The Definitive Guide to Vectorization, What is it? Do I need it? – AMS Manufacturing & Printing

The Definitive Guide to Vectorization, What is it? Do I need it?

If you are looking to get your artwork or newly made design printed on a tee or a garment via screen printing you may have been asked to provide vectorized and or separated artwork.

While some shops are willing to work with you to prepare the artwork for screen printing some of the larger more standardized shops only accept design and files in the vectorized format. 

So what is vectorizing? And why is so important for the art that is screen printing? 

Today we will be giving you everything you need to know about vectorizing and preparing your single color artwork for screen printing. Stay tuned for our post on color separation! 

What is Vectorization, Vectoring, Vectorizing? 

While it can go by many names Vectorization / Vectorized designs as we will be referring to them in this article is the process of converting a jpg, png or “raster” image into lines, curves and points. 

While traditionally done by hand by an experienced graphic designer or artist over the years there have been numerous software solutions promising to deliver comparable results. 

Which we will go over later in this article. ( skip ahead )

Typically once you have settled on a design that you love and want to print on a tee the next step would be to find and take your artwork or design to a graphic designer. 

There are numerous options out there for Vectorizing services both here in the United States and abroad. When just getting started, checking out can be a great resource. Just make sure that you vet each individual through their reviews and English literacy as that can make or break your project. 

Once you have the designer picked, send them your design and wait for them to do their thing. In the back end your designer will be hand drawing your design using lines, curves and points. Vectorization is basically a visual representation of a math equation. 

What you see when looking at a vectorized image is a series of points, lines and curves all suspended together in a 2D plane being held together by the mathematical bonds created by your designer when redrawing your artwork. 

While sounding complicated to us, the end result just looks like a super sharp and smooth version of our design, no numbers or algebraic equations to be seen for miles! 

Whew. That was close.

Why Do I need to Have my art Vectorized? 

Great you now have a understanding of what vectorizing is, now when your screen printing shop says they need your designs vectorized you won’t be a deer in headlights.

However. I still don’t understand why I would need to do this in the first place. My design already looks good and sharp. 

While it is true that some Photoshop designed files and designs may not need to be vectorized depending on how they were initially designed, most designs will need to be vectorized at some point in order to get a clean crisp print from screen printing your design. 

Raster images, or bitmaps, include file types such as JPEG, PNG, BMP and TIFF. One raster image definition mentions that these photographs are made up of millions of pixels arranged in a grid. Pixels are small squares containing color information. As pixels blend they produce a complete yet complex image with a variety of breathtaking colors.

It’s common to see the dimensions of digital photography expressed in pixels and bitmaps. As you look through raster images in your gallery, you will notice that you can download a number of sizes, such as 5304 px x 3840 px. The total number of pixels in this image would be 5304 x 3840, or a stunning 20,367,360 individual pixels. More pixels mean increased dimensions or resolution.

Advantages of Raster Images

  • Detail: Pixels give raster images the ability to express incredible detail and a huge variety of colors.
  • Image creation: Obtaining a raster image to work with is as easy as taking a picture or downloading an image from Shutterstock’s collection of professional photographs. Vector images require illustrators to design each component by hand.
  • Effects and filters: Photograph editors let you apply transformations and color filters, adjust contrast and change images with countless other incredible effects.

Where the downsides begin to come in is when we are getting your design / artwork ready for screen printing. 

Typically when sending a design the average size of the design is 1800x1200 pixels with an average PPI ( pixel per inch ) of 300. When translated into inches this would equate to 6x4 inches. 

That means that when we go to scale up the design to the proper full chest size ( 12” wide ) you will be me with quality degradation. Now, getting to the point where you need all the information I just put into your brain. 

When you scale a raster image up in size you are met with anti aliasing. Ugh another buzzword…

Believe me I know. 

Anti aliasing is where you see those grey, white and black blocks around the edges of your design.

When you have seen this in your real life you most likely were very zoomed into a photo or the photo or design you were looking at was low quality. The opposite of what you would want with your screen printing design on a tee or garment! 

However when scaling up the design of a vectorized artwork when scaled the mathematical bonds and equations set by your graphic designer change to modify the dimensions associated with each point, line and curve drawn in the design. 

The result is a picture perfect, ready to print sharp and crisp design. Ready to be printed, exposed and inked up for your garments! 

Do it yourself

Okay so now you understand what vectorizing is, why you need and what the end product will and should look like. 

You might be thinking how can I do this myself? 

As we spoke of above, there have since been many alternatives that come out that claim to be comparable to humans hand drawing out each design. In a fraction of the time. 

If you are a part of the Adobe Suite they offer a Live Trace feature that will automatically trace and input the lines based on a number of parameters that you can set. For those using Corel Draw they also offer a similar ( albeit much better ) option for vectorizing your images and designs in real time. The tool is referred to as PowerTrace 

To process a raster image to vector in Corel Draw, open the raster logo file in a new document, and select Bitmaps > Outline Trace. There are a few options to choose from here, and in many cases selecting Logo would be enough.

Corel PowerTRACE will kick in automatically, analyzing the raster logo and suggesting a vector outline for it. The preview window will present a before and after comparison.

Use the sliders on the right side of the screen to fine-tune the level of detail, corner rounding, and smoothing. The more complex the image the more you’ll have to refine the sliders. This will be the case if there is some small detail around typography or some other subtle detail that PowerTRACE may miss at first look. Essentially, this is your opportunity to refine the results to your liking and make any adjustments needed.

If you are just getting started screen printing yourself we also sell pre burned aluminum screens as well as pre printed transparencies with your design. Please contact us to get started and speak to our specialists and expert graphic designers. 

As always however if you are interested in getting your artwork or design vectorized and or color separated we have our team of expert experienced graphic designers on staff here at our location in Houston, Texas. Our team of graphic designers can take your artwork and designs from the blurry, anti-aliased raster images to beautiful works of art ready to be masterfully printed on our wide selection of garments for any occasion and season. Contact us today!

Leave a comment