A graphic with color blends is a Creativity On specialty
If you’re designing t-shirt ideas to be output using a direct-to-garment printer, this article is for you. Of course not all DTG printers are the same. At Creativity On we use the Brother GT-541 printer, which prints on whites and light colors, and the information presented here is specific to that.
Begin by setting up your document size in Adobe Illustrator (or other program you’re using) to 14 inches wide by 16 inches tall. In Adobe Photoshop it would be the canvas size. This size corresponds to the standard print platen on the GT-541. Use these document setup dimensions even if you are designing something small like a 4″x2″ pocket logo.
Use the RGB color space. This may sound counter-intuitive for printing, but our printer driver performs the conversion to CMYK and is optimized for garment printing. If you use vector clip art in your designs, make sure to convert the colors from the CMYK color space, which many files come in, to the RGB color space. Art left as CMYK tends to print murky. See example here.
Set your resolution for 300 dots per inch. Some programs have presets “for print” which are usually set for 300. When printing on shirts, there is no value to be gained from a higher resolution than 300 dpi.
Main color characteristic
The most important thing to understand about direct-to-garment printing on the GT-541 is that ink color does not opaque. It blends with the fabric color. If you print on a blue shirt you will get much different results than if you print on a yellow shirt. This is the main difference between screen printing, which uses opaque ink, and DTG, which uses an inkjet-style technology. Inkjet technology gives DTG printing the power to print gradient color blends, unlimited color (use as many colors as you want), photographs, and other digital effects not possible with opaque ink.
Some clients require exact color matching, usually when they are working with corporate logo requirements that specify color formulas like a special shade of blue. Screen printers are accustomed to using color matching methods which is fine because the ink opaques over the fabric without any blending. With DTG that does not print white inks, the moment you print onto a color you effectively change that color formula because the ink merges with the fabric color. If you or your client can’t live with color shifting, you’d have to use screen printing or a DTG printer capable of printing white ink. It’s usually a more expensive process.
Part of the fun of designing DTG projects for colored shirts is experimenting with color. If you print on a white shirt, you’ll pretty much get what you expect. If you want to print on a bright color, plan for color shifts. The best way to predict how colors will behave is to print your graphic using an inkjet printer on paper that is close to the color of the fabric you wish to print your file on. Another way to approximate the effect is to use blending modes in Illustrator or Photoshop. In Illustrator under File>Document Setup, you could also check the Simulate Colored Paper box under Transparency and use the color picker to create a color to match the fabric color you’re aiming for.
When designing for printing on colored fabric, it is handy to have an RGB-formula color chart printed on the color of shirt you want to use (a sample of an actual shirt is best.) This lets you see what colors stay strong and what colors mute based on your background. You can then opt to re-color your art to get the optimum look for your design. See example here.
Photos and DTG
It is important to import the right stuff–or to change it to make it right. For printing on shirts, photos should be 300 dots per inch and in the RGB color space. (Here is more information on photo submission.)
Printing on darks
Some new DTG printers are capable of printing on dark fabrics because they print white ink. This is a more expensive process. We would be happy to discuss this option with you.
Find Out More
If you have not purchased from us before, please start here to read about what to expect when you place an order for garment printing. We also have lots of blog articles about DTG printing (use the topics list in the right column to find them.)