Artwork for T-shirt Printing – Vector vs Bitmap


We just did up this short video outlining the differences between vector based artwork and bitmap (pixel) based artwork as it relates to t-shirt printing. In the video we look at the differences between each format and which one works better in which situation. I hope you find it helpful for you when preparing your artwork for screen printing on to t-shirts.

Video Summary

The video discusses two different types of artwork that are used for T-shirt printing—vector and bitmap artwork. The first thing you need to know about these types of art is the software that makes them possible. The standard tool for creating vector artwork is Adobe Illustrator. It may also be used with bitmap images but the editing features are not as good as for vector artwork.

Adobe Photoshop is the tool of choice for bitmap or pixel based images, and most of us know the finished products by their familiar filename extensions (.jpeg and .psd). Photoshop can also be used with vector artwork, although there are again certain limits to the freedom of editing. For maximum effects and freedom of editing, you have to work with each type of image specifically in the correct program.

So which type of artwork is best for your design? The best way to go about this is to check how image quality is affected when it is resized and fine-tuned. For Adobe Illustrator, you can zoom in as near as you want to the image and still see crisp black straight lines that form part of the photo or image you’re working on. This is the type of image you want to work on when you go for T-shirt printing.

With Photoshop, the clarity isn’t as great, because at a certain resolution the image turns into small pixellated boxes that gradually fade into the background color. You don’t get crisp, razor-sharp images with this software, and consequently the design on your T-shirt might not be as clean as you want it to be.

In terms of resizing particular portions of the artwork, vector artwork is the best. Even if you take out a tiny portion of the vector artwork and blow it up to more than the size of the original image, you’ll still get crisp clear lines that show no compromise of quality. When you do the same thing with bitmap images on Photoshop, you’re likely to end up with a slightly blurry image with soft edges and rather poor color. Such an image will not look good on a T-shirt because the program has to ‘guess’ which pixels go where, so the result is a picture whose edges end in gradients.

Finally, we will look at how the different artwork affects colour separations. In Illustrator, you just have to pull out each color in a few clicks and view them on your screen side-by-side for comparison. Contrast this with Photoshop where you have to cut and paste the different-colored parts of the image in a separate document that doesn’t allow easy for comparisons with the original image and the other colored portions. Filling in the separated image with a new color is also clean and quick in Illustrator, whereas in Photoshop you don’t get the same image and color quality as the original when you zoom in.

Vector based artworks are better for any kind of screen printing, but that doesn’t mean that bitmap images and Photoshop are already obsolete. They may have great scalability, no quality loss, easy color changes, but bitmap images are still quite useful. Photo-based artworks and grayscale images still have to be worked with in Photoshop.

If you want to try vector-based images on your next T-shirt project, you may want to use free software to create and edit them because licensed tools like the Adobe Creative Suite are very expensive. Inkscape is a good alternative to Illustrator, while for bitmap images you can try Gimp. These free programs can help you work on your images and enhance them further before printing.