Print-Ready Artwork with Adobe Photoshop: A Guide for Product Decorators

Written By: Levi Bost

(July 14, 2023)

Read Time: 10 Minutes

Photoshop's versatile features make it an excellent tool for preparing full-color designs for various printing processes such as sublimation, wide-format, direct-to-garment, and screen printing. Photoshop also supports several plugins like RIP (Raster Image Processor) print drivers, essential for breaking down full-color images into separate CMYK film positives using halftone dots, a vital step in screen printing.

Despite its seemingly intimidating array of tools and features, a basic understanding of the most commonly used tools can make Photoshop much more approachable. Let's explore the fundamental features of Photoshop that you, as a product decorator, should know to prepare your artwork for printing.

Familiarizing Yourself with Photoshop's Menu Bar

The Photoshop Menu Bar hosts a plethora of options and functions. Let's highlight the most pertinent ones:

New: Here, you can adjust the canvas size, resolution, and color mode. If you're designing artwork for screen printing, aim for a resolution of 300+ DPI in CMYK color mode. For digital printing, stick to the same resolution but switch to RGB color mode. Always design at a higher resolution than required - it's easier to downsize an image while maintaining quality than to enlarge it.

Save As: This function is crucial for saving your artwork in the appropriate format based on its end use and color mode. For instance, web images need to be saved as JPEG (CMYK or RGB) or PNG (RGB), while print artwork is typically saved as PSD, JPEG, EPS, or PDF files. PSD files serve as source files and become backups (containing all the separate layers) once you've saved your final artwork in its ultimate format.

This menu allows you to undo or go back several steps (Undo and Step Backward), copy or remove and reposition selected parts of the artwork (Cut, Copy, and Paste), and change the size, shape, and orientation of the selected layer(s) or image aspects (Transform Path).

This section allows you to adjust the color mode (Mode), alter the colors in the design (Adjustments), and resize the artwork or canvas (Image Size and Canvas Size).

The "Color Range" function uses the Eyedropper Tool to select all parts of the artwork of a similar color, determined by the "fuzziness". A higher "fuzziness" captures more shades of the color.

View and Window
These menus let you choose which toolbars are displayed while editing.

Exploring the "Tools" Toolbar

The Tools Toolbar houses most of the tools you'll use in Photoshop. Here's a quick overview:

Move Tool: Allows you to move an entire layer or multiple selected layers.
Marquee Tool: Lets you select a rectangle or other fixed shape of the artwork.
Lasso Tool: Similar to the Marquee Tool but is a freehand selection tool.
Magic Wand: Selects parts of the artwork based on pixels of similar color value in the same region.
Spot Healing Tool: Ideal for editing photos with "Red Eye" or removing skin blemishes.
Eyedropper Tool: Selects a color for use in another part of the artwork.
Eraser Tool: Erases content from the active layer.
Paint Bucket Tool: Fills solid or gradient colors within a fixed area.
Text Tool: Allows you to add text to an image.

Managing Layers

Photoshop's unique layering system lets you make countless modifications to your original image without altering the original itself. Each effect is created on a separate layer, which is laid over the original rather than replacing it.

By right-clicking on a layer, you can duplicate, delete, merge layers, convert the artwork into a Smart Object (scalable and can be rasterized), or hide/unhide individual layers. You can also add effects like Drop Shadow, Color Overlay, and Stroke/Choke to your layers.

Other Helpful Toolbars

History Toolbar: Shows past actions and allows you to revert to a specific point in the editing process.
Channels Toolbar: Helps you view the artwork as it would be printed in each individual CMYK or RGB color, crucial for screen printers in separating colors.

Essential Photoshop Shortcuts

Here are some essential shortcuts that could increase your productivity:

Copy (Command+C on Mac and Control+C on PC)
Cut (Command+X on Mac and Control+X on PC)
Paste (Command+V on Mac and Control+V on PC)
Undo (Command+Z on Mac and Control+Z on PC)
Select All (Command+A on Mac and Control+A on PC)

Wrappin' It Up

Incorporating Photoshop into your work can revolutionize your artwork preparation process, make your designs more professional, and streamline your workflow. With a basic understanding of these tools, you're well on your way to becoming a proficient Photoshop user. Happy designing!

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