Artwork Basics for DTF Printing
Mike Ince

Artwork Basics for DTF Printing

Today at DTF Superstore, we will talk about a subject that comes up a lot. Some artwork basics for DTF printing. Whether it’s customers directly asking us or on social media, let’s face it, there are lots of unknowns with artwork. So let’s clarify what we can. By the end of this read, you should have a basic understanding of what will or will not work for your artwork needs.

First and foremost. A lot can be instantly learned by the file type you receive. You are either going to get a vector file or a raster file. For basic logos, typical company logos, school logos, we want vector images. If we get those, then we are good to go! Vector images can scale to any size, with zero distortion or pixelation. They will not get blurry or jagged. Raster images are a bit different. Once they are created, they need to stay that size, or smaller. Once you make them bigger, they lose quality fast. Now could you go from 10” to 11” without an issue. But you could not take a web thumbnail and size to print as a full-sized garment transfer. When using raster images, DPI comes into play. More on that below.

Right off the get go, let’s talk about the formats, in the real world applications.

File Types

JPEG - Probably most common. This is NOT a vector. Be careful. A lot of these are web images and if that’s the case, the odds are it is too low of quality to make a nice print right away. However, a true graphic designer, especially one that knows you are outputting to tees and print, can and will create this as a very high resolution image (300 DPI). If your jpeg is low quality, you will most likely need to “rebuild” or “redraw” it. Then at that point, it will probably be a vector image that you can output at any size desired. Jpegs do maintain a background. So if your client gave you a file with a black background, as is, that black background would print. You’d have to get rid of it if it was not meant to be there. Note JPEG is the same as a JPG.

.PNG - these are also not vector files, but raster. The main difference here is you can save these files with a transparent background, which is ideal. 24 bit is the option to use here when saving, not 8 bit, in order to preserve the transparency. 

.PSD - this is a photoshop document in its native form. This could be an ideal file if properly setup correctly. If it’s layered that could be a good thing. Then you can perhaps adjust or get rid of the background and you can also turn off layer effects such as glows and shadows, which sometimes are overdone or not friendly for printing to garments. Note, if the file was layered properly, you could go in, delete the background, and then export it as a png to send off to a printer. 

.EPS - there are many options and outputs we will see an eps come from. All of the mentioned programs on this page can create an eps. But depending on what program did the output, will determine whether you get a vector or raster image. If a client gave you an eps, you can open it in both photoshop and illustrator. If it’s a vector in illustrator, you're set. If you open it there and it’s not a vector, open it in photoshop and they may have maintained the layers here instead, giving you some options. 

.AI - you’ll be happy if you received one of these! Now you can scale your image to any size needed and you will be good to go. You can also easily edit the colors or arrangement. For example, if a customer gave you a 6 color logo and wants it to be just black and white, that will be easiest to do here. 

.CDR - a Corel Draw file. Not as common as it once was, but still out there. This is vector. The reason we mention it is because sometimes you will open what looks to be a vector in illustrator but if the artwork contains gradients that you can’t edit this is why. If the art doesn’t have gradients, then you don’t have to worry about this. But Corel draw will export to .ai, .eps, and .pdf. Sometimes one file type may work better over the other so you can remember that if needed. 

Other files type, that we try to avoid if possible: Old program files, files made in word, publisher, pages, mobile apps. This is not to say these won't work. They can be fine for referencing or a customer getting their idea out there, but be aware, there may be some preparing and redrawing to get the final to print nicely.

Now that you know about the file types, lets talk about the various and common programs that create these files for us.

Design Programs

Adobe Illustrator - all vector, all day. Probably the program we love the most. And the most flexible. You could size it exactly and export it as needed. Or even open as is (sized) in Photoshop and print away. 

Adobe Photoshop - this can be a very good program. But the key is to set the file up correctly. Photoshop is raster based, so it's imperative to set the art up properly from the get go. You would set this at 300 dpi, say 15” wide, into an RGB document. I say 15 inches because let’s just say it’s a max sized print. You can always scale down and keep quality, but not upscale. If you or someone else takes the time, these can be organized nicely as well via layers. For example, keeping text edible or changing the color of the text. Just like Illustrator. 

Affinity Design - A great combination of raster and vector design. Much of it can be garment design friendly. A very suitable option for those outside of the Adobe web or looking for a capable software at a good price.

Corel Draw - a vector based program, that has no problem getting the job done. Its not as popular as it once was, but it is a viable option. You can export to many formats, and even .AI, just remember if using gradients, export your final print file from here and finish all final edits here.

A Quick Chat About DPI

And finally, let us talk about DPI (might be known as PPI, pixels per inch, as well), which is dots per inch. The higher the number, the better the quality of the file in general. A computer monitor typically is known for having 72 DPI. Some displays push this high, such as Apple’s Retina Displays. Ignore that part for now. A good raster file will be sent to us at 300 DPI. But there’s a catch. These dimensions need to be at print size. So if I am printing a full front, then the ideal file is going to be 300 DPI, and 12 inches wide. We have received files higher than 300 DPI, this is overkill. So you can change the document and art file down to 300. This will also save on the file size. And you will not see a noticeable difference printing a 300 DPI image compared to a 500 DPI image. You would see a vast difference though printing a 72 DPI image compared to a 300 DPI image. Check out the screenshot below of 72 DPI vs 300 DPI. You will see the top 300 looks much better on screen. This quality for better or worse will reflect in print.

300 DPI vs 72 DPI

Artwork Basics for DTF Printing

Another option you will have when setting up artwork is picking your color mode. For us and what we/you do, we will use RGB most of the time in normal circumstances. RGB can display more colors. But you will want to verify things within RIP softwares and/or projects and if printing the same art via other print methods.

That's a lot of info we covered in a short amount of time! But if you learn the basics above of files types, what files are ideal, and DPI, you will be ahead of the game already! We hope you learned a thing or two for artwork basics for DTF printing! If you're all set on artwork, do you have all the supplies you need? Need more film?