Create a Complete Apparel Tech Pack

So you just spent 10 or more hours creating a crazy t-shirt design and your client has officially signed off…so what now?

You may have created stellar photo-realistic mockups and used tons of really cool colors- but none of this means ANYTHING if your screen printer can’t clearly interpret your vision!

I find that many of my clients have had bad experiences with low-budget designers in the past who have been able to create great art, but don’t know the first thing about how to put it on apparel. This can end up costing the client a lot of time, stress, and additional set-up fees at the printer. Over the years, I’ve found that a client truly appreciates the fact that my designs come ready to hand-over to the screen printer that very same day – with no questions asked.

The best rule of thumb when preparing files? Leave nothing to chance and pretend that your screen printer is about 6 years old. (As you establish a working relationship, you may be able to edit out some of these steps once your screen printer knows your file ‘style’. Remember that, like designers, every printer is different!)

This tutorial will set out to give you step-by-step instructions for ensuring that your files are properly set up and ready to go to print! (AKA: Creating a ‘Tech Pack’) Hold on, ‘cuz it’s long, but once you get it down, your clients and printers will love you!

This Tutorial will Cover:

  • File Preparation for Apparel
  • Creating A Full-Size Blank Shirt Template
  • Setting Up Your Tech Pack Template
  • Completing Technical Callouts
  • Full-Size Screen Separations
  • Double Checking Your Work

Equipment needed:

  • Adobe Illustrator
  • Pantone solid coated booklet (or use Adobe Illustrator’s included PMS swatch set and take your chances)

pantone guide

  • Any linked files or fonts
  • Any additional artwork (neck labels, custom rivet art, pattern swatches, etc)
  • An actual blank apparel body that your client wants to use, or a clear photo and accurate measurements (shoulder-seam to shoulder-seam and top to bottom)
  • Digital camera
  • Ruler

Step one: File Preparation

For this particular tutorial, I have decided to use a t-shirt design for one of my more recent clients- the Nastia Gold line by Olympic gold-medal gymnast Nastia Liukin for Vanilla Star Jeans. Though a little girly and basic for Go Media style, it works well for the purposes of this tutorial.

file prep

We are already assuming your shirt has been broken down into halftones, bitmap files, etc and brought into Illustrator.

The first thing that I like to do is to change my document size to be about the size of a real-life t-shirt. In this case, for a standard girls’ tee, I know that I need a document approximately 24″x 30″ in order to leave plenty of room for call-outs, headers, and all the other things we will go into later.

file prep

Before diving in, I go to my ‘Links’ menu and highlight all of my links, which makes sure that no layers are locked. Click the arrow at the top right, and select ‘Embed Image’.

If I had used any special fonts (mine happen to be hand-lettered), this would also be the time to make sure that you select them, go to the ‘Type’ menu and click ‘Create Outlines’. This ensures that your printer won’t be calling you looking for attached files or fonts later.

file pep

file prep

Next, in a separate file, I like to create an accurate template of the blank t-shirt or hoodie I will be using to gauge correct size and placement. This way, I don’t have to waste time trying to print out my artwork and re-sizing it until I get it just right. Instead, I take a clear photo of the blank garment that my client wants to use, or ask them to send me one. Keep in mind that you generally want to use a middle-of-the road size shirt (Medium is good), as your art has to fit on both a size S and XL.

For this particular client, they didn’t have a blank supplier picked out yet, so I used an existing template that I had already traced from a photo. Simply drop your garment photo into Illustrator, set the image transparency to about 75%, and using your pencil tool, trace around your blank garment. (It doesn’t have to be super accurate, as different shirts will have different wrinkles and curves)

file prep

Once you have traced your shirt and created an accurate template, enlarge it to real-life size using a few key measurements. Measure the distance from the top of one shoulder seam to the other. You may also want to measure the distance from the top of the shirt (top of shoulder) to the bottom (hem). For this garment, my shoulder-to-shoulder distance is approx. 12″ as this is a juniors tee. I make sure that my “Rulers” are turned on, then size my template accordingly.

file prep

Save this file for future use as a shirt template, or click below to download the one that we have provided for you! Now you are really ready to begin!


Keep this template on it’s own layer called “Shirt” and lock it. Now in your layers palette, create another layer called “Art”. This is the layer that you will be playing in- doing all of your masking and sizing. Also create a third layer and call it “Details”- we will get into this layer last.

file prep

From here, copy and paste your original art into your “Art” layer. Begin playing with placement, seeing which parts of the design may run off the edges, how they might align to the collar or seams, etc.

file prep

Once you find a placement that you are happy with, unlock your “Shirt” layer, and using your white arrow, select only the main body area (not the lines representing seams) and copy and paste it into your “Art” layer. You can now use this as a clipping mask to make your art look like it is bleeding off of the edges. The main body area of the shirt should appear to cover the art in your “Art” layer. Under your “Layers” palette, click the little circle to the right of the layer named “Art”. This will select everything in your “Art” layer. Then simply hit COMMAND+7 or Object>Clipping Mask>Make to mask out your art.

file prep


Now that you have your art where you want it, lock both your “SHIRT” layer and “ART” layer. From here on out, we will be working only in our “DETAILS” layer until we do color separations. I like to start setting up my tech pack by copying and pasting my client’s logo into the top left corner of the document. I then align my type to the left and right underneath the logo I type in all caps:


Next, I align my type to the top right and type in all caps:

file prep

From here, fill in any and all information that you know.
Your printer
is the name of the client’s chosen screen printer (if you know it).
Your shirt brand would be, for example, American Apparel.
Color is self explanatory. Name is the name of that particular design.
Job # will most likely be given to you by your client, if they have one.

Once you get to screenprint colors, you will want to grab your trusty Pantone Solid Coated book to accurately choose your colors. In my experience, this is the book that most printers use to accurately show inks. There are also separate Pantone books just for metallics, neons, etc, but we will stick with the basic book for now.

After selecting my colors, I create little boxes with my rectangle tool to act as little swatches for each color. Next to each swatch, I list the name of the color- for example, my first color is PMS (Pantone Matching System) 7499 C (Coated).

TIP: if you use the Pantone swatches that Illustrator provides, they will look very different on the screen than in an actual Pantone book. Always go off of the book, and try to make the ones on your screen look like the book, instead of the other way around.

Also note that even though I can see that PMS 871 C is a metallic gold in my Pantone book, I made sure to note that I wanted it to be metallic foil, not just metallic ink. The more information you can provide, the better.

file prep


Now we want to really get into calling out any special art placements, special treatments, etc. I begin by calling out that it is OK for the PMS 7449 C color art to run off the sides. I show this by drawing a clean line using my line segment tool, and writing exactly that.


file prep

Next I want to point out that it is OK if the art runs off the collar and prints on the inside back of the t-shirt, since I know we will have a neck label sewn in over the top. So again, I call that out:


I also decide that I would like my art, for the most part, to appear centered. This is up to the eye of the printer, but lets him know that I will be looking for that. So I add that in:


Hopefully, by this point you are starting to get the picture. The more info that you can provide your printer, the better. I also always like to provide at least one measured point of reference – in this case, I would like the top of the black screen (the top of the rose) to be approx. 2″ from the base of the collar. So again, I draw a line pointing to that place and write:


file prep

Finally, I know that my client has custom neck labels that they would like sewn into the neck of these t-shirts. So I copy and paste the neck label art, placing it in a red rectangular box so that there is no confusion about which label goes with which shirt. (You’d be surprised). If there is an associated ID# for that particular label, go ahead and include it. If your client wants to screen print neck labels, go ahead and include that art too, just in case. Or, at the very least, make mention of the fact that it needs to be there.

file prep

file prep

Don’t forget to include any other custom treatments such as: contrast stitching, various garment treatments and washes, rivet or rhinestone embellishments, embroidery, etc.


Hang on guys, you are almost there! While many printers are smart and able to figure out how to ‘unmask’ your “Art” layer to make separations, many aren’t. To eliminate any confusion, I like to provide color separations at the bottom, off of the art board, but on my “Art” layer. Lock your “Details” layer, and unlock your “Art” layer. Select everything in that layer and copy it. Now paste that art directly below the art board and unmask it (ALT+COMMAND+7) Delete your mask, leaving just the art.

file prep

This next part gets a little tricky, so pay attention! Depending on how many colors your art has, this will determine the number of separations that you need to make.

My particular file has 5 colors, so I need to make separations for 5 separate screens. The way that I approach this (and others may do it differently) is to copy and paste the art that we just unmasked 4 more times in a row. I then write each Pantone color’s name above each separation, like this:

file prep

Now – PAY ATTENTION – depending on what color you are separating (my first color is 7499 C)- wherever that color is shown in the art, it needs to be made BLACK. Every other color in the art needs to be made WHITE (so that it won’t show up).

file prep

As you click on each piece of the art, turn it the appropriate color and then LOCK IT! This should leave only the areas that are 7499 C showing!

NOTE: This will mess with your brain, since you are used to thinking in terms of colors, not translating those colors into black-and-white. But I promise, it gets easier.

Proceed to do this for every color, leaving only the areas that are that specific color showing. IE: If you are on the ‘green’ screen, then all areas that are ‘green’ should be black when you are done with separating that screen. When you get through every color, you will have screen print separations!

file prep

file prep


Double check everything, send a JPG to your client for final approval with all of the callouts shown (in case the client has any revisions), and off to the printer it goes! Send a copy of the final AI file to the client, and kick back until the samples roll in! Whew, you made it!


As a full-time art director for the new skate apparel line Self-Destruct (, as well as full-time freelance designer for my own firm ( I know the ‘tech-pack’ can seem like a lot of extra work that you may not think you have time for. But once you get the process down, it really shouldn’t take you longer than 30 minutes, and it acts as a major selling point to your clients. In my experience, it even helps to justify a slightly higher, flat-rate per design, since the client knows they are getting quality, print-ready art!

Thanks to these easy-to-understand files, I have also gotten a lot of work over the years from screen printer referrals. Remember- everyone loves someone who makes their job a little easier, and it will payoff in the end!

Discussion: Do you publicly advertise your pricing?

Ah the age-old debate. To show prices or not to show prices on your website. There are pros and cons to both and Go Media has experimented with both in the past. We eventually decided to go against showing prices on our website, but the discussion never seems to go away. How would things change if we decided to show prices? For the better? Worse? Tell me your thoughts.

Showing Prices/rates on your site:


  • Clients know the costs before they contact you, thus saving you time on writing estimates
  • You’re likely to get a higher number of more targeted leads when their pricing questions are answered up front
  • You can advertise you have a low price
  • You can put together easy-to-swallow package deals that get you more business
  • Probably more?


  • Enables your competitors to undercut you on prices
  • Encourages price wars amongst design studios, thus devaluing the work.
  • Fixes you to adhere to your advertised prices, and when revisions/overages do occur, they’re usually accompanied with guilt and and an angry client
  • McDonalds-izes your business to more of a “store” mentality if you show “Shirt Designs – $150” for example. Might seem tacky.
  • Probably more?

Hiding prices on your site:


  • Each job is different, and requires a custom evaluation/quote.
  • Makes your work feel more valuable
  • Discourages price wars
  • If prices are generally high, you won’t scare off those leads – allowing you follow up and hopefully start a communication between you and the client that hopefully results in a new project being started
  • Allows you to quote a job for more established brands like Nike differently than a job for Bob’s Tool Shed.
  • Gives you more freedom and flexibility when you’re not stuck on a price
  • probably more?


  • When you finally tell them the price, it can be unexpected
  • It requires more time to estimate, quote, and explain pricing over and over to each different client
  • Probably more?

Go Media chooses not to advertise our rates on our site. Mostly because we don’t want to appear too “selly” on our site. Another reason, is our rates are generally higher than a lot of freelance competitors (we know we’re worth the price, but a client sometimes just goes by price alone and might talk himself out of even contacting us if he sees that Joe “Freelance” Designer has a much lower price). There are obviously pros and cons to each, so I’m opening it up to discussion. What’s your take on the pricing debate?

Tell me your thoughts in the comments!

tell us how you feel

10 Great Time-Saving Mac Utilities For Graphic Artists


Time. There’s never enough of it. But what if I told you there was a way to create more time, particularly in your design life? It’s simple, actually—make your computer do the work.

Over the years, I have found a rather handy set of software utility programs for the Mac that have saved me countless hours of production time in both illustration & graphic design work, as well as in general computer usage. By letting these programs do their thing, they free you from having to do them manually.

Some are free. Some cost a few bucks (or more). All, however, I have found invaluable in my creative work. I’m a big fan of using your tools to their maximum potential. Usually if there’s some brainless, repetitive task, I have found that some software developer out there has had the same frustration and has created software to alleviate these time-wasters.

The following collection I have found to be the most useful utility software for the Mac, specifically for creatives. They range from free to seemingly pricey, but once you’ve used them you’ll find the work you’ve saved to be well-worth the price paid.

The utilities cover the gamut of creative work on the Mac—from graphic design, illustration, magazine layout output, file/folder/Finder navigation and more. I use every single one of these on a regular basis and couldn’t create a Mac without them.—or at least I wouldn’t want to!

DIY Striped T-Shirt in 3 Easy Steps

Barton Damer gave us permission to repost his handy DIY guide on making a striped t-shirt in your own backyard with just a spray bottle, duct tape, some bleach, and some good ole American ingenuity.

This weekend I had some fun with duct tape and some bleach making this tee shirt design. Check out these 3 easy steps. If you decide to make your own version, come back to this post and leave us a Flickr link to check out a photo of what you did!

Step 1

Use duct tape to mask off your design onto a dark colored tee. I decided to make stripes on a black tee.

Step 2

Spray your t-shirt with a bleach/water mixture. I used 70% bleach and 30% water. Let your shirt dry after you spray it to your liking.

Step 3

Wash and wear your tee. Easy as 1, 2, 3!’

DIY t-shirts in 3 Steps

Degree or No Degree?

Barton Damer was kind enough to let us repost this article on the zine. What do you think? Do you need a degree to be a designer these days?

Degree or no degree?

There are many potential paths you could follow in the world of “design.” Graphic Art is the term I gravitate towards the most for my own work. There’s often a fine line to distinguish the difference between graphic art and graphic design but it usually relies on less layout of typography and more visual development. A growing field for graphic artists is Motion Design (aka – motion graphics). At it’s basic level, you are simply making your graphic art move. Ultimately, it helps to know a lot about all aspects of design whether it’s web, print or motion. Eventually, you’ll find your sweet spot but you’ll need a good base in design principles first.

School is always a good option but not necessary. It’s a combination of motivation, knowledge and ability. If one is missing, the formula is incomplete. School will provide the knowledge to improve your ability. School not only allows you to learn great design principles and be critiqued by others, but you will always grow faster when you are surrounded and challenged by others who are doing the same. Additionally, the people you meet in school will go on to be in your industry and it always helps to have that connection 5-10 years down the road. School also helps you form discipline. You’ll have to be highly motivated and naturally talented to make a career out of design without an education.

Not all design students are great designers. Motivation is the key to gaining knowledge. Not school. If you have the drive to be a designer, you will find plenty of knowledge online. You can also improve your ability and be challenged by online artist communities. Not going to school is definitely possible in this industry. I have friends that own their own businesses and write code for websites from scratch without ever having gone to college. There are designers that have made great livings for themselves without an art degree. Although skipping school is probably not the norm or the suggested method, going to school does not necessarily guarantee success either. Like any major, people often graduate and do not even find a job in that field.

I went to school for Commercial Art. I learned everything from oil painting to Photoshop. My experience, however, was that I learned principles in class; but not really the software. Learning software on your own or with the aid of tutorials, etc. is a part of the design life. The classroom was more about giving me projects and critiquing them. I learned and tried web design using Flash and Dreamweaver back in the day. I quickly gave that up. I realized that I needed to be able to write code to really have a future in web. That wasn’t going to happen. I’ve learned Final Cut Pro, After Effects, Illustrator, Cinema 4d, and all sorts of software on my own since school. The software is constantly changing so even if you find your classroom setting useful for learning programs; that won’t help you 5 years after you’ve graduated school. You’ll need to learn how to keep up with software on your own. There is no rest when it comes to keeping up with technology.
Overall, I would recommend a good education. That is not available to everyone though so buying a computer and software might make more sense if you are motivated enough to learn what is needed. A strong portfolio will speak louder than a resume or degree.