Illustrator Textile Printing

by Design Workshop Sydney

Exporting Illustrator files for the purpose of textile printing is a straight-forward process, but requires a little setting up initially. We show you how in our Illustrator for textiles courses.
For example, first create a new document 100 x 100mm, with a color mode of either RGB or CMYK, depending on what your print provider requests in their FAQ sheet. Note, however, that most DTG (Direct to Garment) printers and process printers use CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black) inks. If a precise colour match is important, however, you may have to use RGB (Red, Green, Blue) and Pantone colours for spot-colour screen printing. Many designers first set up their files in RGB since the full colour gamut and many filters are not available except in RGB. They would later convert the file to CMYK. Note that in CMYK images mid-tones can often become muddy and colors can be muted, so it’s always best to check with your printing company beforehand.
Next go into the Swatches panel and from the options (top right) choose Select All Unused and hit the Delete button, then Yes. Note that often you can download the printing company’s own colour library, for example an ASE file, to your desktop. Then in the Swatches panel options select Open Swatch Library, Other Library and browse to your file to Open. Next drag the colours you want to use into your Swatches panel ; you could test how they look together using the Blob Brush (Shift+B), or just as shapes side by side. Note the small white triangle indicating a Global colour. These are linked to objects that use them, so that if you edit a global colour, the objects using them will update. This can be good for colour management purposes. Standard colours can also be converted to global colours via the options menu. Alternatively select the colours you wish to group and click the New Colour Group icon at the bottom of the panel. Also in the options we have Save Swatch Library as ASE. This means it can be loaded into future files. You can also select an image containing various colours and save as New Colour Group.
Next we create a repeat print as usual using either the standard shape tools or the Blob Brush whose main features are size, fidelity and smoothness. Then select all and go to the Object menu to choose Pattern and Make.
Finally we wish to export the file. Many fabric printers will request a TIFF file, 8-Bit, uncompressed, and in Lab colour space. Note that we can’t do this in Illustrator itself, but we can do so in Adobe Photoshop. Go to File, Save and save the file as an AI first. Then go to File, Export and Save As Type: TIFF and Save. For Color Mode choose CMYK and in Resolution select Other: 150 dpi and OK. Next open up Photoshop and go to File and Open to open the TIFF you just created. At the top Image menu select Mode and Lab colour, then File and Save. Note that Lab colour is the only “device-independent” colour space in Photoshop, so it’s good for fabric printers which are different from standard commercial print machines. In Lab colour the tones and colours are dealt with separately.
So now we have a print-ready file with almost foolproof colors. All we need to do now is go to our provider’s website (for example and upload the artwork to print.
Whether you’re a complete beginner or self-taught, our courses will help you gain self-confidence in your Illustrator workflow, as well as adding to your professional skill-set. Many more tips and techniques can be found at the Adobe website. And see many examples of our clients’ work on our Facebook page.
Other related Illustrator Blog Posts:
Illustrator workspace
Illustrator basics
Illustrator clipping masks
Illustrator live trace
Illustrator brushes