The three most important tools to have when ordering screen printing

To make the process of ordering screen printing as awesome as possible for both you and your printer, there are three tools we recommend that all printing clients have on hand. And our list might surprise you.

1. A Pantone Matching System (PMS) formula guide.

Pantone guides can be a bit on the pricey side, but if you are getting ready to drop a lot of dough on screen printing your precious designs, it’s probably worth the investment. Pantone Formula Guides run about $100 new, but you can usually find them used on eBay or Craigslist for about $50.

For those of you who are already confused — Pantone is THE world authority on color. Since the 1960s, its matching system has been standardizing colors throughout the art world. More than 1,500 colors each have a number assigned to them (e.g., PANTONE 185 C) to help artists communicate their color visions to printers, which is their ultimate purpose. Because the color callibration of computer monitors all differs a little bit, this system makes sure we can all stay on the same page.

The Pantone Matching System (not to be confused with Pantone Process, Pantone Fashion + Home or Pantone Paints + Interiors) specifies solid (spot) colors. Important: At Threadbird Printing, we use the Coated numbers. Of the Pantone books available, you need to get the PANTONE Formula Guide Coated, which usually comes in a set along with Uncoated and Matte. (These labels refer to types of paper, because ink colors differ when printed on glossy or matte papers.) If you’re an artist, you’ll probably want all these sets anyway, but the Coated is all you need for Threadbird Printing.

With your PMS guides, you’ll be able to specify exactly which PMS colors should show up in your prints, which ensures that we are able to give you exactly what you asked for and we don’t have to do any guessing or mind-reading on your behalf. We always prefer that you provide us with your PMS colors, but even if you don’t, we use all spot colors for printing and will specify PMS colors for you, which you will see listed on your mock. Even though our mocks provide digital proofs, you won’t know your true colors unless you have a Pantone book.

Of course, if you are printing simple shirts using standard colors, Pantone color matching usually isn’t that big of a deal.

2. A ruler

Yep that’s right, a ruler. Go ahead and laugh. But you will be surprised at how often people screw this one up. When you get t-shirts printed, it’s important to let your printer know exactly how big you want your design to end up. And don’t guess or assume. Make sure you really know.

Some tips: It’s always good to measure your artwork on a few different sizes of tees. With screen printing, the print will be the same size on every shirt you print. (Screen printing pricing is based around the making of your custom screens. If you have a large range of shirt sizes, like Girl’s Small to XXXL, you can order your screens in different sizes — but each time you do that is considered a new order.) Make sure your design will fit appropriately on the smallest size you’re printing and the largest size you’re printing.

And make sure to double-check your measurements on a shirt being worn by someone. One major mistake people make is that they don’t consider that the design will look different on a shirt laid flat than a shirt on a body. Prints always looks bigger when a shirt is being worn, because the side seams curve around the body. Always check your measurements on yourself or a friend to see how it will really look.

Again, if you print through Threadbird Printing, we send a digital proof that shows you roughly how the design will look before it actually goes to print. In our mocks, we use an adult medium for the example, and we confirm the exact print size of your design for your approval.

You would be surprised about how many people specify a certain print size and then change it after they see the mock, or worse, complain about it after they receive their printed shirts.

3. A calendar

Most people don’t realize how long it takes to get shirts printed. Long story short: You need to plan ahead of time. Most printers have their turnaround time listed on their website, so always look for that. But it also doesn’t hurt to ask your printer for an estimated turnaround time for YOUR order, including shipping time, as turnarounds can change unexpectedly. Some common hold-ups include:

  • Blanks on backorder — we have no control over this, and it happens a lot! Anytime your blanks might be delayed, we’ll let you know ASAP and will work out the right solution for you.
  • Changes to mock. We send everyone a digital proof to make sure you’re going to get exactly what you want, so if you have changes, some time could be added to your order.
  • Late mock approval. We give you 24 hours to approve your mock without a delay in service, but sometimes it takes you a while. It’s OK, we understand… especially if you understand that it may add some time to your order.
  • Custom-printed tags, bagging, etc. These add-ons can make your shirts way cooler, but they can also add up to three days to your order, which many people don’t realize.

For Threadbird Printing, most basic orders are done in 5-15 business days (that doesn’t include weekends!), PLUS shipping time. Our shirts ship UPS Ground out of the Chicago area, so they can take anywhere from one to four days to get to you. And just because they could be done in as few as five business days plus one day shipping, please don’t make assumptions about your delivery time without confirming a timeline with us.

If you need shirts for an event or have some other deadline in mind, plan conservatively, and ALWAYS let us know what your deadline is. It’s never good to rush through these things, and if we have to charge you a rush fee, it can get costly.

These little tips may sound silly, but by taking them into consideration will make everyone’s life better, and you will be a lot happier in the end. Of course we would love for you to consider using Threadbird Printing for your next run of tshirts. But even if you don’t, you can use this advice with any printer you work with!

Any more questions? Feel free to email me at

Images from Pantone, Threadless and ICanHazCheeseburger.

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