Apparel Graphic Academy

How to create Artwork for Screenprinting

Artwork for Screen printing

This is Erik from Northwest Custom Apparel.  Again, let me preface by saying that this is a synopsis and in no way does this encompass the full scale of skills and knowledge that’s needed in order to produce artwork for screen printing.  Let’s note at this time that it’s very important to have your artwork properly set up for screen printing.

Summary of Art work

At this time we are just going to do a brief summary of what it takes to get a basic three color job set up and how to get your artwork set up for that.  Let’s begin by looking at something that we call a color composite.  This would be your design in full color set up the way that you want it to finally appear on your shirt.  This is a three color, you see you have the green, you have the gray and then there’s also a black outline.  This is a simple three color with minimal registration.


Screen Printing is limited in it’s reproductive capabilites

It’s important to note at this time that screen printing is limited in its reproductive capabilities in that it is not able to produce continuous tones.  If you want to produce continuous tones, you’ll need to create what is called a half tone or a gray scale.  This is very similar to newsprint, if you’ve ever noticed the big black and white photographs that they have in newspapers.  They have dots, they’re all made up of little dots.  That’s how screen printing reproduces continuous tones is through dot.


There are two processes with that.  There’s the four color process and half toning which can be combined with spot colors.  This is called a spot color because we’re just simply laying down spots of green, gray and black.  If we were to combine some dot or half tone with this, we would call it a spot and dot.  Basically what we’d do that for is, say we wanted the grain to be this green here, but then we also want the green to be a 50% shade of what it is.  We could achieve that by doing a 50% gray scale dot and having one color, one stream actually produce two different tones of the same color.


We’ll get into that more later, but today we’re going to talk about the separation.  In order to separate your artwork, you have to pull out each printer.  For instance, this is the black printer.  This is what’s going to print black on the t-shirt.  As you can see, we’ve taken what we’re going to print black and we’ve pulled it out of the composite and we’ve left it in black.  Now we’re going to do the same thing for the gray.  There’s the gray that’s pulled out of the image.  We leave it in black because, remember, we’re going to output this onto film and we want it to be black.  Then the third color, green, also pulled out.  This one has a little bit of registration.  We did what we called we “knocked it out” so that the inks don’t print over each other.  We’ll get into a more detailed explanation of artwork knocking out, trapping and things like that in the future.  This is a very basic introduction, as I said.


There’s that for every size, you’re going to need a different size.  Here’s a different size of the same color composite and then it’s three color separations.  As you can see, for each color that we print, we’re going to need a separate screen.  One screen will have this artwork on it, the second screen will have this artwork on it and the third screen will have this artwork on it.  Each printing green, gray and black to finally give us this image on the shirt when we’re all done with it.  To help you understand that a little bit better, what I did was here is a pressed.  This is a pressed, this was designed for over the heart.  Here’s the color composite that’s separated.  You can see the three different colors are separated and then all we do is we simply change them to black.


This artwork is now ready to go to film.  All I have to do is output this onto film and I will have the three separate printers that I need to print, the green, the gray and the black.  As you can see, the artwork can be one of your most difficult jobs.  It’s very important to set up your artwork properly from the beginning in order to have a pleasureful and enjoyable experience in your printing.  One of my main mottos in screen printing is eliminate all variables.  That means try to use the best equipment and try to get the right stuff to do it in the first place and you’re going to save yourself a lot of headache and a lot of wasted money.  It pays to buy the right piece of equipment to start out rather than trying to jury rig something and wasting a lot of your time and product.  That doesn’t mean to say that you couldn’t use different things.


As I was saying, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t fabricate some of your own equipment and build certain things that you need to do screen printing.  You certainly can, but what’s important is to try not to make the task more difficult than it really is.


That’s it for today, that’ll wrap up this session on Introduction to Artwork.  I want to thank you again for watching.  Please come back for more information on our Northwest Custom Apparel Blog for future releases of t-shirts and future releases of informational videos on screen printing.


Erik Mickelson

Northwest Custom Apparel

Erik Mickelson, Northwest Custom Apparel
Erik Mickelson, Operations Manager, Northwest Custom Apparel poses for his 2016 Staff Photo. Erik joined his father, Jim, after graduation from Washington State University in 1996.