When it comes to creating designs for screen printing, the number of colors used greatly affects the cost of the print. The greater the quantity of shirts to be printed, the more cost effective it is to print designs with more colors. However, the time it takes to expose screens and set them up on a press does not make it beneficial to print a full-color design for short runs. Generally, in these cases, simple one- or two-color vector clip art and/or text is used to create a basic layout.

But just because you may be restricted to one to three colors for a design doesn’t mean your artwork has to be basic. Think outside the box and utilize full-color, raster images to your advantage. Work with images in Photoshop to transform them into fewer colors that still make an impact.

In the design world today, AI is being utilized more and more to generate images and layouts for garment decoration. While you can provide prompts to generate images in certain colors, you don’t always get what you want. In general, AI images are created in full color (see image at the top of this article). When it comes to digital printing methods like direct-to-film (DTF), direct-to-garment (DTG), or dye-sublimation, this isn’t an issue because it doesn’t affect the price.

So, how can screen printers benefit from AI or any full-color images they may have to create on a budget using less colors?

Grayscale Image

One of the most basic ways is to turn the image into a grayscale. You can simply change the mode of an image from RGB or CMYK to grayscale and it is now a one-color design. Even though the color may be gone, you are still left with a detailed, impactful image. This makes for a great tone-on-tone design when the ink color used is in the same color family as the shirt color.

Depending on the design and the original colors, just changing it to grayscale may not be enough. You may need to adjust the levels or curves to adjust the lightness or darkness of the design to get good contrast (Images 2 and 3).

Image 2

Image 3

Make sure the black areas or darkest areas of the image are at 100%, whites are at 0%, and that there is good variation between grays in between. While everyone’s equipment is different, a general rule of thumb to keep in mind is that most halftones above 80% will become solid, and anything below 10% will not be held on the screen and, therefore, will not print well.

So, as you are adjusting the percentages, anything that you want to print without becoming solid or falling off should fall between 10% – 80% with good distinction between the varying shades. If not, and there isn’t good contrast between the shades of gray, dot gain will cause the image to fill in and lose detail and definition.

When you initially transform the image to grayscale, the white areas do not become transparent. To do that, make a selection of the grayscale alpha channel, make a new layer, and then fill the selection with black. Delete the original grayscale layer, and your image is ready for use.

The grayscale image can remain black to print out the positive to expose your screen. You can add your type in the Photoshop file, or you can save the image itself as a PNG file with a transparent background and import or place it into a vector program like Illustrator to add your type and print your film positive from there (Image 4).

Image 4

If you need to show a proof to your customer, you can place the PNG in Illustrator and color it with the appropriate spot color, and put a background color behind it to represent the shirt color (Image 5). Make sure the color you use is set up as a spot color or it will not work. The image will remain black.

This grayscale method works when the image will be printed in a color darker than the shirt. There may be instances depending on the design where a lighter color print will work on a darker shirt, but usually it will look like a negative image on the shirt (Image 6).

Image 5

Image 6

Grayscale with a Twist

Another unique look utilizes the grayscale option, but incorporates a large halftone screen for a more graphic look (Image 7).

While you could print it as a one-color as mentioned above, you can also add some additional spot colors for added punch. By saving the grayscale image as a PNG, you can import it into Illustrator and color it with a spot color. You can then use the pen tool to create a shape in the area where you want to apply the additional color and place it behind the grayscale image. Since the grayscale is transparent, the added area of color will show through, and the shirt color will show through everywhere else (Image 8).

Image 7

Image 8

Hue/Saturation Colorize

Another option you can use to take a detailed, full-color image and reduce it down to two to three colors is using the Colorize option in the Hue/Saturation Adjustment (Images 9 and 10).

Image 9

Image 10

Once the color is set, you will need to make adjustments to the darkness and lightness of the image using the levels or curves like you would with the grayscale option (Image 11). The interior of the image is not open, so the shirt color will not show through. The image will still maintain any black and white areas while transforming all other colors into varying shades of the selected color. This is a good option to use when going on a darker colored shirt (Image 12).

Image 11

Image 12

With this option, you will need to generate your separations like you would for a full-color image, but the separated information should be limited to black, white, and the main color. If you are only printing on black or white shirts, then the design can be printed in two colors. If you are printing on a colored shirt, you would need to print three.

Use Existing Separations from a Full-Color Image

If you’ve printed an image already for a full-color design using simulated process separations, but are looking for an inexpensive option to reprint some additional products for the same customer, start by reviewing your existing full-color separations. You may find that you can create a one- to three-color design just by selecting certain separations. You can use the black or the base white, for instance, to create a one-color design. Throw in another color from the separations to create a two- to three-color design.

The example shown here was originally separated with Separation Studio into seven colors, but the black and highlight white separations were used to print the same image in just two colors using dark blue and white inks (Images 13 and 14). Since you won’t be printing all the colors, the shirt color will show through in the areas where the other colors would normally print. It’s important to keep this in mind when thinking about the final look you want to achieve.

Image 13

Image 14

These are just a few ideas for screen printing images on a budget without having to sacrifice design. Your customers may be used to simple clip art layouts when they know they can only get a one- to two-color print, but why not show them something different. Whether you use something from a stock art library you already have, or utilize AI to generate an image, you’ll be able to provide a more detailed, interesting image at no additional cost.

Cost-Effective Designs for Screen Printing Using Full-Color Raster Images

Decorated Apparel Expo 2024, DAX Kansas City

Saturday, February 24

12:30 pm to 01:50 pm

AI has infiltrated the design world making it easier for anyone to quickly and easily whip up a design in a matter of seconds just by entering a series of words. When it comes to garment decoration though, it doesn’t end there. The generated image my not be the correct size, it will probably be flattened on a background, or the image itself may not be exactly what you want. So now what? That’s where Photoshop comes into play. In this class, Dane will demonstrate the amazing features of the AI program: Midjourney. He’ll show you his tips and tricks for generating images, then modifying the image in Photoshop to properly size it, extract it from the background, and make any other modifications to get to the final image for printing. While Photoshop has always been used to create artwork, Midjourney now makes it a lot quicker and easier to create stunning images in a fraction of the time, and Photoshop lets you make those final edits and put on the finishing touches.

Decorated Apparel Expo 2024, DAX Kansas City

Friday, February 23

6:00 pm to 9:00 pm

Understanding how to properly create and separate artwork for screen printing is essential to making production more efficient. Join Dane as he discusses the difference between raster and vector art, and how to work with both types using Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. Learn how to properly set up your art files, and optimize raster artwork. He’ll also discuss the aspects of the pre-production process and how to apply them and separate both types of art for easier production and better prints.

Impressions Expo 2024, Long Beach, CA

Sunday, January 21

9:00 am to 10:15 am

Room: 101A

Unless you have been living under a rock recently, you know that AI has taken the world by storm even in the creative world. There are so many different AI powered programs for the art market now, it’s hard to keep track, and more pop up every day. In this class Dane will help you navigate through some of the more popular programs currently available. While many have similar features, some do a better job than others. Dane will demonstrate some of the basic features of each and give you the pros and cons from what he’s experienced. Let him help you determine the right “tool” for you when it comes to creating artwork with AI.

Impressions Expo 2024, Long Beach, CA

Saturday, January 20

10:45 am to 12:00 pm

Room: 101A

In the garment decorating industry, it used to be that you had to be an artist, or you had to have access to an artist to create the artwork for you and your production method. Now with AI, anyone can be an artist. But…it’s not that simple. Just because you can quickly and easily create an image using AI, it won’t be production ready, and more than likely, you won’t get the exact image you want. Knowing the fundamentals of Photoshop is still necessary to take that AI image to the finish line so it looks the way you want, and is set up properly for your production method. Follow along with Dane as he provides some Photoshop fundamentals to adjust your image to the proper size and resolution, remove images from flattened backgrounds, and use tools for modifying or combining elements from different AI generated images to create the final design ready for printing.

Impressions Expo 2024, Long Beach, CA

Friday, January 19

10:45 am to 12:00 pm

Room: 101A

Direct-to-Film is taking the garment industry by storm. When creating your artwork for this decoration method there are things that need to be taken into consideration to make sure your transfers will print and apply correctly. Dane will discuss these points and offer some tips, tricks and techniques using Photoshop not only for creating your layouts but making sure they are set up properly to prevent any issues with printing and application.