How to maximise your designs for making merch

Making your designs into printed merchandise can be daunting, so we’re here to demystify the process and give you some tips on prepping your designs for products like enamel pins, screen-printed t-shirts, art prints, embroidered caps and more…

Merchandise can be a valuable income and a brilliant way of showcasing your design and illustration talent. There are so many options out there that the best route to turning one of your designs into printed merchandise can be confusing. We’ve covered print-on-demand services in the past, but what if you want physical items to sell at events, display on stalls or sell online on platforms like Etsy or your own website?

We’ve distilled our design knowledge into some bitesize tips that cover what print companies generally want to receive for different projects and ways you can apply your designs to a wide variety of commonly sold products.

What printers want: the basics

Different print companies have different preferences. So depending on what print company you use, their specific requirements for a project may vary. Don’t be disheartened by technical jargon, here are some general rules to live by:

If a print website supplies their own blank product templates, use them, or at least check them against what you plan to send them to ensure the size and settings in your document match.

300dpi is the standard minimum resolution for raster artwork, so keep this in mind when creating your illustrations and design work.

Us a CMYK colour setting. This is because printing works in CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black), but your computer monitor works in RGB (Red, Green, Blue).

Most websites will accept .EPS format for vector files and layered .PSD, .PDF or high resolution (300dpi or greater) .PNG, .TIF or .JPEG files for raster artwork.

3mm is a standard size bleed for most artwork—this means your design ‘bleeds’ over the edge of the page to avoid gaps on the edges when the product is trimmed. For example, an A3 size art print needs to be designed with an extra 3mm of background on every edge.

Keep text and borders away from the edges of your designs to avoid losing bits of text on items like art prints or postcards that are trimmed from a larger sheet of paper.

If you’re using fonts for typography, remember to embed your fonts when you export your .PDF or ‘Outline’ your text using Convert to Curves, so that no font replacement is required at the printers end. If you send your print company a design with a fancy font in that they don’t have installed on their computers, it will display as a default font at their end.

Keeping your options open

There’s no use in making a 5-inch by 5-inch design in raster and then hoping to make a good quality A1 poster out of it further down the line. It’s good to think about the potential your design has to become merchandise while you’re designing it. Merchandise design will require your file to exist at lots of different sizes, so think about making your original design as large as the biggest product you envisage making, or make the design in vector so it can be scaled up to

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