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Artwork for DTF Printing

It all starts with the file type.

Let’s face it, there are lots of unknowns with artwork, so let’s clarify what we can. First and foremost. A lot can be instantly learned by the file type you receive. You’re either going to get a vector file or a raster file. For basic logos, typical company logos, or school logos, we want vector images. 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’re created, they need to stay that size, or smaller. Once you make them bigger, they lose quality fast. Now you could go from 10 to 11 inches 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.]

File Types

JPEG -This is probably the most common format. 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’re 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. 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. Twenty four bit is the option to use here when saving, not eight bit, in order to preserve the transparency. 

.PSD – This is a Adobe Photoshop document in its native form. This could be an ideal file if properly set up 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 a .EPS come from. All of the mentioned programs on this page can create an EPS. The program that did the output will determine whether you get a vector or raster image. If a client gave you a .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. If a customer gives you a six-color logo and wants it to be just black and white, that will be easiest to do here. 

.CDR – This is a CorelDraw file. Not as common as it once was, but still out there. This is a vector image. 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. 

File types we try to avoid if possible: Old program files, files made in Microsoft Word, Publisher, Pages, and 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.

Design Programs

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

Adobe Illustrator – All vector, all day. Adobe Illustrator is very flexible. You can size it exactly and export it as needed. Or even open as is (sized) in Adobe 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-inches wide (a max-sized print), into an RGB document. 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 in 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 capable software at a good price.

CorelDraw – A vector-based program that has no problem getting the job done. It’s 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 you’re using gradients, export your final print file from here and finish all final edits here.


DPI (otherwise known as PPI, pixels per inch), is dots per inch. The higher the number, the better the quality of the file, in general. A computer monitor is typically 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 you’re printing a full front, the ideal file will be 300 DPI, and 12 inches wide. If you’ve received files higher than 300 DPI, know this is overkill. Change the document and art file down to 300. This will also save on the file size. 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 be reflected in the print.

You probably 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.

If you learn the basics of file types, what files are ideal, and DPI, you will be ahead of the game.

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