The garment decoration industry offers many production methods such as screen printing, direct-to-garment printing, dye sublimation, direct-to-film transfers, vinyl cutting and more. However, each method has specific artwork requirements to get the best print. Understanding the basics of the different garment decoration methods and the artwork required will help you avoid any headaches during production.
Vector vs. Raster Artwork
Raster artwork, also known as bitmap artwork, is made up of small dots called pixels that form a continuous tonal image. Examples of raster artwork include photographs, and commonly used raster programs include Adobe Photoshop, Corel PHOTO-PAINT and Affinity Photo. We've all seen the evidence of somebody using a raster image that is too small on a website when you noticed the "pixelation." Typically, a raster image is used in a specific area with a predefined resolution - i.e. the quantity of vertical and horizontal pixels.
Vinyl cutting, for instance, requires vector files as it reads the file's paths and points to determine the cutting. On the other hand, screen printing can use either vector or raster artwork, but vector artwork with 1-3 colors is often favored for its cost-effectiveness. Full-color raster images can also be turned into grayscale and printed as a one-color design.
Digital printing, such as dye sublimation and direct-to-garment printing, can also use either vector or raster artwork, but raster artwork is preferred for its full-color potential. Vector images can experience banding or streaking due to print head clogging, but raster artwork, made up of multiple varying colors, can help camouflage the banding. Incorporating gradients and textures into large solid areas can further reduce the chance of noticeable banding.
Artwork specifications are essential to consider when creating designs for apparel decoration. Different decorating methods, such as DTG printing, dye sublimation, digital transfers, and vinyl transfers, have their own restrictions and specifications that need to be followed.
DTG (Direct-to-Garment) printing is the most lenient of all decorating methods. Cost is not affected by the number of colors, and the image does not have a heavy plastic feel, unlike other methods. DTG printing allows for the printing of white ink, making it possible to print on any color shirt. Designers can pretty much create any design they like, as long as they start with the proper size and resolution. However, it's essential to avoid large solid areas of color to reduce banding issues.
Dye sublimation is also relatively unrestricted, with solid areas of color being the only major consideration. Dye sublimation cannot print white ink, so the design must go on a white or light garment to ensure that the image is visible and white areas remain white. Coffee mugs, since the area is typically smaller than a t-shirt or poster, can typically use rater images with little to now problems.
Digital transfers, such as DTF transfers or white-toner transfers, allow for full color and white printing. However, these methods can produce a heavy feel and faded edges. To reduce the hand of a DTF transfer, incorporate cavities or openings in the design. By doing so, less material will be printed and pressed onto the shirt, making it more breathable and comfortable. DTF and white-toner transfers require all areas of the image to be large enough for adhesive to adhere to. Soft faded edges may not transfer well and can result in uneven or splotchy edges. To avoid this, designers can create a design with a hard edge or incorporate interesting shapes with textured edges.
Vinyl transfers also have size and space limitations. Heat-transfer vinyl is thick, and specialty vinyls, like glitter flake and flock, are even thicker. Designers should incorporate plenty of openings in the image to make it comfortable to wear. Line thickness and spacing specifications will affect the design process, with thicker lines making the production process quicker. Cavities should be minimized to speed up the weeding process. Designers should avoid long skinny points and round off sharp tips to avoid rolling up during the weeding process.
Screen printing is a complex printing method that requires a more involved process compared to vinyl transfers and digital decorating methods. However, it offers more artistic freedom as there are no restrictions on the artwork, unlike DTG. For instance, you can print on any color shirt by using a base white print. Additionally, you don't have to worry about faded edges, size limitations, or cavities as you do with transfers.
When using separated raster artwork, the final print has a lighter feel due to the halftones used in the separations, including the base white. On the other hand, if you use a vector image without black spaces, the base white becomes too solid and heavy. To resolve this issue, incorporate black into the image to break up the white base, since white ink isn't needed under black ink.
When creating vector artwork for screen printing, consider the following: how you will create separations, the type of registration (butt, trap, or gap), if you need to add strokes to your paths, what needs to be overprinted, if your colors are set up as spot colors, how you will set up your base white, and if you need to choke any colors or areas. By taking these factors into consideration from the start, it will make the production process smoother and quicker.
In conclusion, the choice of decoration method greatly affects the design process, especially when it comes to vector artwork vs raster artwork. Each method has its own unique advantages and limitations, and it's crucial to understand these factors when deciding on the appropriate decoration method for a specific project. Screen printing, for example, provides a more involved process but offers the flexibility of printing on any color shirt, while DTG is a quick and efficient method but requires certain specifications in the artwork. DTF, vinyl transfers, and dye sublimation printing also have their own respective design requirements. Understanding the differences between vector and raster artwork and how they work with various decoration methods is the key to achieving successful and visually appealing results.