How to Avoid the Headache of Customer-Supplied Screen Printing Artwork

When you let a customer take part of the screen printing process out of your hands, you can open yourself up to problems. Learn how to overcome them!

Blog written on March 15, 2017 How to Avoid the Headache of Customer-Supplied Screen Printing Artwork

As a screen printer, some of your daily operation is sure to include creating artwork for customers. Keeping as much of the screen printing process as possible under your control is the key to getting good results - you have plenty of variables to deal with. However, your clients will often want to provide the artwork for their orders themselves. If your customers know what they're doing, this can save you some time. But more often than not it can cause a big headache.

Whenever you let someone else handle a step in the printing process like designing the artwork, it makes it more difficult for you to know exactly how to set up the job. When it comes to artwork, designs must be prepared specifically for screen printing. A customer who doesn't know any better may think reproducing a low resolution JPEG on a t-shirt is no problem, unaware it may take hours to refine or reproduce the artwork to make it suitable for printing.

If you accept customer-supplied artwork, you really can't blame your customers for not being screen printing experts. Even seasoned graphic designers can have trouble setting up print-ready art if they're not familiar with decorating garments. You must be prepared to put in some extra effort to make jobs fit to print. But you can make the work easier on yourself if you allow your customers to meet you halfway - and a little education is the best way to start.

A Little Information Goes a Long Way

Inevitably a potential customer will send you a fuzzy, low resolution raster image they created themselves or (even worse) found online, expecting you to magically print a high quality version. It's easy to be frustrated by this kind of request, but put yourself in the customer's shoes. Can you reasonably expect every little league coach, bar owner and charity race organizer to have a firm understanding of screen printing?

You have to give your clients guidelines for acceptable artwork. This can be as easy as outlining preferred resolution, size and file format on your website. When a customer approaches you with artwork, it's a good idea to ask where it came from. If they found it online, be careful. Not only will the format probably be unsuitable for printing, there could also be copyright issues. If they created the artwork themselves, ask what program they used. This will give you a better idea of what preparation it may require before printing. For example, a raster file designed in Photoshop might need some more attention than a vector created in Illustrator.

A vector graphic (left) retains its quality when enlarged because it's not composed of individual pixels.
A raster graphic (right) gets fuzzy, because the image size increases but the number of pixels stays the same.

Sometimes, clients have unrealistic expectations of the capabilities of screen printing. If an image displays properly on a web page, why won't it look good on a t-shirt? Explaining the fundamentals of screen printing and art preparation can help clarify the process. Maybe even consider letting clients tour your facility to see exactly what screen printing entails from start to finish. If they're familiar with the basics, they'll have a better understanding of what they can do to ensure a successful project. 

Clearly Communicate Your Policies

Even if you've done your best to educate your customers on artwork standards, it's still totally unrealistic to expect perfect print-ready designs from them every time, or even most of the time. You can still anticipate a fair bit of work revising or recreating art to get it ready for the press. In these cases, it's important to clearly state your policies regarding artwork preparation prices. Will you charge an hourly rate? Include a certain number of revisions in the initial price of art setup and charge extra for any additional work? Whatever pricing structure makes sense for your business, make sure it's clearly explained to your customers. No one likes getting a surprise charge on their bill!

Shortcuts to Getting Better Artwork

One way to save time and prevent headaches with customer-created art is to offer your customers a selection of premade templates and a collection of clipart or stock art to choose from. Letting clients create their own designs from premade elements will help ensure quality, print-ready art with less hassle for everyone. A large catalog of premade elements, combined with a little design manipulation and tailoring to fit the customer's message, should guarantee no two projects look the same. But just in case, make sure you explain to your customer what elements of their design are stock and what elements are unique, so they won't be confused if they see a different shirt with a similar look!

Are Revisions Worth Your Time?

The most important question you have to address when it comes to handling poorly prepared customer-supplied art is if it's worth your time. Ask yourself the following to help determine if it's a job worth accepting:

Has the customer brought you other business in the past?

Is the customer likely to bring you more business in the future?

A one-time customer with pie-in-the-sky dreams of starting his own clothing line, equipped with a few JPEGs he snapped off the internet for artwork, may not be a good client to invest your time and effort in. On the other hand, a client who is a reliable source of business is often worth some extra work to keep around. Watch out though - even if you have a longstanding relationship with a customer, you can't accommodate them to an unreasonable degree. Artwork preparation can be a breeze for shops with experienced design teams, but if you don't have the right staff, extensive art setup can get overwhelming. It's certainly understandable that you don't want to turn away business, but if you foresee a potentially problematic order costing you time and money, it's probably better to respectfully decline the job.

Customer-supplied artwork will almost always require a little tweaking to get ready for print. Sometimes you'll need to put in more effort than usual, but there are steps you can take to help your customers meet you in the middle. Clear communication of your policies and acceptable artwork standards will give clients a better understanding of how they can provide usable art, saving you the trouble of time-consuming revisions. So if you find yourself frustrated by customers supplying poor quality designs, make it as easy for them as possible to learn the solution!

Looking for more tips on how to handle your screen printing customers as smoothly as possible? Keep checking out our blog! 

Tags: screen printing artwork, screen printing business, screen printing supplies

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