Preferred File Types

Art Files: Mastering File Types for Stunning T-Shirt Prints

Preferred File Types For Custom T-Shirts

When it comes to creating custom t-shirts, the quality of your artwork can make all the difference. You may not know what the right file type is for creating crisp artwork for custom apparel, but we've got all the details you need! In this guide, we'll delve into the world of vector art files and why they are essential for achieving the best possible t-shirt prints. Since 2003, we've seen every file type you can imagine and want to help you avoid the pains of printing a poor resolution, pixelated t-shirt design. Let's get started on the best file format for your next custom apparel order. 

Vector Art File Vs Bitmap

Vector (The Precision Maestro): When it comes to custom t-shirts, the Vector file type is your go-to conductor. It meticulously traces your artwork, gathering every detail, from outlines to colors and special effects. This data is encoded using mathematical precision, ensuring that your design looks sharp and vivid at any size. Think of it as your custom t-shirt's data maestro, orchestrating quality without compromise.

We understand that the term "vector art file" is unfamiliar to most individuals looking to order custom t-shirts. Simply put, this is an editable art file that is scalable and doesn't lose its quality regardless of sizing. You can zoom in and the points, curves, shapes, and lines remain smooth. It will never have a blurry or jagged appearance. Common software programs used to create vector art files are Adobe Illustrator and CorelDraw. In addition, a vector file separates each color into its own shape. This is required for some print methods such as screen print. If we receive a non-vector file (also known as a raster file), we may have to complete steps to turn it into a vector file. The ability to seamlessly complete this transition depends on the complexity and quality of the file provided.

Bitmap/Raster (The Pixel Perfectionist): On the other hand, Bitmap, or Raster, file types meticulously scan every nook and cranny of your artwork. They scrutinize the data in every dot per inch (dpi), instructing the computer to replicate precisely what they've observed. Increasing the dpi, also known as the resolution, empowers Bitmap files to relay more intricate details, elevating the visual appeal of your design. Picture a Bitmap file as the artist, working relentlessly to ensure your custom t-shirt design looks its best. When you require a higher quality image, the "artist" must make a best guess on what new colors or lines to draw. This can create unpredicatble and blurry outcomes. 

Below is an example of a non-vector/raster image (left) that has been turned into a vector art file (right). Some of the details look slightly different but the overall design remains the same. Plus, we are now able to properly set up this image for printing without the concern of a blurry or pixelated outcome.

Bitmap Vs Vector Images

Why Vector Files Are Essential for Custom T-Shirts:

Vector files are not just a trendy term; they play a pivotal role in the custom t-shirt creation process:

  • Color Separation: Vector files excel at neatly segregating colors into distinct shapes. This separation is crucial, especially when you're considering specific printing techniques like screen printing. It ensures that each color layer is precisely defined, leading to a cleaner and more accurate print.
  • Non-Vector Challenges: When non-vector files are provided, conversion may be necessary. However, the final result hinges on the original file's intricacy and clarity. Converting a complex and detailed non-vector file can sometimes lead to a loss of quality, which isn't ideal for a striking custom t-shirt design.

Identifying Vector Files with Ease:

Distinguishing vector art files from others is simpler than you might imagine:

  • Zoom Test: Take a closer look at your image by zooming in. If it retains its sharpness and clarity, it's likely a vector file. However, if it becomes blurry when zoomed in, you're dealing with a non-vector format.
  • File Formats: Keep an eye on the file format. Common vector formats include .ai, .eps, .pdf, .svg, .cdr, while non-vector formats encompass .jpg, .png, .psd, .tiff, .gif. Staying within the vector file formats ensures that your t-shirt design remains crisp and detailed even when closely examined.

In essence, vector files allow you to appreciate the finer details of your custom t-shirt design without any compromise in quality. They are the cornerstone of a perfect, professional, and visually striking result.

You can see the detail by zooming in on a vector file without losing detail. 

Vector image up close

The rasterized version loses detail when zoomed in. 

Rasterized image up close with poor detail


The Consequences of Not Having a Vector File:

When you submit your design, here's what unfolds:

  • File Review: Our talented artists meticulously inspect your design to evaluate its compatibility with our printing processes.
  • Smooth Sailing: If your file meets the requirements and is suitable for the task, we move forward without any delays.
  • Vector Request: In the case of non-vector files, we may request a vector version from you. This ensures that your design can be optimized for high-quality printing.
  • Digital Proof: If quality concerns arise, we're here to help. We provide a digital art proof for your review and approval, ensuring that the final result aligns with your expectations.

The Impact on Print Quality:

The significance of vector versus non-vector files depends on the printing method employed:

  • Screen Printing: For this method, vector files are essential to achieve sharp, precise prints. They ensure that each color layer is well-defined, resulting in a clean and accurate output.
  • Digital Printing: The outcome for digital printing is influenced by the complexity and sizing of your design. While vectors are beneficial, digital printing can still produce good results, especially for less intricate designs.

Concerns About Order Cancellation:

It's incredibly rare for an order to be canceled solely due to the quality of the art file provided. We are committed to finding solutions. We'll make every effort to work with the file you've provided or offer alternatives, such as a recreated, similar, or alternate design for your consideration. Below, you can see an example of a non-vector/raster image with poor resolution (left) alongside a simplified vector recreation of the logo (right), which we'd offer as a solution for printing, ensuring your order proceeds smoothly.

Visual example of raster image pixilation

The Influence of File Types on Fonts:

Fonts are a pivotal element in design, and the choice of file type can significantly impact how they appear:

  • Font Clarity: Vector files excel at preserving the clarity and integrity of fonts. They ensure that text elements are crisp and legible, regardless of the size at which they're displayed or printed.
  • Illustrator's Magic: Adobe Illustrator, a renowned vector design tool, has a special trick up its sleeve. It can "outline" fonts, transforming them into vector shapes. This process guarantees consistent results and is particularly useful for custom t-shirt designs.

The Art of "Running a Trace" on an Image:

Converting a raster image to a vector format is a common practice in the world of design. "Running a trace" involves meticulously tracing every intricate detail in an image, precisely delineating each edge to recreate the appearance of the original raster graphic. This process dissects the graphic into individual shapes, connecting points with lines. Once this conversion is complete, the graphic becomes vector-based, ready to be scaled up or down to any size without any loss in image quality. This transformation ensures that your text elements, including fonts, remain sharp and well-defined, making them ideal for custom t-shirt designs that demand font clarity and precision.

Tracing a raster image to create a vector

  • Detail Preservation: The transformation from raster to vector ensures that intricate details are faithfully preserved, maintaining exceptional quality throughout.
  • Visual Example: Take a look at the comparison between a non-vector image and its vector counterpart below. This striking illustration vividly demonstrates how the vector format excels at safeguarding the fine details within a design while upholding exceptional quality.


Side by side raster vs vector image


In this illustration, we present a clear comparison between non-outlined fonts (displayed on the left) and their outlined counterparts (seen on the right) as they appear when opened within Adobe Illustrator. The image on the right meticulously exhibits the precise rendition of how this logo is intended to be reproduced during the printing process. By taking the critical step of outlining the fonts, we can guarantee an exact and impeccable match between the digital design and the final printed outcome, ensuring that every intricate detail is faithfully preserved and accurately translated onto your chosen medium.

Adding text to vector images for logos and designs


By embracing and applying these fundamental principles, you will not only elevate the quality of your t-shirt designs but also pave the way for a seamless and efficient printing process. Our dedicated team of experts, passionately committed to supporting our valued clients, is here to guide you every step of the way.

Understanding these principles enables us, as a group of seasoned professionals, to provide you with the highest level of expertise and assistance. We are unwavering in our commitment to ensuring your design journey is not just successful but extraordinary. As a result, your designs will not only dazzle on your computer screen but will also translate brilliantly onto the fabric of your choice. The seamless transition from digital concept to tangible reality is what our team specializes in, and we take immense pride in making your creative visions come to life.

If you find yourself in need of further guidance, our door is always open. Feel free to reach out to us at for a comprehensive file review before placing your order. Alternatively, you can give us a call at 888-487-4478. Our team is eager to provide you with the support and expertise required to ensure your t-shirt designs are nothing short of exceptional.