Artwork that Doesn't Suck

Artwork that Doesn’t Suck

Written by Lindsay Quick

In this blog, I am going to give you all the inside secrets on how to become your printers BFF. Whether we’re talking screen printed t-shirts, letterhead or sky-high billboards, artwork matters. I’m not talking about how interesting the artwork is to look at – that’s completely subjective and up for personal opinion. No, I’m talking about the quality of your graphics. Here are some tips to make sure your artwork doesn’t suck.

Let’s Talk About Logos

Every business has a logo. If you don’t, that’s a much deeper conversation for another day.

But, not every business has a logo made for printing. Sure, some businesses have 18 different versions of their logo – everything from full color to one color, reversed versions, EPS files and everything in between. If that last sentence went over your head like a foul ball at a baseball game, good news, you’re in the right place.

Different projects are going to require different versions of your logo. You could spend all of your time and money creating tons of different versions for every situation. My recommendation? Have the following iterations of your logo: full color, two color and one color (bonus tip: not a bad idea for the one color version of your logo to be either black or white). With these options available, you’ll be able to print your logo on just about anything.

We know you likely love your logo in it’s full color glory, but some circumstances are going to require a simplified version (i.e. screen printing). Depending on how complex your logo is, it can be tricky to get it all the way down to just one or two colors. Think about what areas need detail, what can you eliminate, what needs to stay. Do you really need that gradient? What colors can be eliminated, yet maintain the integrity of the design? If you have a designer on staff, ask them to work on one and two color versions of your logo. If not, I highly recommend paying someone to create these versions of your logo. I promise you will need them at some point.

Quality of Graphics

Like I said earlier, when we talk about the quality of your graphics, I’m not talking about how well they are designed. Art is totally subjective and personal. What one person loves, another is going to hate.

What I’m talking about is the actual image quality. If your image is blurry on your screen, it’s not going to magically get better when you send it to your printer. Making sure that you have high resolution images and graphics is SUPER important. Image resolution is typically measured in PPI or pixels per inch. As you can probably guess, if something is 300 PPI, that means there are 300 pixels per square inch of the graphic. 300 PPI is typically the standard for any printed materials. On the web, you can usually get away with more like 100 PPI and still have good looking graphics.

If you’d really like to deep dive into pixels and what justifies as a hi-res image, TechSmith has a great article on just that.

Moral of the story – make sure your logos, graphics, images, etc. are high quality photos. I had a professor in college who would preach “put good in, get good out”, meaning that if you use a logo that sucks, whatever you’re printing is also going to suck.

What the Heck is a Vector?

Have you ever submitted a project for approval and the printer came back and asked for a vector image? If so, you were probably left confused and unsure what exactly they needed. If not, I’ve probably just confused you even more.

Vector is essentially just a fancy way of asking for the native (or original) design file of an image or graphic. Vector art is original artwork made with illustration and design software commonly used by graphic designers.

Vector artwork is important in terms of printing because you can make the image as small or as large as you want without effecting the quality of it. Adobe has a great post about vector art if you want to learn more.

In terms of file types, submitting original, vector artwork to a printer is the equivalent of finding a golden ticket. You have won. They are now your best friend for life.

Print-Ready or Print-Not Ready?

Another term that you are likely to hear is “print-ready”. Simply, print-ready means artwork that is ready to be printed (Duh, right?) Well, let’s get into exactly what that looks like. Each type of print job is going to have a different set of requirements to make sure that your image is print-ready. Here are some things to consider when submitting artwork that you believe to be print-ready:

  • Is the document sized correctly? Are you submitting a file that is two inches wide for a billboard project that is 30 feet wide?
  • What color format is your image (RGB or CMYK)? I could probably write a whole dissertation on the difference and uses of the two, but for time sake, you can just check out this explanation from Geeks for Geeks.
  • Are there ample margins (if needed)? Don’t cut off that nice, two color logo you worked so hard on.
  • Is the image resolution high enough? Remember, we had a whole chat about this.
  • Is there good contrast in the image? Please don’t be that person who puts a light yellow on a white background.
  • Are there spelling and/or grammar errors? The printer is not a proofreader (say that 7 times fast!). Make sure you triple check to make sure there are no typos.

Going through this list before submitting your artwork is another step towards being besties with your printer.

Negative Isn’t Always Negative

While the word negative is usually taken, well… negatively, that’s not always the case in terms of printing. Particularly when we talk about screen printing, use of negative space can be a powerful tool for your design. Are you printing on a yellow shirt? You can use yellow in your design without needing to print yellow ink. If what I just said sounded like the ramblings of a crazy person, don’t worry, I’ll explain.

In the example below, the image in the P in Philo uses the teal color of the shirt to create the base color of the softball. That is using negative space effectively.

 Our brains aren’t exactly hard-wired to think about negative space. We see things as additive, not what’s missing. It can take a conscious shift in thinking to use what we already have to make an interesting design.

Well, I think you’re ready to take the next steps and be official BFF’s with your printer. I’m not saying you’re about to book an all-inclusive trip for two to the Bahamas, but I can promise that submitting artwork that doesn’t suck will get you on their good side. Happy printer = happy customer.

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