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. 


Understanding Vector Art Files

We understand that "vector art file" is unfamiliar to many individuals looking to order custom t-shirts. We are here to help! Simply put, this is an editable art file that is scalable, separated into distinct shapes, and doesn't lose its quality regardless of sizing. Common programs used to create vector artwork are Adobe Illustrator and CorelDraw. A vector art file is vital for certain print methods, such as screen printing, to appropriately set up a design for the printing process. Our team of knowledgeable artists can provide feedback on whatever file(s) you have in your possession.

Below is an example of a non-vector file (left) and a vector file (right). 

Determining if a File is Vector

Identifying the quality of your art file is an important step. You can do this by checking the file type. Common vector formats end in .ai, .eps, .pdf, .svg, and .cdr, while non-vector formats end in .jpg, .jpeg, .png, .psd, .tiff, and .gif. However, the format doesn't always guarantee that the file is vector. To be sure, open the file and zoom in. If it stays clear without blurriness or pixelation, it's likely a vector art file. If the graphic becomes blurry or jagged around the edges, it is a non-vector file.

In the following example, you can see how the details remain intact when zooming in on the vector art file. 

Vector image up close

The non-vector version loses detail when zoomed in and appears jagged around the edges. 

Rasterized image up close with poor detail


Converting to Vector

We will make every effort to work with the file you have available or offer a recreated, similar, or alternate design for consideration. Converting non-vector images into vector format is possible through a process called "running a trace." This meticulous method involves carefully tracing each detail in the image and recreating each element as a separate shape. The result is the scalable vector graphic needed for our team to prepare your order for printing. We will be in contact with design recommendations or options on how to move forward when the quality of a file is too low to successfully perform a trace.

Here is an example of what a "trace" looks like and how it turns a blurry image into a sharp, ready-to-print graphic.

Tracing a raster image to create a vector

Now that the trace has been completed, take a look at the comparison between a non-vector image and its vector counterpart below.

Side by side raster vs vector image


Handling Fonts

There are thousands of possible font options. They can add flare, make a statement, and meet the demands of branding guidelines for schools and businesses. A vector file is required for us to know what font is used in a logo or design. Depending on the print method, we consider the following when a vector file is unavailable:

  • Digital print: a vector file is not required. We can output the file as-is for printing and the font outcome will appear as previewed on screen.
  • Screen print: a vector file is required, and we will need to recreate the non-vector file. We will do our best to find a match or use a similar font, but an exact match is not guaranteed.

The main program our art department uses is Adobe Illustrator, which will not preserve the appearance of a copyrighted font or a font that we don’t have access to. The font must be “outlined” and turned into a vector shape, meaning it will look exactly as intended and what we need when prepping your artwork for printing. We recommend discussing this detail with the artist handling your design or at least getting the name of the font(s) being used for us to pass along to our art department.

The comparison below demonstrates the importance of outlining fonts within a file. The image on the left has not been outlined while the one on the right has been appropriately outlined and therefore, is displayed correctly when opened in Adobe Illustrator. 

Adding text to vector images for logos and 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



Reassurance When Ordering 

Once your order is submitted, an artist will review the design and properly format it for printing. While vector files are preferred, we can work with other file types and still achieve exceptional print outcomes. Plus, not all print methods require vector artwork. When needed, our art department can transform most non-vector files into vector format, though the complexity of the process depends on the file's quality. You will receive an email from customer service if we think a better art file may be available than the one included on the order.

If you find yourself in need of further guidance, we’d enjoy hearing from you! Please feel free to contact us at or 888-487-4478 for a comprehensive file review before placing your order. Our team is eager to provide you with the support and expertise required to ensure your t-shirt designs are nothing short of exceptional.