Optimizing Art Files For Garment Production
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Optimizing Art Files For Garment Production

Regardless of the type of garment decorating you do, it is always important to set up and optimize your files properly prior to production, to make sure to get the best possible end product.

By Dane Clement, President, Great Dane Graphics

While there are some things that should be done specific to the different processes, there are other initial steps that should be taken for any type of process.

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  • To begin, you should always start with the proper image size and resolution. When creating a raster image - an image created using pixels (photographic style) - this is particularly true. If you start with a smaller-sized or lower-resolution image than you intend to print, enlarging it can cause blurring and pixilation. For that reason you should always start with the image at the size that you plan on printing. If you plan to use the image in various processes, make sure to create it at the size of the largest application you will be using.

    When it comes to resolution, generally, the higher the resolution, the cleaner and sharper the image will be. However, keep in mind that the higher the resolution, the larger the file size will be, which can make your computer run slower. For screen printing, the general rule is to use a resolution of two times the line screen you will be printing. So if you are using a 45-line screen, you would want a minimum resolution of 90 dpi. This being said, a minimum resolution of 150 dpi is suggested, but 300 dpi for any printing process is ideal. At this resolution, your image will be as sharp as necessary without going overboard, or leaving you with an unmanageable file size (Image 1).

    Always set up your initial file with a transparent layer. You don't want your artwork to be flattened on a background color. If it's painted on a background or flattened upon completion, when you go to separate your file for screen printing, or create a print for direct-to-garment or dye sublimation, the background color will end up printing on your garment as well, or show up in your separations. Having a transparent background eliminates the possibility of the extra, unwanted color showing up in your print (Image 2).

    Once your image is complete, there are some steps you should take to optimize your image, to make the colors as clean and pure as possible to get the best print possible. We use these steps all the time before we separate an image for screen printing, or set up an image for any other printing process. Following these steps will help make the process smoother and easier:

    1. Start with an RGB file. In Photoshop, go to Image>Adjustments>Selective Color. Change the "Colors" pop-down menu to "Neutrals" and change all the values to between three and eight (Image 3).

    2. Go to Image>Adjustments>?Hue/Saturation, and move the Saturation slider to the right. It can typically be moved anywhere within the zero to 45 range. Move it to the right as much as needed to saturate your colors without letting them become oversaturated and flat (Image 4).

    3. Go to Image> Adjustments>?Brightness/Contrast, and move the Contrast to five. If you have a newer version of Photoshop, you will see a "Use Legacy" check box; be sure to check it on (Image 5).

    4. Next, go to Image>?Adjustments>Levels. Holding down your Option Key (Alt Key on PC), move the black slider (on the left side of the Input Levels) to the right until you see black pixels on your screen. Then move the white slider (on the right side) to the left until you see white pixels on your screen. Here you are setting your black and white points in your image, and helping to reduce any "muddiness" in the colors of your layout (Image 6).

    5. Go to Image>Mode>Lab Color. Open your Channels palette, and click on the Lightness channel to select it (Image 7).

    6. With the Lightness channel selected, go to Filter>Sharpen>Unsharp Mask. Move the amount slider to the right. We can really crank up the sharpness, because we are only working with the luminosity of our image, not the color (Image 8).

    These steps, alongside the information presented can all be used when creating raster artwork for any type of process. There are, however, more things to consider, things specific to the different processes, meant to help you get the best product possible.

    Spot Colors & Separations
    When it comes to screen printing vector images, it's important to make sure that your colors are set up as spot colors. Vector images are created using paths and points to create various shapes that can be resized without affecting the quality of the image. Many times, people will have a one- or two-color vector image, and they will see the colors listed, but they aren't set up properly. This often occurs as a result of confusing spot colors with process colors; and instead of printing the two separations for the colors they want to print, they end up with four - cyan, magenta, yellow and black. By making sure the colors are set to spot, you will end up where you want to be - with one separation for each color to be printed.

    When you are printing separations, make sure your page is set up with the proper items, to help make set up on the press easier. We suggest creating your own registration marks. All programs have an option to use default registration marks, but these marks were created for offset printing, and are too small and hard to hold on screen. We suggest creating a larger mark with thicker lines that will be easier to see on the screen, making registration on press easier.

    Make sure, when you create your own marks, to colorize them with the registration color provided in your program. When you print, this color will then print on all of your separations.

    We also suggest the use of a greyscale bar, which you can create with individual squares. Each square will be filled with increasing values of the registration color, from five to 10 percent through 100 percent, in 10 percent increments. Having this bar on your films - when you go to print - will allow you to notice and correct any issues early in the printing process (Image 9).

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    When it comes to printing halftones, use a 45-line screen, at a 61-degree angle, with an elliptical dot shape. The 45-line screen provides a good size dot that is easy to hold. Smaller size dots can sometimes be hard to hold resulting in an inferior print. We use 61-degree angles instead of 45 or 90, because the rows of halftones at those angles often line up with the mesh, causing clipping of the dots and possibly causing a moiré pattern in your print. The nature of the elliptical dot is larger than a standard round dot, allowing for more ink to go down and aiding in a better print.

    Knowing this information about halftones is nothing if you can't print them. You want to make sure you have a printer that will allow you to print these larger size dots. Most printers can print halftones, but are defaulted for offset printing, which use a smaller dot size. If you use an inkjet printer for instance, you'll want to get RIP software that will allow you control over this. RIP software is the go-between from your computer to your printer, taking the information from the computer and feeding it to your printer so that it can produce the proper size dot at the angle you choose.

    When it comes to screen printing, printing a lot of colors can be costly, and some may not have the press capabilities to print an image with a large amount of colors. Don't let this hinder you from printing a cool looking layout using a raster image. If you have a full-color image that has been separated into several colors, check out each of the individual separations for the ones with the most defining information. You can create a nice one- to two-color image using those same separations (Images 10, 11, 12).

    Direct-to-Garment & Dye Sublimation
    The beauty of direct-to-garment and dye sublimation printing is the capability to print full color, and not have to worry like you do in screen printing. You also have the unique capability to print full color images in limited quantities. Sure, screen printers can print full-color images, and may have a leg up on these other processes when it comes to large-run orders, but the ability to customize and print very small runs is part of what makes these processes so appealing. This ability is so much more cost effective then screen printing, because of the time and cost it takes to set up the screens for short-run or single-shirt jobs.

    When creating an image for one of these processes, however, keep in mind that you don't want to create images with large areas of solid color (Image 13). While this isn't a problem for screen printing, for these types of digital printing, if a printhead nozzle becomes clogged, streaking can become apparent in large solid areas. If you incorporate gradients and textures into these areas, an issue with streaking or banding can be camouflaged much easier (Image 14).

    Heat Printing
    When heat printing, consider Print-Cut and CAD-Cut. Print-Cut gives you the ability to print full-color images, cut them out using a cutter, and heat apply them to your garment. CAD-Cut images use vector-style artwork, and can be cut out of a variety of types of materials such as foils, glitter flake, felt and many others.

    Regardless of which type you use, both require properly set up files in order to make cutting and weeding easier to achieve. When creating the cut line for your image, you want to make sure that the gaps or holes in your images aren't too small, so they are easy to weed. You also want to make sure the lines and shapes in your image are thick enough so that they don't pull up and break when weeded. We use a small, one-sixteenth-inch circle to judge the size of our segments. You want to avoid long skinny points, because they have a tendency to curl up. When creating your cut lines, you want to consider the final size of your image. You don't want to create an image at 10 inches, and then later reduce it for something three inches in size, because your gaps, line thicknesses and spaces will become too small for cutting. If you need both sizes, you may need to create two different images so that you have a more simplified version that will be easier to cut for the smaller size application (Images 15, 16).

    For Print-Cut images, unless you want a white gap around your image, you'll have to incorporate a bleed. When doing this, save your original version without the bleed, and create a duplicate file. That way, you still have both versions for whatever application may be needed. Make sure that the bleed is thick enough so that if the cutting is off for any reason, you won't have any white gaps showing (Images 17, 18).

    Once you have your cut line created, you need to make sure that it is colored properly. Most RIPs require a spot color with a particular name specification so that the cutter can read it.

    There are so many wonderful and different garment decorating applications out there, each with its own special purpose; as long as you properly set up your artwork, you should be able to create eye-catching garments with ease!

    Dane Clement is president of Great Dane Graphics, a stock art company and award-winning custom graphic design studio, which was purchased by Stahls' in 2011. Clement continues to run Great Dane, and serves as the vice president of creative for GroupeSTAHL. Clement has been speaking and writing for the decorated apparel industry since 1987. He is considered an expert on computer graphics and color separations for textile screen printing, dye sublimation, digital direct-to-garment and heat-applied graphics. He is the author of T-Shirt Artwork Simplified, a how-to book on creating artwork for decoration apparel.

    This article appeared in the SGIA Journal, Spring 2014 Garment Issue and is reprinted with permission. Copyright 2014 Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (www.sgia.org). All Rights Reserved.

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