How to Design Your Own Apparel

3 Tips for Designing Printed Apparel with Dan Byler

Tips for How to Design Your Own Apparel

In today’s video, we introduce you to Dan Byler, Business Development Guru at Jakprints. Jakprints is a premier print shop here in Cleveland with over a decade of experience in online printing. They specialize in custom full-color offset printing, apparel printing/embroidery and sticker production. Dan really knows his stuff, as evidenced by the video you’ll see below, in which Dan discusses his tips for How to Design Your Own Apparel.

Dan Byler has been happily employed at Jakprints since 2004. He began his career in Apparel Production at Jakprints and over the years worked my way into a Business Development role. He is currently working at the Jakprints Oceanside, California office. He has helped hundreds of clients with thousands of projects during his time at Jakprints.

For more on how to design your own apparel, head to some of our most popular articles on this topic under this category:
How to Start Your Own Clothing Company

Tips for Designing Printed Apparel

To connect with Jakprints, head to: Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | Google+ | Instagram

Tutorial: Pro Tips On Preparing Artwork For T-Shirt Printing

Print Technique: Reflecting on Strike-Through Varnish

reflecting stricke-through varnish

When most of us want to add additional flair to our print project, we automatically look for elaborate finishing processes to help us accomplish this, forgetting that a well-designed spot varnish can really take the perception of quality and design up a few notches. Unfortunately, most people look to spot UV to hit this mark, since it’s immediately recognizable based on its high-gloss, wet-look appearance.

Spot UV’s Dirty Little Secret

While spot UV truly does produce a beautiful product, it’s sort of like the Las Vegas of the print world…..all the glamor and glitz, with lots of dirty little secrets. First, it’s a petroleum-based product, and the last thing any of us need is for your postcards, business cards, or annual report to further our dependency on foreign oil. Second, spot UV can be very expensive and typically runs off-line, as an additional process.

So, why bring it up if I’m only going to talk you out of using it? Because I can offer you a comparable, but much greener process!

Go Greener with a Strike-Through Varnish

Here’s how it works: The contrasting glossy vs. matte effects are accomplished using our water-based coatings and a strike-through varnish, printed as an ink, inline on our presses. First, the dull/matte strike-through varnish is put down with a traditional printing plate in the areas that are to stay matte. At the end of our presses, an overall flood of our gloss aqueous coating is applied.

As it cures, the gloss coating is dulled down in the areas where the strike-through matte varnish had been applied. Also, since we’re using a traditional printing plate in a standard print unit on our press, we can achieve as much detail as we want. Otherwise, you have to cut a coating blanket specifically for the areas where you want glossy, and that blanket can only be used for that press run or project.

Strike-through varnish

When designing for this, remember that, because it’s a water-based setup, the contrast is not as dramatic as the petroleum-based UV. However, keeping the varnish design on a darker, solid-color background will ensure you get the maximum amount of visual appeal out of this process.

Get The Guides

For more info on how to setup your spot varnish files, download the PDF of your preference:

Living In A Die-Cut World


I spot die-cut

Assuming you’re in the print or design community, I’m sure you can appreciate my hyper-awareness to the massive amounts of die-cut materials sprinkled throughout our every day lives.  Scattered around my kitchen, I’m seeing cereal boxes, pizza cartons, even the regular mail is filled with standard #10 envelopes that had to be die-cut before they could be glued and converted into plain old envelopes.  So much engineering and craftsmanship in such a neglected and undervalued piece of paper.  Right in front of me, I’m looking at an iPhone, beautifully constructed of round-cornered components, all masterfully die-cut and stamped parts.  Next to that sits my wallet, stuffed with die-cut credit cards, gift cards, my health insurance card, drivers license, various permits, and even my Blockbuster card has round corners.  Whether it’s for aesthetic value, functionality, or even the protection of the piece, it serves a purpose.

So, why is it then that when most clients look to design or print marketing materials, they don’t all choose to customize their project with some fancy die-cutting?

The bottom line is usually the bottom line, right?  Cost.  Especially in this economic climate, if every company, large or small, had it’s own “trending topic” Twitter list, cost consciousness would always sit at the top.  While many clients surely see die-cutting as an added, unnecessary expense, I think few truly understand the real value that it brings to the table.  Typically, it’s more cost effective than you think, especially when you think about the big picture.  With the amount of time, energy, and money you spend to acquire leads, prospects, or clients, shouldn’t you seize that opportunity to communicate with them as effectively as possible?  Of course you should!  Think about how much printing you see every day and then realize what it really takes for something to really jump out at you.  It takes more than a rectangle and some stock photography.  So, like I said…die-cut it.

Let’s walk through the process of die-cutting and then we’ll discuss how to setup your file.

1. Die-creation

This starts with a dieline, which most of the time starts with you.  Once the dieline is submitted, it’s converted into a .dwg (AutoCAD) file for the die to be engineered.  Typically, a blank sample is cut to ensure that the piece works.  This is especially important if the die-cutting provides functionality.  Many times, for cartons and other packaging, numerous samples are made with the exact paper being used for the job, until it’s perfect.  Once the dieline is good to go, a large automated table cutter uses various tool attachments to drill and carve an incredibly precise copy of the dieline into a 3/4″ thick pine board.  Once the board is cut, the die rule is cut and formed to fit the curves of the die, so that it can be inserted into the carved slots and then pounded in securely and perfectly even for cutting.

Die-cutting rule being shaped/formed
Rule being secured into place
Die board with half the rule inserted

If you reorder the same piece later, this process only happens once. Assuming no changes need to be made to the die, then your die cost is a one-time expense and this die will be re-used.

2. Die-cutting

The die is setup on the machine and locked into place.  The machine is sheet fed, so individual sheets feed into the press and are pressed against the die with a precise amount of pressure.  The operator must pay constant attention to the  pressure being used and the registration of the cut to the crop marks and printed piece.  If this job is a piece of packaging or has other folding, conversion or functionality, the operator will strip the piece out and certify that it completes properly before running the full quantity of the job.

Stock entering the feeder of the press
Die entering the press

3.  Stripping

Once the job is finished die-cutting, it’s still in full-sheet form.  You may be a little confused at this point, but this is because, if the machine cut the piece completely out, you’d have odd shaped die-cut paper pieces flying around loose in your machine.  Not a wise move when you’ve got sheets cranking through that press by the thousands.  There are larger presses that can handle stripping on press, but they’re much more expensive, so, as you’d expect, they’re used for larger jobs.  Smaller jobs are hand stripped, which can leave small “nicks” on the printed piece, from the tiny strands of paper that kept them fastened to the rest of the sheet for delivering out the back of the press and stacking neatly.

4.  Additional Finishing

After this, if there is additional finishing to be performed, it will commence.  Typical examples are folding, gluing, applying fugitive (booger) glue and gift cards or promotional coupons, tipping (inserting) in product samples, bindery, etc.  If none of these processes apply, the job is packed and shipped.

5. Setting Up Your File

Now you know more than the average joe about die-cut techniques – now put them into practice! Watch this short video to learn how to set up an Illustrator file that’s ready for die-cut production.

Designers’ Guide to the Apparel Printing Industry

printed t-shirt

Over the last couple of years the GoMediaZine has been a cookie jar full of tips, tutorials & practical advice about designing for apparel. There have been in depth tutorials, lots of inspiration, a fantastic three-part series full of experience & advice – we even showed you how to ‘Make it look like Affliction‘. And just in these last couple of months, we showed you how to make photorealistic mockups of your apparel designs.

So by now you should have a few solid t-shirt designs under your belt (not yet? maybe some jealousy will motivate?). Maybe you’ve done work for a hot band and the shirts are already printed for the tour. More likely, you created a pretty gnarly design for your personal portfolio & need to get it printed.

Now you’ve got some decisions to make, and probably a whole bunch of questions.

  • What are some qualities of a t-shirt that actually sells?
  • What kind of file prep should I do before sending the file to print?
  • What are the newest printing techniques?
  • How do other designers get those huge pieces printed?

First of all, this post is not going to give encyclopedic answers to all of these questions. It WILL provide priceless insight from the front lines of the apparel industry that will get you heading down the right path.

Our Starting Line-up

I talked to five major players in the apparel printing industry to shed some light on that critical component – printing. Lucky for us, everyone was game and took time to share anecdotes & advice they’ve accumulated while working in the industry. A big thanks to everybody from Cleveland’s best graphics design company, Go Media!

Corey Bramlett RTI Brands
Nirav Dhruv NND Designs
Jeff Weisenberg JakPrints
Rodney Blackwell

T-shirt Trends to Watch in 2009

Knowing what’s coming around the corner is a sure way to stay ahead of the pack (stock drop ’08 anyone?). I asked what the view was from the front lines of the printing industry and got some surprising responses.

For example, we receive tons of emails from designers wanting to know where to find a good “All Over” printer to produce their huge design. The over-sized t-shirt has been extremely popular for awhile now in communities like emptees.

That’s why it surprised me when Corey from Raw Talent said that the over-sized t-shirts might be on their way out. He sees

“…designs pulling back from the large, over-sized, gaudy prints (a la Affliction/Ed Hardy) to a more subtle piece that still makes as big of a statement.” – Corey Bramlett

Nirav Dhruv from NND echoes Corey with the decidedly simple answer “Simple sells”. Styles go through cycles too, and it’s quite possible that these guys will eventually be proved correct. Most of the time an influential group will spin an old style in a new way. Every so often something truly original comes along.


Designers should also follow the lead of brands like Affliction & momentarily take over the industry with something new.

Luckily new (and cheaper) technology should make the cool techniques available to a much wider audience, increasing the chance for some new style to emerge. Like purevolume & myspace gave garage bands an international audience – new & cheaper print processes will let young, broke designers get into the t-shirt industry. Jeff Weisenberg of Jakprints puts it best:

Many of the specialty processes that were once reserved for the larger companies will available to the everyday customer. Foils, 3-dimensional prints, custom tag printing, all of these options have been made available to the 15 year kid who wants to start an apparel company with little start up money. What was once reserved for companies like Alphanumeric and Echo, younger designers are able to come to a company like Jakprints and produce a product that rivals these mammoth companies. The street level customers are giving larger companies a run for their money.
-Jeff Weisenberg

Phew! So much optimism, and more to come! Rodney from went all Karen Carpenter when he said the T-shirt craze has only just begun. Freshmen clothing lines start your engines!

There are many t-shirt brands, printers and suppliers who have yet to take full advantage of what the internet has to offer. The more that “get it”, the more choices us t-shirt junkies will have when shopping for cool t-shirts online or finding a great t-shirt printer.
-Rodney Blackwell

Optimism & excitement about the future of the online apparel industry seems to be a persistent theme among the interviewees.

Do you have an unusual artistic vision or a knack for hard-hitting cultural sarcasm? Your future apparel line could be part of the continued growth predicted by industry veterans.

They’ve Seen it All

Social design portals like Emptees & Threadless are a great place to see a lot of shirts & get ideas. But think about the guys running the print shops. They’re browsing inspiration all day, every day. Plus, they see it from a different angle – they see the good, the bad, and they know which designs actually move off the shelves. They work with fantastic veteran designers and complete newcomers. When I asked them what advice they would give to a young designer, they didn’t hold back.

Understanding the limitations of apparel print techniques while still maximizing the potential of the medium was an overriding theme echoed by the experts. T-shirts are not posters, brochures, or websites. You’ve got to account for the medium.

A formal (or industry) education is the best thing a designer can have in their arsenal. It is very unfortunate when an artist’s vision does not line up with technical capabilities. The more knowledge of these capabilities by the designer and how to apply that knowledge to their designs will result in a better product as well as a more efficient and effective production experience.
-Corey Bramlett

Jeff Weisenberg shares some specific things to avoid when designing for apparel. These are the kinds of things that might take a designer a few strikeouts to learn – so take notes!

The biggest mistake young designers make is not taking into consideration that a t-shirt is not flat. A t-shirt is 3-dimensional and you must think about what graphics and placements would look like when the apparel is being worn. Be aware that extremely detailed areas in an image may be lost when applied to the t-shirts. Also – use the color of the apparel in your graphic! You may be able to save a couple bucks by using the apparel color instead of adding another ink color. – Jeff Weisenberg

A couple of the guys really underscored the importance of knowing your audience & designing for a niche. Here’s what Rodney Blackwell had to say:

Know your niche. Whether you’re into robots or funny slogans, the more you can master your “thing”, I think the better off you’ll be in the long run. -Rodney Blackwell

File Prep Tips from the Pros

Yes, this is a complex topic that could fill several other posts. Still, I was curious what kind of major problems screen printers would like to rant about if asked. Following these basic tips will save you time & money – and make sure that your vision actually makes it to the presses.

Vector-created art is by far the best. Any Photoshop file must be at least 300 dpi. All text should be converted to outlines. Submission on a template is always best. Make sure all designs are the correct size, or if vector, the correct size is noted. Make sure all ink colors/PMS are noted in the art file. It is also great to see special notes noted in the art file. -Corey Bramlett

Jeff Weiseberg wisely suggested that you invest in a Pantone guide. I checked around, you can grab one on eBay or Amazon for between $30 and $70 – a worthwhile investment.

ebay pantone book

Make it Look Like That: A Guide to Apparel Printing Methods

So you see a shirt on our portfolio and think “That’s impossible to print!” Well, actually, it can be done – you just need the right process (and budget!).

There are enough techniques, processes & options out there to make your head spin like the girl in the Exorcist. Personally, I am pretty clueless about the all the different processes, compatible materials, average costs – everything. There is a lot to learn, but if there was one point that resonated among the printing experts, it was take the time to understand this stuff.

For a very detailed knowledge base of apparel printing techniques, check out this section of (resume head spinning & swearing in other languages). If you’re starting from scratch all of this info probably seems a little daunting. So I asked our panel to narrow it down for us – what are the main techniques that are gaining popularity?

Here are the trendy techniques according to Corey Bramlett:

Soft-hand (Discharge, Water-based, and fashion base) is by far the most requested and produced by us. Over-sized printing is obviously very popular.
The best way to choose is to get as educated as possible about the techniques and processes.
We even offer a really cool service call we call “Print Architecture” where we help designers “build” their piece maximizing the effectiveness of our specialty methods.
-Corey Bramlett

I asked Corey for some more details about “Print Architecture”, but didn’t hear back in time. I’ll update the post when new details emerge. I actually stumbled upon a great resource on one of Raw Talent’s subsites, FashionLab. This Methods Page categorizes print techniques with designer-friendly lingo, making it pretty easy to understand.

Back in January, Rodney Blackwell participated in the The Imprinted Sportswear Show at Long Beach. He suggests that one of the best ways to learn about printing techniques is to attend a trade show & see the stuff demonstrated in person (not to mention cracking jokes & shaking hands).

At these shows you get to see all the different t-shirt printing techniques up close and personal. You can see all the specialty screen printing inks and how they are used to make cool effects on t-shirts. You’ll see the advances that digital printing has made. You’ll see how plastisol heat transfers and vinyl heat transfers can be used to create some of the same effects you see on high end brands. On top of that, you’ll get a first hand look at the latest fashion blank t-shirt brands and styles, with a chance to feel the quality first hand. This can be a HUGE help when trying to find that perfect blank t-shirt to compliment your designs.
-Rodney Blackwell

Ready to take the next step in learning about printing techniques & methods? Try reading through Pros & Cons of Each T-Shirt Printing Method.

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Ok. So who wants to print my 14 color design?

Not all print shops are created equal. You’ve probably discovered this while shopping around and wondering how everyone else does it. Well, the printers that are part of this interview are here for a reason – they’re at the top of their industry. If you need some crazy complex print professionally produced, look no further than:

This is not a complete list. For that you’ll want to head over to T-ShirtForums for their running list of printers able to handle complex designs..

The (second to) Last Word

I couldn’t pigeonhole this tip into a category, but it seemed pretty darn valuable nonetheless.

Okay, here’s who actually get’s the last word — YOU! I’ve asked our great panel to keep an eye on the comments & swoop in to answer your questions or ideas. We’re up & running with the new Disqus Commenting Service, so let it rip! Questions! Resources! Experiences! Recommendations! I can’t wait to hear what you have to say.