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art you need for printing a custom tshirt

Is Your T-Shirt Design Ready for Print?

When it comes to t-shirt design, there are some key details that can save you both time and money on your order.

And in t-shirt design, as in life, you’re probably the type of person who likes to save time and money.. right? Who doesn’t?

One important detail we see that so often gets missed is when clients have already chosen their favorite ethical t-shirts (Right On!), they have the design they want to be printed, and they call us to place their order…

And sadly, they’re then told that their type of artwork file is not an acceptable format for the printers…


Don’t panic; it’s not the end of the world. However, not only will this cost a little extra time (depending on who you have fix it, it could be 1 day or 1 week!), and it could also cost you money because if you’re like most of us, you aren’t a graphic designer..

(If you ARE a graphic designer (awesome!) or you have someone who can help, just go ahead now and scroll all the way down to the “Artwork Requirements” section).


Everyone else, read on:

For us non-artist types facing this reformatting stop sign, you might have to pay a graphic designer or computer whiz to clean up and reformat your design. And if you don’t know anyone, you might have to pay an artwork fee for the printer to do it for you (which sometimes costs even more).

Even worse, you might already be pressed for a deadline and will now have to pay rush charges or expedited shipping to get your t-shirts on time, since this setback is going to cost you a couple of extra days. And if people are depending on you to get this done ASAP (be it a boss or an upcoming event), you will probably feel pretty lousy… this is soo not thrifty, frugal YOU!

So let’s fix this right here and now before this ever happens to you:

Wait… Can’t I Skip All This and Just Design a T-Shirt Online? 

Here’s the deal – a lot of online DIY design platforms are crazy convenient and don’t have any artwork requirements (because rules are for suckers!). You can just upload any old image and * poof * there it is, right on the shirt and ready to go!

Careful, though – Before you click “Order,” think about if this might just be too good to be true.. because chances are, it is.


There is no way to tell if the quality of your design is, well, not quality, which will reveal itself in your t-shirt printing. Will the image transfer well when it’s blown up to t-shirt size? Will the screenprint last, or will it start to disappear after a few washes? Does it look pixelated, fuzzy, or *gasp* CHEAP? Is this something you’ll be happy with? Is this a t-shirt other people will want to wear, or even buy if you’re reselling them?


We can’t tell you how many times we’ve gotten calls from frantic folks saying that their online order turned out terribly and they need a real person to help make sure this nightmare (and HUGE financial waste) never happens again! …And quick, because the shirts were needed, like, yesterday.

Don’t take any chances that could cost you hundreds to thousands of dollars to fix.

You like saving money, so naturally, you don’t want to buy a ton of dud t-shirts. Trust a design expert, and get your t-shirts printed perfectly  – the first time.

Get Design Help

If you’re not a graphic design pro, or you just don’t have the software needed to change your artwork into an accepted format (or you don’t even know the first thing about design and you’re already freaking), we can help!

Just upload your current t-shirt design on your product quote request form and our team of expert designers will take a look and reformat for you – typically free of charge on most orders.

We can help polish it up, too, if you want a color changed or would like the font just a tad bit bigger, etc. And we ALWAYS send you a digital proof for you to approve so you know exactly what you’re getting.

We may even suggest changes based on your deadline and budget.

Yep – We like saving our clients time and money, too!

Now, if you’re nowhere near having any form of artwork yet,and just have the idea for your t-shirt design, do NOT stress yourself out trying to dabble in something you aren’t feeling confident about. Our design team loves to show off their skills and turn budding ideas into kick-ass reali-tees! (Yes, we just went there.)

Just Contact us and share your thoughts and as many details you have about your preferred design. Even if it’s just a hand-drawn sketch…seriously! We’ve seen it all, so don’t be shy!

A Note About Design Work: Full design work may incur a small artwork fee (although we can sometimes offer it for free for larger orders!), but this will save you big time in the long run. How? You will now have your t-shirt design in the correct format and on file with us – and we can give you a copy, too! This will save you time (and, you guessed it: money!) if you decide to use the same design ever again. Keeping your design on file will also make us one step ahead for your future repeat order! 

Graphic Design Experts – Here are The Artwork Requirements:

For the professional artists and graphic design-savvy folks, here’s what you need to know:
A graphic that was designed for full-color imprinting on a catalog or for use on a website still might not be the correct file type for printing on a t-shirt or other awesome apparel and merchandise.

Artwork is considered “ready” when it can be used for pre-press and printing without the need for modifications that might incur extra charges or cause delays.

Software Formats we Love:

  • Preferred
    • Adobe Illustrator: CS5 or newer. Convert text to outlines. Please avoid using transparencies with spot colors.
    • Support files must be EPS, TIFF or PDF.
    • Export files as AI, EPS or PDF.
  • Accepted
  • Adobe InDesign: CS5.5 or newer. InDesign native artwork must be accompanied with all support files including fonts and linked images.
    • Support files must be EPS, TIFF or PDF.
    • Export files as IND, EPS or PDF.
  • CorelDRAW(Mac format; version 11, PC Format; version X5.)
    • Keep colors as spot. Send all support files. Export text as curves.
    • Export files as AI, EPS or PDF.

Support Files:

  • EPS
    • Illustrator: Save as Illustrator EPS.
    • Quark Xpress: Save page as EPS.
  • TIFF
    • PhotoShop: Save as 300 dpi at actual size.
    • Bitmap Raster Image: 1200 dpi at finished imprint size.
  • PDF
    • File must contain: vector art, high resolution (300 dpi) images at finished imprint size for halftones and postscript fonts.
  • Fonts
    • Convert all text to “paths” or “outlines” (Vector Art). If this is not possible, send fonts in both screen and printer Type 1 fonts used. List all font names. We have the complete Adobe font library. No PC fonts accepted.
  • Compression
    • Stuffit® and WinZip®

Vector Art

Artwork that stores mathematical information about the lines and shapes is called vector art. It can be scaled easily without producing the “stair-step” edges you will see in pixel-based (raster) images. This type of art adapts to the resolution of any output device and is considered to be resolution independent. Vector art is produced by programs such as Adobe Illustrator and CorelDraw.

Raster Art

Artwork and images that are defined by a “checkerboard” pattern, similar to viewing mosaic tiles. Raster images are limited by the number of pixels and cannot be enlarged without producing noticeable jagged, stair-stepped edges. These images are produced by digital cameras, scanners, and also can be created by programs such as Adobe Photoshop. Send file in at 100% final size. Hi-Res Raster files are great for 4-color print, but will need to be converted to vector for 1,2 or 3 color designs.


We hope this helps you in future t-shirt design endeavors, and hope you will consider us for your next project! If you want more awesome money-saving tips for ethical merchandise, t-shirt design and other services we offer, visit the Ethix Merch Blog!

As always, Ethix Merch only offers ethical apparel and merchandise from quality sources that pay fair wages and ensure the highest labor standards. This means Made in USA, Union Made, Fair Trade, and Eco Friendly products. Learn more about our mission by visiting our about us page!

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