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Behind the Curtain in the Art Department

Posted by on in Artwork and Design


Between the time when you send your design to DFC and the beginning of production, your design spends some time in a mythical land called the Art Department. There, skilled artisans practice dark arts to perfect your image before it reaches production.

In reality, there is no mystery to the Art Department. DFC has a process they have fine tuned over the years, and your design needs to satisfy you and be optimized for the DFC print process, which is the core responsibility of the art department. To give you a better understanding of the art process, we present you this guide to the Art Department.

Following a Design through the Art Department

Getting art readyWhen your design arrives in the Art Department, adjusting the resolution of the image is the first order of business. Poor resolution leads to a blocky, granular design, so the Art Department works to dial in the resolution of your image to get the perfect appearance for your design. Adobe Illustrator is the main tool for graphic design at DFC, although they sometimes use Adobe Photoshop.

The Art Department prefers to use high definition images, because of their superior resolution and crisp appearance. But they’re not required.

“A lot of our customers aren’t familiar with graphic design or high resolution images, and they shouldn’t sweat it. Just send us a design sized to your medium in the proper resolution, and we’ll handle it from there, DFC is well versed in handling these images, and is more concerned with getting the design right than having customers do the heavy lifting.

Dialing in the Details

Art ProofAfter the Art Department fine-tunes your design, they send you a digital proof, essentially a virtual mockup of your design on the medium of your choice. So, you’ll see how your design appears on a T-shirt or banner before production begins.  

Designs might spend some time traveling back and forth between customers and DFC until they are finally ready for production. The Art Department works hard to make sure you are satisfied with your design, and this is a collaborative process. Customers who have a clear idea of their design and appropriately sized images see their images reach production much quicker than customers with uncertain expectations.  To minimize turnaround time, consider the specifics of your design before submission.

Here’s a brief recap of what DFC is looking for in designs:

  • Vector files- Adobe Illustrator (.ai, .pdf, .eps).
Vector files are resolution independent, and can be any size, since scaling has no impact on resolution.
  • Raster files - Adobe Photoshop (.psd, .tiff, .jpg.). Raster images need to be at least 300 dpi (drops per inch) at 100% file size.

Of course, if you’re not certain how to scale your designs properly, give us a call. This is the sort of thing that the Art Department does every day, and while the process might scare you, it’s the kind of thing we live and breathe.

Final Preparations

After proofs receives your thumbs up, preparation of the image for production begins. The process looks a little different for every medium, but we’ll look at shirts, since those are the most popular screen printing item at DFC.

Screen Printing Separation Example

For screen printing, your design needs to be separated into layers. Because each color is applied as a different layer, the image is dissected into the various colors that make the finished design. Separated layers are printed onto film positives and burned onto multiple screens. After the burn, the screens show the film negative of the image, which allows the ink to pass through the positive regions of the screen. Finally, production begins.

Leave the Alterations to Us

One thing that’s important to note is that the process works best when DFC is able to handle the intricate customization of designs. There are peculiarities to screen printers, dye, material, and process that are specific to each screen printer. Take gradients, for instance, which are accomplished through printing fine points of ink. An experienced printer knows exactly how to create gradients (halftones) with their press and inks, and they will adjust the design accordingly.

If a customer knowledgeable in graphic design were to adjust a design in anticipation of this process, their changes could be beautiful, text-book perfect adjustments, but ultimately incompatible with the DFC print process. If you’re tempted to tweak your images, stay your hand. As long as you send the Art Department an optimized design, they can handle translating it to your media accurately.

  • Most print shops charge for all the custom artwork they do, which is a cost barrier for some customers. DFC, on the other hand, offers up to 2 hours of free custom artwork on orders over $400. The amount of artwork that can be done in 2 hours is pretty impressive, if you are wondering. That means you don’t have to worry if you’re not sure how to perfect your design. We’re here to find that solution with you.
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