What you need to know about image size for t shirt printing

What you need to know about image size for t shirt printing

Size alone can sometimes make the difference between a good t shirt design and a bad one. Whether it's a matter of an artwork being too large for a space or a problem with image quality, size matters.

With any luck, this comprehensive guide -- chock full of tips and tricks -- will help you avoid running into problems with image size when designing a custom t shirt.


 Size can impact image resolution (and turn your custom logo shirt blurry!)   

Have you ever seen a thumbnail or other small image that you thought looked great up until you enlarged it?


When a Bitmap image becomes a badmap image

A graphic's image resolution has a direct impact on how that image will look at certain sizes. While a high resolution image may look great whether it's large or small, a low resolution image will only look good at its actual size (or smaller).

Considering graphics seen on a screen are generally tiny while t-shirts offer a lot of space, there's a good chance that the cool image you Googled won't look so cool when it's printed on a tee. But don't fret, there are ways to get a high resolution image at your desired size.


 Some file types are better than others when creating custom designs   

How much thought do you usually give to your image file type? If you're like most people, the answer is probably none. And yet the file type can make the difference between an amazing-looking graphic and a crappy-looking one.

And, when it comes to file types, you should usually choose vector files.

Vector images vs raster images

Vector image vs raster bitmap image -- PPI (pixels per inch) are important when it comes to rasters

As illustrated above, the difference between a vector image and a raster image can be like night and day. Vector images give you precise edges and lines, with clear areas of a defined color. Raster files, on the other hand, give you rounded images and lines.

 Examples of vector file formats/extensions (which are great for shirt fonts)   

.ai (Adobe Illustrator)

.dxf (AutoCAD Drawing Exchange Format)

.eps (Encapsulated PostScript)

.pdf (Portable Document Format)

.svg (Scalable Vector Graphics)

Note: for those looking to upload artwork: Bolt Printing's preferred vector formats are EPS and PDF.

Examples of raster file formats/extensions (some of which can cause issues when designing shirts)  

.bmp (Bit Map Picture)

.gif (Graphics Interchange Format)

.jpeg (Joint Photographic Experts Group)

.png (Portable Network Graphics)

.tiff (Tagged Image File Format)

Note: for those looking to upload artwork: Bolt Printing's preferred raster formats are PNG (save with transparent background, 10" wide at 150 PPI/DPI), JPEG, and TIFF.


Creepy-cute cat art using white ink on a black garment

Why are vector graphics so much crisper than raster graphics? (Giving you cleaner shirt designs)   

Raster files are composed of a set number of pixels -- ie, no matter the size, the number of pixels remains the same. This means when you enlarge a raster image, you're enlarging the pixels. So when you double the size of a raster graphic, you've effectively cut the resolution in half.

Vectors, on the other hand, are built around formulas. As a result, a vector file can scale in high resolution to virtually all sizes because it's not dependent on the original number of pixels.

PPI (pixels per inch) is a big deal when it comes to raster images because that number is determined when the image is created and, if you want to maintain the resolution, you'd need to add more pixels. However, you don't need to think about pixels per inch at all with vector graphics.


A quick side-note: PPI vs DPI  

You'll sometimes hear PPI used interchangeably with DPI (dots per inch). The difference between PPI and DPI comes down to media type.

DPI refers to the number of printed dots contained within one inch of an image printed by a printer whereas PPI refers to the pixels per inch on a screen.

While a pixel and a dot are effectively the same size (and most people will know what you mean), it's generally less confusing to say "pixels" and "PPI" when referring to an image in a digital format.
How many pixels per inch were used to create this t shirt design?


 "If vector files are so awesome, why do people use anything else when customizing shirts?"   

While vector files have an array of benefits, they have one major drawback: they require specialized graphic design software to open. On top of that, it takes additional experience and/or training to work with the graphic.

Vectors are the best format when it comes to printing text, a logo, and/or graphic elements that are distinct from other elements.

However, for photographic images or anything with colors that blend together, a raster file might be the better choice. (In most cases, an image saved at 12" wide with 150 PPI/DPI will turn out well.)


Printing a decent resolution photo

You'll also find that many images were created or manipulated in a vector format before being exported as a raster file. (And, if you're working with a graphic designer, always be sure to request the vector files. There's no telling when you might need them!)

(Also note that the file size on vectors tends to be larger than raster files.)


 Your customizable shirt's size can influence your design size   

Perhaps it goes without saying that adult sizes give you more design space than youth sizes. The same is true (to a lesser extent) when it comes to male styles vs female ones.


The given size on t-shirts can affect the perceived quality of your prints

It probably also goes without saying (but I'm going to say it anyway!) that your design space dictates your design size. After all, you can't have a t-shirt design extend past the t-shirt!

As such, you'll notice some variation in our image size recommendations for t-shirt designs when it comes to the type of shirt. Any sizing guide would be incomplete without exceptions, after all.


 Image size for t-shirt designs   

There are a LOT of print locations on a custom t-shirt. Even the front has multiple options. However, the most popular print location by far is the full front.


 The right size for a full front design on a custom tee   



T-shirts have a lot of area for art on the front

A full front design is the prime real estate on a shirt. It's the area everybody is likely to notice, even if they don't get much time to look at it. And an awesome full size image is sure to turn some heads.

The print area for this placement tends to start at the chest (2-3" below the collar) and goes down from there.

Unisex print area - 12" x 13"

Ladies print area - 10" x 13"

Youth print area - 9" x 11"

(You'll notice the width is consistent between the unisex and ladies version -- it's because height is generally the bigger issue.)


An example of the high-quality art you can create on printed t-shirts

If you're trying to keep your t-shirt printing costs down, screen printing on just the front is definitely the way to go. As seen in the example above, there's little chance of missing a large t-shirt design that sits right around a person's chest.


 Just want to go with a large logo? Try the center chest instead   

If you're trying to draw attention to a brand, a large logo is among the best ways of doing it.

However, logos don't need to take up a full front -- in fact, you'll want to leave room so the design doesn't look overwhelming.


The art in this screen-printed design shows off some nuance in the ink colors -- much more vibrant than a heat transfer!

Looking professional! What you should know about the left-chest placement (ie, the best place for company logos)  

If your custom t-shirts are being used as work uniforms, you'll likely want to go with a design in the left-chest spot.


The perfect given size for printing on the left-chest

The left-chest is an almost-universally recognized location for a company's (or organization's) name and usually their logo. In the case of a printed t-shirt, you may also want a larger design on the back (but, if you were embroidering a polo instead, you'd likely want something on the sleeve).

[NOTE: When sending in a left-chest design, make sure it's actually a left-chest design. Some people mistakenly try to request a right-chest design because they're looking at their left and forgetting it's not the same as left on the t-shirt.]

Because the left-chest is so widely used, it has a pretty uniform print area.


Printing on the left-chest

Whether man or woman, youth or adult, the print area for a left-chest is 3" x 3" overall (basically the size of a Post-It note).

Of course, if you also have a graphic for your logo, you won't have as much room if you want to add text.


 "What if my company name or business logo won't fit within the customization area?"   

The easiest solution would be to make the logo and/or name smaller. You could also try experimenting with different fonts.

Of course, if you have to exceed the standard width, it helps if the t-shirt is on the larger side so it's less noticeable (and you get a little extra room).


 "What if I wanted to put my logo on custom pocket t shirts?"   

When it comes to screen printing on shirt pockets, you have two options: above the pocket or on it.


The full size of the pocket is only 3 x 3

Beyond that, the print area above the pocket is the same as left-chest location.

When printing on the pocket itself, you'll want to say within a 3" x 3" print area.


 Back to basics: Why the shirt back is a great place for a screen print  

Arguably the second-most popular print location on a t-shirt might be the back (although it's rarely used as a solo location).


Lots of printing area on the back -- could even add a photograph

The full back has the same area as the full front:

Unisex print area - 12" x 13"

Ladies print area - 10" x 13"

Youth print area - 9" x 11"

However, it's worth noting the placement is a little different. This print location starts 4-5" down from last line of stitches on the collar. (There's a practical reason for this -- people tend to slouch forward a bit so, if design was higher up, part of it would be pulled forward.)


Printing high resolution apple art

While the shirt front is great for getting attention, a t-shirt back is good at keeping it. If you're standing behind somebody in line, for example, you have lots of time to check out their shirt back. (As opposed to if you were talking to them, your eyes would likely be on the person's face -- and, if you weren't talking to them, you might worry they'll catch you staring.)

And you can sometimes go a little nuts with the image size on the back.


 Screen printing on the nape of a t-shirt   


Printing on a nape

The nape is a frequently underappreciated print location on t-shirts. Like the left-chest, it has a bit of a professional vibe. It's also in a relatively good place to be seen, since the location is high up on the back (even if the spot itself is pretty small).

In a crowd, you'd be be able to see nape design over people's shoulders... although, given the size, it can be hard to make out what it says (so it's a good spot for companies' logos).

The print area starts 1-1.5" below the collar and the size is identical to that of the left-chest.


 "Messages grow on sleeves" (a.k.a. printing on custom long-sleeve shirts)   

A long sleeve t-shirt may not be something you wear year-round (unless you're in a climate-controlled area), but a long sleeve provides an eye-catching location for a message.


Printing on long sleeves gives room for long messages

The sleeve is unique in that it provides a lot of width for your design, meaning you can have a long message -- and you can certainly use the area to create something magical.

As a result, the design itself can be memorable just for its placement. (Especially because very few t-shirts have designs on the sleeves!)


Printing on a white long sleeve garment

The placement for a sleeve design is 3-6" down from the top seam connecting the sleeve to the body and the print area is 3" x 14" -- which is the largest width of any print location.

If there's any drawback to a long sleeve design, it's that you're somewhat limited in what you can do with it. It's a long, narrow area so a lot of conventional images are infeasible. Your printed art or design needs to be something that specifically takes advantage of the space.


White ink sleeve art


 You can also screen print on a short sleeve   

Although the sleeves on a long sleeve t shirt give you more room to work with, you can also print on a short sleeve.


Stick to smaller size art on short sleeve shirts

Just keep in mind you don't have nearly as much room on a short sleeve t-shirt -- only a 3.5" x 3.5" area.


 Customize your own shirts today!    


No photoshop required!

By now, you should have a good starting point when it comes to understanding image size.

You can upload artwork or a photograph to our online design studio and see how it looks on various garment styles. Our studio is a convenient, user-friendly, all-in-one design solution (so you don't have to rely on Photoshop when designing your t-shirts).

(And although today's blog focused on t-shirt printing, remember we have lots of other apparel, too -- polos, fleeces, hats, beanies, etc -- that can be embellished through either printing or embroidery.)


Our clip art gallery includes high resolution images