In this tutorial, I show you how to separate colors to prepare your art for screen printing. In the video, I use Adobe Illustrator, but you can follow along and learn the basics even if you use CorelDraw, Inkscape or any other vector app.
If you have a multiple color design that needs to be screen printed, this is an invaluable skill to have. I show you how to use registration marks, separate the colors and convert everything to the right black for printing onto transparent films. I even show you lots of tricks and keyboard commands in Adobe Illustrator that you can use in other graphic design or illustration projects, saving you tons of time.
If you’re selling t-shirts, you probably already know how to figure out your profit margins. It’s the simplest thing you can calculate, you just subtract the cost of the shirts from the selling price. Boom, there’s your profit.
But wait! There’s more.
Did you ever think about factoring in things like returns, credit card fees or packaging costs? I hope you didn’t just hear a wah-wah-wah-wahhhhh trumpet sound. It’s okay, we all learn something new every day. Those costs are annoying and bring your profits down, but you really do need to consider them.
A while back, I wrote a series of posts about how to get t-shirts printed. There were posts about apparel and fabric, different types of printing, what designs work best on different types of tees, really juicy stuff like that.
Don’t go looking for them, they’re gone. I took them down (gasp!). Instead, I thought that having all that info in one place would be super helpful. So I combined them into a simple guide that covers all the bases about getting screen printed shirts. Besides, I tightened up the writing and added some new tips to make it even more valuable.
Years ago, when I started selling t-shirts online, I would’ve loved to get some secrets to help me sell more t-shirts. I would have saved a ton of money and lost less sleep.
So if you’re about to start an apparel brand, get t-shirts printed for an event, or just want to geek out on all the things that go into making t-shirts, this is for you.
It’s called Amazing T-shirts on a Small Budget: Learn How to Save Money on Your Printed Apparel and I worked really hard on making it for you. I know it’s going to help you get started, or if you’ve already been going for a while, give you some fresh, new secrets.
If you want the secrets, they are yours. Just enter your email address below. When you confirm that you’re a real human signing up, you’ll get a direct link to the guide. Your email address will never be shared. We’re vegan. We hate spam.
Designing and selling t-shirts is super easy! Just ask anyone who has ever stood in a sun-facing booth at an outdoor festival and watched 1,000 people walk right past their apparel without a glance.
Okay, it’s not always that bad. At least it doesn’t have to be. Some of our best apparel clients have been through those hard times and also had total sellout days. Business is fun! Yay, we are businessey!
Thankfully, there are several ways to increase your chances of designing apparel that sells. Here I’m going to focus on a few of the most crucial considerations. If you spot a theme, it’s because the common denominator in all this is to design with the apparel in mind.
Here are some things to be thinking about when designing for your apparel:
Fabric, Fabric, Fabric!
Screen printing on 100% cotton is a dream. If the garment is made well, it’s the best canvas for textile printing. It lays flat, it’s smooth, not too stretchy. It also feels great to wear.
These days it seems everyone wants some sort of blend. Blends are fine, but you should take into consideration that special inks and processes need to be used. This is because the dyes in polyester and other synthetics will release when heated to a high temperature (like when curing ink). What can happen is the dye will seep through the ink after curing, making the image look faded (called “dye migration”). Thankfully, there are special inks that cure at lower temps. Every time a screen printer prints on a new fabric blend, they need to test the print to make sure there won’t be dye migration and it won’t wash out. Keep this in mind when designing your apparel and understand the process will take longer if you want it to be right.
Also consider that the airy lightness of a blended t-shirt can be wasted if you print a huge, blocky design on it. We always recommend designing in finer lines and utilizing design that need less ink coverage.
Here’s a little fabric secret the manufacturers don’t advertise. Polyester doesn’t really breathe and it stains easily. So while that multi-blended tee feels so gooey soft in your hands it will:
make you sweat on a warm day
keep those armpit stains locked in
There’s a reason they wear cotton in the Middle East.
Hoodies and Buttons and Zippers, oh my
Any time you have a raised object on a garment, like a button, zipper or even a thick seam, it becomes a problem to solve for your screen printer (this is why we drink). Screens are flexible, but only to a point. So when the squeegee has to run over the top of a zipper, or really close to a button, it’s difficult to get an even, consistent print through the design.
The good news is, there are solutions for these things. For one, your printer can use a padded platen that has a hollow space to allow the objects to sink in, letting the squeegee run right over them, easy like Sunday morning. Even so, it can be a more time-consuming process, so allow for that and be receptive to suggestions on how to get the best results.
Making hoodies? Awesome. Find a good hoodie and design for it. Sure, you can throw any ol’ design into the middle of a zipper, but there are more fun things to do in life.
What’s the big deal about white ink on dark garments?
Printing white on dark shirts is always a challenge and it takes an experienced screen printer to get it right. While there are super bright white inks that show up well on dark garments, the printer will likely need to make two passes (two layers) to get that beautiful, bright white. This adds time to the process, because they will lay down one layer of ink as a base, “flash” it (cure just enough so it’s dry to the touch), then add a second layer before the final, full cure.
Tip: If you’re going for a vintage look, one pass of white can look awesome.
Another thing to consider when printing white on dark is the level of detail in your design. Tiny details that would show up perfectly in dark ink on light garments can get wiped out with white ink. When laying down that second layer of ink, those tiny details can get thicker and become a little mushy. If you’re super protective of those tiny details in your design, consider printing dark ink or doing a vintage look with one pass.
That old joke about size
Why does size matter? In screen printing, a screen is made for each color in an image. If you’re printing in just one color, only one screen will be needed. However, as soon as you ask for a different size, a new screen must be made.
When determining the best size of a design for our clients, we make a recommendation based on the smallest tee we’ll be printing. That size will then be used for everything from small to 3XL. You can imagine that the image can look a wee bit tiny on that 3XL. Consider whether you’ll be fine with that or will prefer a larger size for those big shirts.
These are only a handful of tips and I will share more in the future. Again, I hope you caught my theme here, which is to design for the apparel you’re going to have printed. In some cases, your design will work fine on multiple garment types, so you just want to be conscious of your options.
As always, ask your burning questions in the comments below and I’ll answer. You can also reach out on twitter, facebook or just email firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re here to help.
This is one of those great questions that never seems to have one simple and consistent answer. Consider this. If an extra-terrestrial beamed down and asked, “How much do humans weigh?” your answer would probably start with, “Well, it depends…”
Then again, if an extra-terrestrial asks you how much humans weigh, I would be seriously worried about motive.
Getting back to reality, how much do t-shirts cost? Well, it depends, and I write about this in more detail in my book, Amazing T-shirts on a Small Budget. Some of the variables involved are:
What style and brand of t-shirt?
How many colors in the design?
How many locations do you need printed (front, back, sleeve…)?
That’s just for starters. This is the main reason it’s so much better to explain what you want in detail so your printer can figure out the best value for your needs. It’s a little more work for all of us, true. If you want to save work, you can go to one of those internet sites where you just choose a style, punch in your numbers and get a price right away. That’s cool. Easy. But is it the best price you could get? Are the shirts the best style for your design? Will your crew be comfortable wearing those shirts in the hot sun all day long?
Those are more variables that an online pricing calculator won’t consider or help you understand. Pssh, robots. They’re worse than extra-terrestrials with a hidden agenda.
Rock Bottom Prices
Here’s something to think about, a little scenario that happens to many of our clients before they come to us. Let’s say you get 50 shirts for your event marketing team at the cheapest, rock-bottomest price anywhere. It’s almost like they’re paying you to get your shirts printed. Yay!
Then… your staff hates them. They’re too tight (or too baggy, too itchy, too blue, too…whatever). They’re hot (polyester doesn’t breathe well, and now you know). Your boss says you have to order 50 new shirts for your staff. In the long run, how much did you save on your rock-bottom pricing?
Seriously, my heart aches when I hear stories like this. I feel for the people who have to make these decisions for their entire crew, or even an apparel line. It’s not as easy as it sounds!
Jeez Louise. Just ballpark it for me, Sparky.
Okay, maybe you just need a rough estimate of how much your printed shirts will cost. The boss wants to know. Your husband/partner/committee wants to know. Are we spending $500 or $2,000? In that case, most print shops will be able to give you quick costs for a sample shirt, broken down by quantity. Of course, the more details you can give about your potential order, the more accurate the pricing will be.
If it sounds too good to be true…
Be careful about those shops that advertise insanely cheap prices on a sign. I drive all around L.A. and notice those “$1.99 tees!” signs. They can be so tempting. When you dig deeper, you usually find that means $1.99 for all-white Hanes tees (Mens sizes only), printed in one color, minimum 500. Then there are screen fees added on. Then graphic design fees, and so on. And you don’t need 500 tees, you only need 150. Pretty soon your per shirt price is up to $8.00, which is about the same as anywhere else – for better quality shirts, no less.
Pricing Secrets Revealed – Tonight at 11!
Want the lowest price possible on tees? Of course you do! It’s actually pretty easy to get.
Don’t be stingy with your info. Tell your printer as much as you can about what you need right up front.
Don’t just compare cost, look at the whole package. Is it apples to apples?
Is the cost too high for your budget? Be honest! Ask your printer what they recommend. A good screen printer will be happy to help you figure it out.
T-shirt pricing is more art than science. There are some formulas, but the best pricing comes when you ask lots of questions and stay open to suggestions. And remember, a good printer will never ask how much humans weigh.
This updated unisex essential fits like a well-loved favorite, featuring a crew neck, short sleeves and designed with superior combed and ring-spun cotton that acts as the best blank canvas for printing. Offered in a variety of solid and heather colors.
This shirt feels super soft to wear, it’s light (4.2 oz) and it’s 100% ringspun, airlume cotton. I love 100% cotton because it’s easy to maintain and breathes better than many blends. Plus, it looks fantastic on me. They don’t mention that on their website, but it’s true. Actually, this shirt looks good on every person we’ve sold it to or printed for. It’s just a great choice of tee when you need something that fits a wide range of bodies.
They also have some fantastic color choices in this tee.
For some reason, the pale yellow (pictured) feels a tiny bit lighter and easier to wear than darker colors like black or orange – but I allow for my imagination to have taken over here because I love the color so much. Some of my favorite printed Bella tees of ours are black.
The counterpart for the 3001 is the Ladies 6004. It’s basically the same shirt, but with slightly shorter sleeves and a tighter fit. Even so, the unisex t-shirt looks great on feminine bodies, which I can’t say for many other brands where frumpy seems to be an okay standard. This one I can actually suggest and still sleep at night.
If 100% Made in America is important to you, you’ve got options. They also have the 3001U, which is the same shirt but 100% made in the USA. There are fewer color choices, but maybe you can sleep better at night. Still, their policy on only working with overseas factories who don’t use sweatshop conditions makes me feel good about the brand in general.
This is a super value shirt, which is another reason I recommend it to our custom print clients. I believe it’s the lowest-priced shirt in the Bella+Canvas brand and for the money it’s far superior to brands like Gildan or Jerzees.
There are also some reasons I love this tee that only have to do with the screen printing process. These shirts are super easy to print on. First, they’re light (4.2 oz), so getting them on and off platens, folding back into boxes and all the other handling we do doesn’t make us feel like our arms will drop off after a run of 50. They also have a tight weave, so the ink goes on smooth like buttah.
We also have very few loose strings, holes and sewing weirdness when we get the blanks in our shop. Their consistency in quality is nice to rely on. We have had some issues with certain colors (you know, the exact ones we needed at the time) being out of stock at Bella and all our third-party vendors, which can be frustrating. So we have to be cautious about recommending it to customers, making sure we get their order in sooner than later.
So let’s sum up:
This shirt looks great on me
We get great printing results
It looks great on just about everyone
Super Duper great value
I realize that I don’t really have anything negative to say about this t-shirt. I decided to start off our t-shirt reviews with our favorite tee. Coincidentally, it’s also the one I look best wearing.
Questions? Just email email@example.com. We’re listening!
Is that a weird question? I mean, after all, it says, “vegan” on it. Of course it’s vegan. It’s right there in the phrase.
Yup, I get it. Except I’m not talking about the message printed on the shirt. I’m asking what’s behind the printing of that shirt.
Is it vegan?
Before we get into some answers, let’s think about a situation we can all relate to.
You’re at a restaurant and you ask your waitperson if your selection is vegan. They pause, consider, and say, “Uhh, yeah. Sure. I think so. Hmmm. Probably.”
How do you feel about that? Kind of… annoyed? Frustrated?
That’s often how Jenni and I feel when we see someone selling t-shirts plastered with a catchy vegan phrase and ask, “Is your printer vegan? Do they use vegan inks or sustainable methods?” and we’re met with blank stares – or worse, total apathy.
Annoyed. Frustrated. Somewhere a unicorn just died.
Even as we clench our fists and mourn mythical creatures, we’d much rather educate than berate. Better results, ya know? Besides, we’re not perfect. We do our best. Caring is numero uno.
Hopefully, you’re one of those vegans who really does care about more than how much cash they can make in the vegan marketplace. As plant-based eaters, I believe we’re also default environmentalists. If we’re going to put our message out there for the world to wear, we should at least try to move in the right direction.
For you, Caring Vegan, I’ve jotted down some information that will help prepare you for your next run of vegan tees. Read on!
No Worms Were Harmed in the Silk Screening Process
We can clear our consciences right off the bat with this little nugget. In silk screening, also known as screen printing, a mesh screen is used as a stencil to push the ink through. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, the screens were made of silk. As you might have already guessed, silk is not vegan. Oh no! What to do?
You can chill on this one. The good news is that, these days, screens are made from nylon, not silk. The term silk screening is still used, because, well, we’re used to it. Also, nylon screening doesn’t sound as artsy-fartsy.
Now that we know the worms can relax, let’s move onto inks. Are they vegan? Are they safe?
Are Screen Printing Inks Vegan?
Now and then, we get this question from some of our lovely customers. I wish more people would ask (or care). In fact, one of our customers spent time calling around Los Angeles with that question, only to be disappointed by printers who either couldn’t or wouldn’t answer. Sound crazy? We thought so.
Thankfully, there’s a simple method we use to find out if the ink we want to use is made with animal products or tested on animals. You ready for this? We call the manufacturer.
Mmm-hmm. Yup. That’s it. Even better, we get answers. Sometimes we have to wait on hold while they find their chemical engineer, or we have to rephrase the question. A lot of people don’t immediately understand what “vegan” would mean, so we educate them and ask more specifically about whether or not the ink contains any part of an animal. We’ve always received informative, respectful answers. It’s just that simple.
So if you ask your printer if they use vegan ink, they may not know what you mean. Hey, that’s okay, this is your opportunity to educate them. If you explain nicely, rephrase your question and they give you flack (or don’t know), consider going elsewhere.
Soft Hand, Cold Heart
So you’re at your local vegan fest, festing it up with your jackfruit tacos and all the Soy Dream you can handle, and you find yourself at a vegan apparel booth. Wow, those are some sick vegan tees. So soft, and you can’t even feel the print. You just gotta have one!
Hold up there. Before you plunk down your vegan cash, let’s talk about how those t-shirts are printed. To get a really soft hand like that, screen printers use either water-based ink (we’ll get to that in a minute), or possibly a method called discharge printing. Essentially what a discharge print does is bleach the dye out of the shirt, then a water-based ink is applied for color. What’s the problem?
Discharge inks are highly toxic. There’s formaldehyde and a whole cocktail of other chemicals that you’re not supposed to breathe while printing (or ever). Why should you care about what some screen printer is breathing? Well, that bleaching cocktail at some point not only vaporizes into the air, some of it gets washed down the drain. Where does it go? Some of it gets filtered and sent back to you as tap water. Some it goes out to the ocean, unfiltered. Some of those animals that you fight so hard to protect live there, remember?
Recently, there have been developments in discharge printing that allow for an enzymatic process. That means “natural” enzymes are used to bleach out the dye rather than toxic chemicals. Still, there a couple things we need to consider:
The dye from the shirt is still released somewhere. Where did it go?
What constitutes a “natural” enzyme? Where do they come from? Animal source? Do you know?
If we’re going to demand that people not use animal products, we should demand to know how that vintage-feel t-shirt is made. It affects both our environment and the animals.
Water Based Ink is So, Like… Sustainable, Man
Water-based printing is great. It looks good, it feels good on the shirt, it even sounds really environmental. After all it has water in it! That must be awesome! The assumption is that, unlike plastisol-based printing, it’s the best thing for the environment. Why, just take a sip of this water-based ink, it’s delicious. *disclaimer: don’t do that.
So now you understand that water-based ink is not just water and harmless color made from unicorn breath, it’s actually made with solvents and other chemicals. Not that plastisol ink is chemical-free, but the cleaning methods are very different (and the way we do it, sustainable). Water-based printing can be done sustainably, so knowing how things should be done will help you choose wisely.
What About the Shirts?
Well, thankfully, most shirts are typically cotton or synthetic and no animals are used. However, there are no innocents in textile manufacturing. Virtually every method affects our world in some way. Here’s a great source of information on the different fabrics and their impact on the planet: http://www.greenchoices.org/green-living/clothes/environmental-impacts
Vegans Are Environmentalists
As you can see, no t-shirt printing method is 100% perfect for the environment. It’s about making an educated, conscious choice. You can’t please everyone, but having solid answers for your customers is a pretty big deal.
If you care about the environment and the animals, it’s worth asking your screen printer about their methods. If they can’t (or won’t) answer your questions, it’s the same as a waiter not telling you if your meal is vegan or not.
You wouldn’t accept that, so why accept anything less than vegan and environmentally-friendly screen printing?
If this post was helpful to you, I send out content regularly to help you navigate the t-shirt biz. Subscribe and you’ll get regular updates, plus a free copy of my book, Amazing T-shirts on a Small Budget!
Who loves to color? Ooh, oooh, oooh, we do, we do!
If you love to color and you want to turn a blank or printed tee into your own work of artistry, you’ve come to the right place. I’m going to show you how easy it is to color a t-shirt with fabric markers. How easy is it? Super easy.
Here are the supplies you’ll need:
Thin cardboard (letter-size or larger)
The Printed T-shirt
For the purposes of our tutorial, I chose one of our own white tees with our famous Vegan Zombie printed in black. You can use any t-shirt you want, really. Go thrift store hunting if you want to do it on the cheap! Sometimes we find some pretty interesting stuff that begs to be decorated. You can also dig something out of your closet, or if you’re cheeky, your roommate’s closet. Just make sure it’s clean. Even a new t-shirt will work best if you wash it once before coloring.
Helpful Hint: If you use someone else’s shirt, make sure they are not wearing it at the time. Although in certain situations, that might be fun.
In our house, finding cardboard is easy. There’s always some kind of cardboard available, if it hasn’t already been taken by our 8-year old to build a Bionicle diorama. A cereal box works great (take out the cereal first). If you don’t eat cereal (what’s wrong with you), you can use a cracker box, the back of a notepad or cut up one of those boxes from your latest Amazon order. You just want something large enough to fit behind the area you’re coloring. If you have a small piece you can move it around as you go. No biggie.
The Fabric Markers
You can find Fabric markers in most craft stores like JoAnn, Michaels and Ben Franklin. You can also get them online. Most markers are about the same in how they work, so don’t sweat that too much. Try to find ones with fatter tips to start out. If you’re coloring a large area you’ll start to get cranky using a fine tip. Not that I would know, of course. Call it… intuition.
Get yourself set up in a well-lit area with a nice, clean, flat surface. I usually pour myself some sort of cocktail before starting, but you can substitute cocoa, tea, or I hear some people even drink water. Let me know what that’s like.
Put your cardboard piece inside the shirt (not behind it). This keeps any ink from getting through to the back side.
When you start to color, you’ll notice the color going onto the shirt is a lot lighter than the cap. That’s okay. It might look like your marker is running out of ink already, but it’s not. You’re coloring on fabric which soaks up a lot of ink, hence the cardboard. Fill an area with color, then let it dry for a few minutes. Go over it again and you’ll notice that it’s much darker now. Yay!
Let it Dry, Already!
If you’re like me, you’ll put your shirt on right away and go parading around like you just invented cereal. While I can’t fault you for this, I do recommend that you let it sit overnight to dry completely. I guess you could use a hair dryer if you’re in a hurry, but I haven’t lab-tested that as of this writing.
Here’s how mine turned out. I really loved doing this because I could add shading and make my Vegan Zombie design look more hand-drawn and sketchy.
You can see that the color is not particularly dense. I left mine this way, but you could always let it dry, then go back over it again to darken the colors.
In the side-by-side below, you can see that our full color screen printed version is much brighter and darker with lots of flat color. This is what I love about doing this crafty coloring project, no two t-shirts will be the same, even if I colored them myself.
I Want to Do This RIGHT NOW!
It does look exciting, doesn’t it? Like I said, if your significant other, partner, brother or roommate has a t-shirt that looks like it would be fun to color, that’s the quickest route. But since you have to live with them afterwards and you still need to go out and get markers, why not pick up something new (or used)? You’ll sleep better.
I hope you have fun with this. Let me know how it works out for you!
Watch the video above, or if you’re pressed for time, read below!
Screen Printing Basics
Screen printing is a very old and really simple process. A stencil is made with your design on a mesh screen. When the screen is placed on a press, ink is pushed through the mesh only in the open areas of the stencil, where it sits on the t-shirt (or paper). The ink is then cured with heat so it will last through lots of washing and wearing.
Screen Printing Multiple Colors
When a design has more than one color, the colors in the design must be separated so that each can be printed individually. This is different from your desktop inkjet printer, where the colors are all mixed together inside the machine.
Once the colors are separated digitally, a screen is then made for each color. On the press, an ink color is chosen for each color in the design and printed one at a time.
You can always ask us any questions and we’ll explain anything about the screen printing process and how it affects your apparel. Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 818-835-2585.
My 6-year old son will ask me if he can watch a movie. Not once. Not twice. Not a few times. He will ask me continually, for hours, until he gets the answer he wants, which is supposed to be, “Yes! You can watch a movie RIGHT NOW.”
Eventually that’s the answer, because it becomes too much trouble to keep saying, “I’m thinking about it.” At some point I have to start thinking about other things – or at least pretend that I am.
His ability to not take “No” for an answer is partly inherent and partly learned. Partly inherent, because I think all children are born with the intuitive gift of wearing parents down. Partly learned because I almost always allow myself to get worn down and eventually give in, which he knows.
Don’t Sell Like a Child
In sales and marketing, it doesn’t work the same way. Sure, you can wear people down until you get a response, but it’s not usually the response you want, which is “Yes, I’ll buy/try/attend.” Instead of wearing people down so they give in, you end up annoying them so they hang up, unsubscribe or avoid you.
I’ve experienced this in retail from the time I was a teen, working at the mall. We were pushed to attack all customers coming in, pestering them until they bought something or left. “Can I help you?” was never enough. We had to employ religious cult tactics, continually asking leading questions (Are you looking for a poster? A framed print? Is it a gift?), never accepting “I’m just browsing” as an answer.
Which was perfectly wrong, because we chased a lot of people out of our store.
The perfectly right thing to do is to leave browsers alone and let them browse all they want. Browsing isn’t the opposite of buying, it’s a gateway to buying.
Remind them you are there to help every now and then. Eventually, they will know what they want and they will more likely come to you to get it.
Thrilling Your Customers
You can read about this in more depth in my book, Thrilling Your Customers, now available for Kindle, ePub, PDF and in paperback.