Creating Great Artwork for Promotional Products

Steve Jobs famously said, “Design is not how things look, but rather how things work.”

This is relevant for me every day as the in-house graphic designer for RIGHTSLEEVE & CampRIGHTSLEEVE, because we work in such a huge variety of media, from apparel to hard goods to printed material and web graphics. I rely daily on my knowledge of design theory, software, aesthetics and my eye for detail, but more importantly, I need a technical knowledge of manufacturing processes before design even begins.  Great design is useless if it doesn’t work.

A RIGHTSLEEVE primer on creating great artwork for promotional products

Know your medium

Screen-printing, embroidery, flocking and knitting are all methods of decorating apparel, but they all require purpose-built artwork because the manufacturing process is vastly different for each. A design that works on the computer will not always work on a t-shirt.

For example, gradient fades look fantastic on the monitor, but they are difficult and expensive to screen print. Screen-printing involves placing single areas of colour on an item in a paint-by-numbers style. Each colour requires a separate screen, so fading seamlessly from one colour to another is difficult to achieve.

Embroidery, flocking and knitting are entirely different beasts again, each requiring its own artwork designed specifically for its method. Knowing the medium will help you create better artwork. Luckily our reps all have an understanding of these methods, so if you’re not sure, just ask.

How light affects colour

If you look at the same colour in shadow vs. artificial light vs. sunlight, it will look like three different colours. Colours on a computer monitor look very different from colours on printed goods, and even on printed goods, colours can look different.

Pictures of the exact same T-shirt in various degrees of light and shade, aligned next to each other below, show how different a single colour can be depending on the light it's seen in.

color swatches

color swatches

The Pantone Matching System (PMS) identifies colours by a universally recognised alpha-numerical code, ensuring that designers, printers and clients all reference the exact same color. When you want to match a specific colour, picking from a PMS library is the best way.  Pantone libraries are identified by their suffixes. If you're interested in learning more, this is a great resource otherwise, just ask a RIGHTSLEEVE rep.

The DL on resolution

Resolution is another key to designing art for promotional products. Your Dots Per Inch (DPI) or Points Per Inch (PPI) are the number of dots, or pixels, of colour per inch in your artwork, and it’s the difference between artwork that looks fuzzy, blurry or mushy vs. crisp, clean high quality art.

Computer monitors use only 72 dots per inch, while vector art can be upwards of 800 PPI. The difference in the resolution is why artwork that looks great on your computer won’t always look good printed, or why images from the internet don’t print well.

Generally speaking, 300 DPI and above is considered high res artwork, while anything below that is considered low res and is only used for web graphics or television. When your rep asks you for “vector” artwork, it’s because vector art can be scaled up or down infinitely without losing resolution, making it the easiest to work with across all decorating methods.

low res vs high res artwork

low res vs high res artwork

Hopefully with this brief summary of some design basics, you begin to see why good design isn’t just about how things look. Good design is a careful equation of form, function, aesthetics and manufacturing. When all of these things are in symmetry, what you get is a beautiful image that works invisibly.

And you can trust that RIGHTSLEEVE and CampRIGHTSLEEVE will always create artwork that works!

This content written by: RIGHTSLEEVE Graphic Designer, Regan McDonell