It’s up to you to come up with the rock star t-shirts that everyone is going to be wearing at the hen’s party you’re arranging in the next couple of weeks! Or maybe you have to prepare the T-shirts for a conference? or the T-Shirts for your 5-aside football team.
Here’s the problem though - you have absolutely no clue as to what style to go for, the colours to use or even what sizes you’re aiming for.
Or perhaps you’ve just been given the task of coming up with the customised t-shirts that all the employees in your company are going to wear at the team building weekend coming up next month.
Truth be said, t-shirt design and printing is far more than just an art, it’s literally become a science what with the advent of new technologies and the development of new machinery that is revolutionising this industry.
So taking into consideration the aforesaid, we thought to come up with a guide that will explain how this market functions so that you have a better understanding of how custom t-shirt design is actually carried out and the different types of printing techniques that help achieve the final product.
The Design Process
1. Explore Concepts and Think Up Designs
Think of the actual t-shirt like a blank canvas. It is merely the foundation upon which everything else will be based.
The challenge is coming up with a design concept that can be adapted on to a shirt. This could mean having to work with a graphic designer or illustrator even that can come up with a few sketches – different variations – that can be mocked up on a photo of a model, printed out and placed on an actual t-shirt.
2. Don’t Over-Complicate Things
Sometimes the most successful design is the one that is the simplest. You may be tempted to create a decadent piece of art when in reality, you will probably be able to relay exactly what you want with something less than a masterpiece.
3. Remember Who You Are Designing For
Ah yes, probably one of the most critical points to keep in mind. If it’s corporate apparel you’ve been asked to arrange for, know that the design will have to adhere to a certain level of decorum. If it’s a hen’s party you are catering for – well – it’s obvious you pretty much have free reign in terms of humorous creativity.
4. Find a Good Printer
An art-worked t-shirt is ultimately only as good as the printer that is used to print it. As with most services, do your research. Use resources like AtYourService that has a pool of professionals in one central online location (as well as references) from whom you can acquire the information you want in order to make a properly informed decision as to who you will use.
The Print Process
Custom t-shirt printing is basically split into three different processes, screen printing, digital printing and embroidery.
1. Screen Printing
- This is a printing process utilising a mesh-based stencil to apply ink onto a substrate, whether it be T-shirts, posters, stickers, vinyl, wood, or other material (source).
- The standard programs that are most often utilised to create art for screen print are Adobe Ilustrator and Adobe Photoshop.
- Before opting to use this method, the artwork is reviewed in order to determine whether it will print well. Once this has been ascertained, an art proof requires to be produced to enable you to see a mock-up of the design on an actual garment.
- The process hereon forth becomes somewhat more technical, especially in terms of the application of colour. This is because each colour in the design needs a screen of its own to be put on press to be printed, a deconstruction of the art of sorts. The complexity of this colour separation procedure really depends on whether you are printing photographic or on the amount of colour rich graphics incorporated into the artwork.
- A film positive for each colour is produced once the art has been separated.
- A screen stencil is then created from the image on the film and this process is known as screen exposure. The film is then placed on a coated screen and exposed to high intensity light for a certain length of time, after which the screen is sprayed with water so as to get rid of the emulsion on the image.
- Once dried, the screen is prepped for the production run, during which the ink is prepared for the press operators which will then be pushed through the stencil on the screen and printed on the t-shirt.
2. Digital Printing
- Digital printing is otherwise known as direct-to-garment printing.
- It is normally known to be less expensive than screen printing being that the artwork is printed directly onto the garment being decorated using ink jet technology.
- Like screen printing, the artwork is reviewed prior to the printing process commencing to ensure that it has good printing capabilities.
- There will be occasions that an artist will have to touch up the design so as to end up with a print that is a close to the original as possible.
- The next stage of the process mimics the work of a regular office ink jet printer in that heads containing ink jets spray ink to recreate the digital image on the garment, which is then placed under a high temperature dryer to set the ink.
- With embroidery printing, the digital artwork that requires to be embroidered onto a garment is translated into stitches.
- The initial visual “draft” is in digital form and maps the stitches that will be used to embroider the particular graphic. This may or may not be followed up by an actual embroidered sample.
- What impacts the quality of the embroidered is the fabric on which it is printed on as well as letter size which means careful consideration needs to be given to these two factors prior to the selection of this printing method.
Ultimately, how you proceed in printing a specific design on a t-shirt is best left to be discussed with printing professionals who can advise you on what route to follow depending on the ultimate product you want to create. So get in touch, and start obtaining the information you need because as we mentioned herein already, the quality of the end-product all boils down to the experience of your printer. Period.