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How to Prepare Artwork for Screen-Printing

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Read Time: 6 mins

A great piece of design or illustration can be taken to new heights by having it screen-printed. The texture and variance of the ink on the paper is beautiful, and the 'happy mistakes' are delicious. But this magic is not possible without prepping your artwork. Let's learn how!


I have previously shown how I generally go about creating an illustration or design, this tutorial is not that.

In this tut I will cover the steps that need to be taken, after the artwork is completed, in-order for it to be ready for screen-printing. This is not a tutorial on the process of screen printing, if you are unfamiliar with the process please review an additional tutorial.

The basic idea is that the artwork will be separated into different layers of color, and printed one at a time. A great aspect of this process is that by overlapping the layers you can create additional colors. This tutorial showcases how I prepare, or separate, the artwork for silkscreen printing.

I should note that there are probably a million variations on this process, and everyone undoubtedly does it a little differently. I am showing how I go about it.

Final Image Preview

Want access to the full Vector Source files and downloadable copies of every tutorial, including this one? Join Vector Plus for just 9$ a month. A preview of the final image is below. You can view the large version here.

Step 1

While designing I have already thought about a few main issues. Mainly, the order the layers will be printed, and how overlaying the colors will work. For this design I kept the layering as simple as possible so that it was easy to see what I am doing.

The design will have two layers, teal and brown. First the teal layer will be printed, followed by the brown layer over the top of the teal. The shadow inside the sleeve of the mans arm is the only area of overlap. When the teal and brown overlay, it will create the dark brown color.

Step 2a

Most people probably try a few different things and have extra pieces and scrapes around a design, so first I will need to do little tidying up. While creating this design I redrew the hand and the hair letters saying "work" on the hand (in black). This will not be used, so delete it.

Step 2b

From experience I have learned to take that extra second before I start and make a copy of the entire illustration in a new layer, then hide its visibility. This is just for a backup, but I always end up using it.

Step 3

Since the design is made from so many different shapes, I like to simplifying things. Here the design is in the Outlines view mode. You can start to see that the design is made of many different shapes. This can get messy when trying to print the artwork in layers, as you need to with screen-printing. So I need to separate the colors into two layers (the brown and the teal layers) so that when the layers overlap they do not interfere with each other.

Step 4a

This next step is the basic process that will be repeated throughout this tut, so its important to understand. It will involve adding or subtracting combinations of shapes using the pathfinder palette. Suggestion: experiment with every option of this palette. It's the easiest way to understand how it works.

I want to combine the two shapes that make up the brown jacket sleeve (selected in red). Select both shapes.

Step 4b

Click the Add To Shape Area button while holding the Option key to expand, otherwise you will have to hit the Expand button. This creates one simplified shape.

Step 5

Next I need to trim the letters of the dashed lines in the suit jacket - the word "GET," because the shape that covered it before got lost in the previous step.

Go into the backup layer ("Layer Image 1 Copy") and select the brown shape. Copy the shape (Command + C). Switch back to the working layer and Paste the shape in-front (Command + F). Be sure to hide the backup layer and select the working layer (top layer).

Step 6

Select the dashed line shape and the brown jacket sleeve shape. Holding the option key select Subtract From Shape Area again in the pathfinder palette.

Step 7

Next move the brown shape layer (jacket sleeve and hair) layer so that it's just above the teal background shape. I noticed there is a white shape that is not needed. Delete it.

Step 8a

Select the brown jacket shape and paste a copy in back (Command + B). Select the large teal background shape and select the Subtract From Shape Area button. Obviously, you know to hold the option button or hit Expand by now so I wont mention it again.

Step 8b

Now, you need to delete the dashed lines that make up the word "GET," because it overlaps where you want the paper to show through the brown jacket shape. Enter the large teal background shape group (by Double-clicking if your in CS3) and delete the dashed lines.

Step 9

Subtract the cream shirt shape with the word "to" written in teal (the button is the "o") in it from the brown jacket shape. Select the Subtract From Shape Area button in the pathfinder palette, while both shapes are selected. We are getting super close!

Step 10

Simply select the dark brown inside of the sleeve shape and change the color to the teal shape using the Eye Dropper Tool.

Step 11

Subtract the cream hand shape from the large teal background shape.

Step 12

Select all the teal shapes, using the Magic Wand Tool, and group them (Command + G). Do the same with the brown shapes and label that the "Brown" layer. Move the "teal" layer to the position just above the cream paper color and label the layer "Teal." Label each layer (double-click and edit the name of the layer) and move the "brown" layer above the "teal" layer.

Step 13

Ready to Print! Feel free to delete the "backup" layer at this point. In-order to preview how the colors will look when they are screen printed, select the brown layer, and change its blending mode to Multiply. This mimics what will happen when the brown layer is printed over the teal layer.

Final Image

*Disclaimer: The colors on screen may vary (sometimes drastically) from the color of the final screen print. Numerous factors can effect the color of the print, such as mixing inks by hand, color of the paper, natural light versus florescent light, etc. It is not an exact science, but it is beautiful.

The final image is below. You can view the large version here.

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