Creating Clean Artwork and Design for Screen Printing

There are lots of ways to create art for screen printing. Here at Evan Webster Ink we love the untraditional ways (because of their character and authenticity). But the vast majority of the artwork we use for screen printing t-shirts is made on the computer using programs like Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator. Preparing artwork for screen printing is different from any other type of design. Even professional graphic designers sometimes have trouble with it. So here’s a quick primer on how to create artwork that’s clean and screen-print-ready using Adobe Illustrator.

This post is technical and requires fluidity with Adobe Illustrator. Luckily, we are happy to do all this work for you, if needed. This is done for free or at a nominal cost, depending on the complexity and quality of the original artwork. Here we go:

This is the artwork we’re trying to get. It represents grey ink being printed on a black background/t-shirt.

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The original artwork is super important because it is used to create the transparency which is used to make the screen which the ink physically passes through to create the print on the final t-shirt. But it all starts with the original design.

Your goal when creating artwork for screen printing is to make a design that contains a single compound path/shape for each color of ink you want printed. This is necessary to make transparencies which accurately reflects the artwork. I select each color, change the fill color to black and print it. So, removing clipping paths, strokes, and/or unnecessary colors is important. To keep things simple, we’ll work through a one color design. Here’s a real-world example from a project I did with CrossFit Bridgewater.

We start out with an original image of two swords made using strokes and fills.

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Below, you can see the shapes of the vectors.

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We selected everything and then clicked Object>Expand. Next, with everything still selected we clicked Effect>Pathfinder>Merge. This process removes all strokes and then creates separate Mixed Objects/Compound Paths for each color. You can see that compared to the previous image there are less points and lines.

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This is getting good, but we need to remove the white color because we only want to print one color of ink, grey (remember that black is the background color that represents the t-shirt color).

So, we select the white color using the Window>Magic Wand tool.

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Once selected, we delete all the white color. We’re left with only grey, as you can see below.

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We’re basically all done. You can see that when we deselect the object it is just how we want.

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This is great because we can now select all the grey and hide the black background. This is exactly what we need to print the transparency!

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This is used just to make the transparency. Once the screen is made we’ll use grey ink to get the desired effect!

We hope this helps you prepare artwork for screen printing. As mentioned earlier, we’re happy to help you out with this or even do it for you! Get in touch if we can be of any help!