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I created a .psd artwork on a t-shirt that has several "sponsor logos" on it sized at around 1x1inch each. I created the file at actual size with 300dpi.

I then got an email back from the printer saying that the logos have to be vector in order for the design not to come out extremely pixelated and blurry. Here was her response:

"Without vector artwork, the image will appear extremely pixilated, grainy and blurry, especially with the number of logos on the shirt. In most cases we could print and 300 dpi would work but because of the number of logos, these will have to be in vector to have a clear/crisp image."

Something about her explanation just doesn't seem right? Can anyone verify what she's talking about or should what I sent her be sufficient?

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The place I could see this making a difference is on small shapes printed with spot colors. Vector graphics might give a slightly nicer edge and a truer color for text and lines and such, compared to 300ppi raster graphics. But if you're printing with process colors/halftones, I am skeptical that it would make much of a difference; firstly because there is some offsetting involved, and also because the print resolution can be pretty shitty, nowhere near 300lpi last time I had it done. As for the number of logos, I have no clue :P –  Alexei Dec 1 '11 at 0:37
    
She also may not be the technical expert, so her explanation may not be as accurate as it could be, but it is most probably true. Consider the substrate used (fabric) and that the rip/plate/magic they use to create the screens might have limitations you are not aware of. The next question is: if you CAN't provide a vector, what is the BEST POSSIBLE raster method? The old rule of thumb minimums for line art (Black only) is 1200DPI, and for greyscale 600DPI –  horatio Dec 1 '11 at 14:48
    
I would not listen to her at all, see my answer below. –  Matt Rockwell Dec 2 '11 at 20:31
    
As long as you are confident with your work that you gave her (and based on your personal site you must know what you are doing) I would not go through the hassle and just tell her it is what it is. You will be more than happy with the end product. –  Matt Rockwell Dec 2 '11 at 20:49

4 Answers 4

up vote 2 down vote accepted

If she says the result won't look good, it probably won't. In any situation like this, the mantra is "Listen to your printer and follow their instructions." We always talk to the print provider ahead of time, before starting on a layout, if there's anything unusual involved, if it's something we've not tackled before, or even if we're using a print shop we've never worked with. It saves a lot of grief and wasted energy.

Your printer has a strong vested interest in providing the best quality possible, especially on wearable art. If it looks great, people will ask where it was done, and may become customers. If it looks bad, people will also ask where it was done, and won't become customers. You have the same interest, so you'd be wise to follow her lead. She has the experience with her equipment and her production process, has already been through the learning curve on what works and what doesn't. If you've seen samples of her work, and if they were high quality, then definitely assume she's right. (If the quality of her products is not so great, find a different printer, but I'm assuming you chose her because she's professional.)

Printing on cotton fabric is not at all the same as offset printing on paper stock. The substrate is very flexible, so the process isn't nearly as precise.

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and now comes the tortuous dance of going back to all the sponsors and trying to extract vector art. At least one will either scan or fax a business card and then act very injured when you explain that it isn't sufficient. –  Lauren Ipsum Dec 1 '11 at 11:42
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Try about half of them. :) –  msteele Dec 1 '11 at 15:09
    
Alan in most cases, esp with print reps for offset printing I would agree, but in this case it is a very different beast. –  Matt Rockwell Dec 2 '11 at 20:47

300 dpi is a typical print resolution for photographs--not line art. Typically line art would be output at 1200 - 2400 dpi from the RIP software.

Of course, screen printing doesn't have that resolution nor can the substrate (cotton t-shirts) likely handle that fidelity either.

All that said, Alan is correct...listen to your printer.

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Alan, DA, horatio, koiyu - Thank you everyone for your input. Very helpful. –  msteele Dec 1 '11 at 15:18

I have been working in screen printing for years doing everything from art prep to screen burning and printing, and as long as its not a cmyk process print with a lot of detail, you don't need vector art. I have had to use images with as low as 72dpi and had no problems. The whole screen burning process helps as a buffer for "bad" artwork, and often can make an image that had to be scaled up 4 or 5 times it's size look much better than the original.

Some common screen mesh counts (dpi) as as follows:

110 - for heavy ink coverage, such as white. To be used for less detail

156 - for moderate coverage

195 - A great all around for coverage and detail (very common, and far less than 300dpi)

305 - Used for high amounts of detail and in CMYK printing. Very restrictive on ink though. This is most likely the highest mesh count that the screen printer will be using, so 305 dpi is pretty darn close to 300 dpi

Also it is important to note that we are working with ink on fabric here. Ink spreads, and it clinging to fibers that are not incredibly precise.

My guess is the person who responded to you is the buffer between the person who preps the artwork. They probably request this because they do not want to hassle with peoples artwork when they send in blurry, tiny images.

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It's not completely true. But some companies prefer vector for the best image quality. Take the image into illustrator and make it a vector and send it to them.

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"Take the image into illustrator and make it a vector and send it to them." - definitely ask for the original logo files first. No one wants their logo auto-traced. ;) –  DA01 Dec 1 '11 at 15:19
    
Even that can have problems. One client had a specific shop they want to create an engraved logo panel for their product. That shop (as many such are) was "CorelDraw only." That's when I found out Corel can't read an AI8 EPS out of Illustrator CS5, or AI CS5 can't write a valid AI8 EPS. Either way, it was a mess. –  Alan Gilbertson Dec 1 '11 at 19:40

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