Can you print a painting onto a t-shirt?

This is a question that we receive quite often, typically from an artist, or a family member or close friend of the artist. It is a very understandable desire and we can see how great it would be to have custom t-shirts with a painting printed on them. However, unfortunately nine times out of ten we are just not able to print a painting onto a t-shirt. The main reason for this is because most paintings are much like a photograph in that they present the same problems photographs do when printing on t-shirts. Most inks in paintings are mixed together to create a colorful piece of art that is full of color gradient changes, shadings, and lighting effects. These color gradient changes are very hard to print because they contain so many various colors and screen printing is only optimal with solid spot colors that do not have gradients.

The good news though is that there have been many cases in which we have been able to successfully convert the image of a painting into a solid spot colors representation instead. This spot color representation is then ideal for screen printing. This artwork technique is something that we are very good at and it comes in very handy when you are trying to get across the concept of a painting more than the exact piece itself.

About the only way to accomplish screen printing of an original painting as is, is with a technique in the industry called four color process printing. Unfortunately there are a few drawbacks to this process. For instance, four color process can require very expensive setups and a larger than normal minimum of t-shirts per order. Plus, even with the best results for four color process print, the end result is typically only about 60-70% of the quality of the original artwork. Because the results typically produce less than 100% quality, we rarely do four color process printing unless the design completely lends itself to doing so and the customer is aware of the limitations and risks and wants to proceed anyway. The situation has to be just right and it is not something that we would do without thoroughly explaining it to the customer.

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