmap files in most cases cannot be made better by just saving them in a higher dpi.  Example: a fuzzy 2-inch wide file set at 72 dpi saved at 12 inches wide at 300 dpi will STILL look bad; and will not be ready for production.  This also applies to imported/placed images into your actual size, high dpi file.  You cannot place a small, low resolution file lifted from the interwebs and hope for good results. 3) Not an accomplished artist?  do not fret.  Awesome high resolution files are available for purchase at sites like Shutterstock.  You can purchase an image, tweak the color, add fonts, etc. and end up with a good looking design that will also be good for production. 4) you do not have to worry about converting fonts like with vector files. 5) There are ways to provide bitmap files using spot color, but trust me: we don’t have the space here to cover it.

How To Provide Art to a Screen Printer
Tip: First find out the number of colors printed fits your budget.  Most screen printers can do 8 colors, some can only do 6, and a very rare few can do more.  There are some shops out there that can do 10-14! ($$$)
How To Provide Art to a Screen Printer
“Fact: if you provide a screen printer an image you lifted off a website, you will be paying them to recreate it.  It’s unfortunate, but what looks great on a website will not work for screen printing”
How To Provide Art to a Screen Printer
When you know your budget and are determining the number of colors you can print be sure to count this in your figuring: If you will be printing on a dark garment 99% of screen printers will require a white base.  This is because most screen printing inks are translucent and if they did not have a base the color would be very dim (ugly).  A white base ensures the colors will be vivid.  On very dark garments, such as black, most screen printers will require an extra white (often called a highlight white) if there is white showing in the art.  Again, this is because screen printing inks are translucent and a white unsupported by a highlight white will not be opaque, thus allowing some of the shirt to show through.  In a nutshell, when Providing Art to a Screen Printer, if printing on a medium to dark garment color, plan on making at least one of your colors white. (ex: a 4 color design when printed on an army green garment will need to be 5 colors)

Another option that is pretty awesome is that there are more than several online sites where it allows you to design your own stuff and then download it.  The best i have seen is Canva.  I would like to say up front if you are not artistically inclined, even with the tons of fonts and templates Canva provides, your final result may look a bit ‘clip-arty’.  But if you got some skills, this could save you a lot of money.  Do not mess with the free version; it only allows you to download bitmap versions of your designs and they will not be production-ready.  But if you get one of the paid plans, you can provide your screen printer art that is pretty much good to go.  Check ’em out @ https://www.canva.com/

So, there you go.  This is a great start on How To Provide Art to a Screen Printer.  If you follow even just a few of the steps mentioned here it can save you a lot of money.  Not to mention get a print that looks more like you designed it, especially if your screen printer does not have an in-house art department.  Speaking of a screen printer that has an awesome, creative in-house art department, and offers printing at very competitive pricing, try giving Rimshot TShirts a try!
“I am the best there is at what i do”
JOHN DAVID WILSON (and Wolverine)


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