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How to Prepare an Image for Screen Printing

Screen printing is the process of pressing ink through a stenciled mesh screen to create a sharp printed design. The process is sometimes called serigraphy or silk screen printing, but all these names refer to the same basic method.

This process is so popular that a whole range of different industries make use of products that have passed through the process. So even if you’ve never heard of the term before today, it’s likely that you’ve worn or used a screen-printed product at some point without even realizing.

Screen printing has carved a comfortable niche for itself because it is known to produce vivid colours, even on darker fabrics. The ink or paint also lies in layers on the surface of the fabric or paper, which gives the print a pleasingly tactile quality.

The screen printing technique is also favoured because it allows the printer to easily reproduce a design multiple times. Because the same stencil can be used to replicate a design again and again, it’s very useful for creating multiple copies of the same garment or accessory. This makes screen printing a very efficient technique for creating large batches of custom clothing for whatever reasons.

Printed items, especially Tshirts, are an ideal way to promote your business, organization or event. They are a promotional item that people can actually use, and they have the added bonus of being an advertisement for you.

Before an image is printed on a fabric through screen printing, the image has to be first designed and sized appropriately on a computer. Afterwards the correct dimensions are added and the image is sent off for printing. Here are the typical steps an image passes through before it is ready for screen printing.

How to Prepare an Image for Screen Printing

To prepare your image or art to go through screen printing, you have to follow these laid down steps.

  1. Prepare Your Art

Before you send your image off for screen printing, you have to first of all get it ready by imputing the appropriate sizing. All the files you want screen printed must be at least 300 ppi or Vector Format. If your file is not 300 ppi, you cannot just increase the resolution of the file. This is called “upsampling” and will result in a blurry image. If you are creating your file in Adobe Illustrator or another Vector-based software, just size your image to the size you want it to print.

2. Plan The Colours to Use

Colours are very important when screen printing as you have to use colours that will do justice to the image. If you already have the colours set out for you by the people that own the job, then you must have to plan how to mix the colors together so they can come out very pleasant. Planning out your color palette in advance is most helpful. If you create mock-up designs to test colors, it will drastically help any issues when it comes to printing time.

Choosing a color scheme is not as important when you have a piece of artwork that is already designed. Though it is helpful to think about what color of shirt you would like the design to be printed on. If your graphic is the same color as the shirt, this can be used to accentuate the design by utilizing the negative space in the middle of your print. Note that matching colors around the outside edge of your design will not be visible.

To guarantee maximum visibility, be sure to have contrast between the fabric and ink colors. If what has been already said makes you feel out of your depth, be sure to check out tools such as Adobe Color that can help your design be the best it can be.

3. Create Layers For Each Color

The most reliable way to produce an image for screen printing is to manually prepare it in Adobe Illustrator. Each of the three colors is going to form a separate artwork in a separate layer, using elements from the main image for each color. Using Layers does not affect how your image is output by your screen printer; it just makes it easier for you to work on.

Opening the vector artwork in Illustrator presents the graphic in Layer 1. Select the drop-down menu in the Layers window and select Duplicate Layer twice, to produce three layers of the same graphic; name the three layers after their respective colors, as this will help prevent confusion later on. Ensure the order of the colors is correct: the bottom layer is White; the next color layer is Orange; and the top layer is the Dark Red, which will be printed last, on top of the other colors.

4. Create A Temporary Background Color Layer

At this stage, if the artwork is being prepared to be printed on a dark t-shirt, then you must create a fourth layer for a temporary background color and name it Temporary Background. A rectangle is drawn the full size of the art board, and given a dark color; this layer will be removed later in the process. Drag the layer to the bottom of the layers, and Lock it. Each color of your artwork produces a separate screen, and the order in which the colors are printed is usually from the lightest to the darkest color.

5. Size Your Design

Your screen print image should be sized to the size it should be printed. If you want your print to be 10″ wide, please be sure the actual design within the file is 10″ wide, not just the background of your design file. Go to the T-Shirt Templates Page, download the appropriate template and place your design on the template to the size you would like it to appear on the shirt.

6. Remove Excess Objects From The Layer

The first layer to be worked on, is the bottom White layer. Hide the Orange and Dark Red layers by clicking the Eye icon next to their layers, and make sure the White layer is selected in the Layers window by clicking on its name. As the artwork layer was duplicated in full, all the objects of the graphic are on this layer; some objects must be removed, leaving the shapes that form the white outline of the rocket, the text, and the orange fan shapes used in the background.

7. Use Adobe Illustrator

If you have access to the Adobe Suite, then you should be using Illustrator to create your designs.

Always be sure to save your designs in vector format! Unlike other formats (JPEG, GIF, or BMP), vector images can be resized without sacrificing quality. This technique helps especially if you’re planning to print the same design across different materials such as business cards, postcards, t-shirts, and banners/billboards. If you save your design in this format, it will print clearly across all sizes.

When using other products, like Photoshop, you’re creating a raster-based application. This means you are pretty much stuck with the original dimensions. This can greatly affect the quality of the printing process and final product.

One tip to take not of is that you should always create your design at a larger scale and higher resolution than you need. You can scale art down without any issues, but not vice versa. It’s kind of like adding salt to your dish when cooking: You can always add more salt to the finished meal, but you can’t take it away if you add too much while you’re actually cooking.

If your artwork is hand-drawn and needs to be digitized, make sure that you have scanned your design at the correct resolution! Generally, if the drawing is actual size, then scanning at 300 dpi will produce the best end result. If your design has been drawn on a 50% scale, then scan your artwork at double the resolution which, in this example, would be 600 dpi.

8. Save One Copy for Yourself and Another for Print

Sometimes an issue comes up during printing that requires the artwork to be edited further. It’s important that when you submit your design that you save one copy that can be edited for yourself should any adjustments arise during the printing process.

Generally, these are the guidelines you need to follow to produce a viable print file:

If Using Illustrator:

  • Outline all fonts in black.
  • Embed raster links.
  • Save files as AI, EPS, or PDFs.

If Using Photoshop:

  • Rasterize text layers.
  • Merge any printable layers.
  • Save files as PSD, TIF, PNG, or PDF.

Note that, no matter which program you use, you should create separate layer on your artwork which represents your garment color (without flattening it!).


A lot of screen printers have different ways they get their images ready for printing, but listed above is the general format. Following this progression would ensure that you make no mistakes, but you also have to find out what the particular printer you are using needs and follow through with it.