The Importance of Image Resolution

Why is Resolution Important to Your Digital Decorating Business?
Ever have a customer come into your shop and ask you to print a photo they downloaded off the web?  When you print the image, it looks pixelated and out of focus?

This isn’t something that you did wrong, but it is because the image was not at the right resolution.

Normally Web graphics are 72 dots per inch (dpi) and printed graphics are 300 dpi.  Why the difference?  The reason is because web graphics need to be small in size so that it can be downloaded and viewed quickly.  On your computer screen, 72 dpi is enough resolution, however when you print the images/graphics on paper or any other substrate, it will require approximately 300 dpi (more than 3 times the acceptable screen resolution).     This all has to do with the way the images are produced on your screen and on paper.  As a result, what may look good on the computer screen, may not look good when printed.

When a customer sends a file, ensure you check the resolution before printing it.  This will prevent you from wasting paper on poor resolution graphics and images.  In Photoshop, you can click image -> image size.  This will tell you the size of the graphic and its resolution.  In Corel Draw, you can check the resolution by selecting your image and then checking the bottom bar for the resolution, and the top left corner for the size of the image.

You can change the resolution of an image by shrinking it.  If you shrink the image by 10%, the resolution will increase by 10% and vice versa (ensure that resample image is off in Photoshop).  However, if you want to increase a 72dpi image to a 300dpi image, you would have to shrink it by more than 300%!  Example:  6” x 6” image at 72dpi = 1.44” x 1.44” image at 300dpi

Tips/Hints on Resolution
You are more likely to get away with low resolution images if you are printing onto a t-shirt.  It is harder to get away with low resolution images when printing onto a hard substrate as the smoothness of the surface will show the pixilation more.  In addition, photographs can hide low resolution much better than graphics, text, or solid color images.

If a customer sends you a vector file, you won’t have to worry about resolution because most vector graphics are resolution independent and they do not display dpi in your graphics program.  This is because vector graphics are not images but a series of formulas and numbers that can be scaled with very little problems.  Editable text in a graphic design program are normally vector graphics.

Some images may seem like 300dpi because it says it in your program, but someone may have forced a 72dpi image to a 300dpi, saved it and sent it to you.  If this is the case, it may still not print correctly.

As the old saying goes “garbage in, garbage out” sometimes if your customer sends you an image with low resolution, you simply have to set his/her expectations or flat out reject the image!

What is the Right Cutter For You?

Whether you are buying a cutter for the first time or buying additional cutters for your company, there are many factors to consider.   The cost, cutting width, maximum force, tracking length, cutting speed, software, additional functions are all factors that you will need to consider.

Some of the factors are obvious such as cutter size, while others such as tracking length and maximum force are not.  So here’s a brief explanation of each one.

The cost is one of the biggest factors when purchasing a cutter.  However if you purchase the wrong cutter, you may end up paying more than you wanted in order to get the right one.  A great cost effective starting cutter if you are just cutting vinyl is the GCC Expert.  It is basically a stripped down version of the GCC Puma III.  What’s more is that the GCC Expert comes with 3 pinch rollers for better tracking!

Cutting Width
This one may seem obvious because this is the maximum width your cutter can cut.  When buying a cutter, you should always take this into consideration the maximum size you need to cut.  Most T-shirt designs are 8” x 10” in size.  So most users would think an 8” or 10” cutter would suffice, but that may not be the right choice for you.  The reason is that most t-shirt vinyl will come in 15” or 20” wide rolls.  So you will need a cutter that can cut at least 15”.  It is possible to cut vinyl down to 10”, but this method is normally costly and time consuming.  Also you have to consider wastage.  If you cut a 10” wide design on a 15” wide vinyl roll, you will waste 5” of vinyl.   So it may be better to use a 20” vinyl roll so you can do a 2UP design to maximize your vinyl usage.  We recommend buying a vinyl cutter that can cut at least 20” wide rolls such as the Roland GX24, GCC Puma III, GCC Jaguar, or GCC Expert.

Maximum Force
Most cutters will have a maximum force of 250gf or greater.  250gf is normally enough force to cut through most material.  Most cutters are built to cut to their maximum force with no problems.  However it is recommended that you don’t use the cutter at maximum force.  This is because you are pushing the motor to cut at its limit which in some cases may cause it to wear out faster.  It’s like driving a car, if you keep driving the car at 200km/hr, the engine will more likely wear out faster than if you were driving at 100km/hr.  If you plan to cut material that requires 220-250gf, it is recommended you get a cutter with a higher maximum force than 250gf.  The GCC Puma III has a maximum force of 350gf.

Tracking Length
This is the guaranteed maximum length a cutter can cut while still maintaining accuracy of the cut lines.   This is important if you are cutting multiple designs on a roll of vinyl.  Say you have a customer who orders 50 of the same shirt; you would want to cut all 50 logos at once without interruptions.  This is where the tracking length is important.  If you are cutting one or two logos at a time, the tracking length would not be as important.

Cutting Speed
This is how fast the cutter can cut.  Of course the cutter will not be cutting at maximum speed all the time as complicated cut lines will slow the cutter down.  The faster the cutter, the more graphics you can cut.  If you have one person weeding, it won’t matter how fast the cutter is because chances are, the cutter will cut faster than the person weeding the vinyl.  If you have three people weeding, then it might be a good idea to get a fast cutter or to get an additional cutter, as this will increase productivity.

This is what kind of software is included with the cutter.  This includes the driver and any other software that comes with it.   The Roland GX24 comes with Roland CutStudio, while the GCC Puma III, GCC Jaguar and GCC Expert come with GreatCuts software.  If the cutter you choose doesn’t come with software, then you would also have to buy the software which should also be factored into the cost of the cutter.  Some software is a lot more user friendly than other software.  If you are just starting out, you may want to get a cutter that has user-friendly software included.  Roland GX24 is a great cutter that comes with user friendly CutStudio software for the beginner.

Please note that even though some software is easier to use than others, there will be a small learning curve, and you will need to set aside some time to learn and test the cutter before doing any jobs.  We recommend giving yourself a full day to learn and test your cutter.

Additional Functions
These include whether the cutter has an optical eye.  The optical eye allows for precise and accurate print-n-cut functions for full color printable material where the cut lines will need to line up with the printed graphic.  The optical eye function is available in the Roland GX24, GCC Puma III, and GCC Jaguar.

How many pinch rollers does the cutter have.  The more the better, as this allows for better tracking meaning the vinyl will move less when it is being cut.  The GCC Expert & GCC Jaguar has 3 while most standard cutters have 2.

Does the cutter have an Overcut functions?  The Overcut function allows for easier weeding and makes up for incomplete cut lines.  It is necessary if you plan to cut lots of small lettering that are less than 1.5 inches.  But most shirt graphics will be more than 1.5 inches because shirts are meant to be seen from far away.  The GCC Puma and Jaguar cutters have an overcut function.

Other Factors
Other factors you should consider when buying a cutter is your long term and short term goals.  You may be cutting small t-shirt graphics with one color vinyl in the beginning, but you may end up cutting bigger T-shirt graphics with vinyl or printable vinyl(requires optical eye) later.  So it is best to plan ahead.  So when buying a cutter, ask yourself if this is for long term or short term.  Sometimes it is better to plan to upgrade your cutter as your business grows.  If that is the case, you can buy a cheaper cutter (GCC Expert) at first, and then as your business grows buy a new one (GCC Puma III) so that you minimize your start-up costs and risk.  Of course, if you buy an expensive cutter with an optical eye right at the start, you won’t have to upgrade and you will save some money but your start-up costs would be higher.

Multi Decoration

What is Multi Decoration?  It’s when you combine two or three different technologies to decorate clothing.  An example of this would be combining cuttable heat transfer vinyl with transfer paper.

Multi Decoration is a great way to create custom one of a kind clothing pieces.  You can combine all the strengths of each technology in one piece of clothing.  For instance, cuttable transfer vinyl is great for lettering, but not so great with photographs.  On the other hand, dark laser transfer paper is great with photographs, but not as great for lettering.  So you can use both to create a design that would incorporate a photograph and lettering!

The image above was printed with MultiCut Ultra vinyl for the lettering, and CL Dark II for the photograph.

The advantage of this method compared with using only laser dark transfer paper is that I didn’t have to use a 11×17 sheet of laser dark paper (which would require me to use a laser printer that can print that size) and I didn’t have to use an optical eye on my cutter for the print-n-cut needed for the lettering if I were to use transfer paper.  In addition I’ve avoided the whole tacking procedure.

Also if I had chosen a metallic color (say gold or silver) for my lettering, I wouldn’t be able to do that with CL Dark II.

When using multi decoration, remember to try to keep the heat press off of the areas that have been imaged.  If there’s no way to keep the heat press off of imaged areas, ensure to heat press the items that need the highest temperatures first and do the ones with the lowest temperatures last.  Usually if you are combining transfer paper and transfer vinyl, you press heat transfer papers first (as they normally require high heat to apply), and then press heat transfer vinyl last (as they normally require much less heat to apply).  This will eliminate most problems with multi decoration.  And of course, test and wash one sample first before commercial production!

Common Mistakes When Using Sublimation

Many users have had great success with sublimation; they have achieved consistent results every time.  The images are bright, vivid, and match the colors that they have desired.   A few users have had some problems with their images and here are some of the most common mistakes made when using sublimation.  We have duplicated mistakes purposely so that you can compare with our results!

Nozzle Check problems
If the color of your image is off.  For example, if your image has a red tint, or other color tints, there’s a high chance that it is because your nozzles are not firing properly in your sublimation printer.

At the beginning of the day, I always print a nozzle check before I start any jobs as this will ensure that all nozzles are firing.  We suggest daily nozzle checks to prevent virtually all clogs.

Here’s a comparison between a perfect nozzle check and one that isn’t.

Here is a comparison between a print with a perfect nozzle check and one that has a nozzle check problem.

Nozzle print Comparison
The top picture resembles the colors of the original photograph and the bottom one is no where near the original colors

Fixing this problem is very simple.  If your nozzle check isn’t perfect, just clean your nozzle head through your OEM printer driver or through the power driver that you downloaded. And then, perform another nozzle check.  Sometimes it may require more than one head clean to clear the clog.

Check to make sure you are using sublimation paper.

Sublimation requires special sublimation paper for the sublimation inks to release properly when heated.  It is easy to mix up sublimation paper with normal paper as they are both white and feel very similar to one another.  Most standard sublimation papers are only coated on one side (however there are some that are coated on both sides).  You can compare the two sides of the paper to tell sublimation paper and plain paper apart.  The coated side is usually brighter than the uncoated side.  With plain papers, both sides will be the same brightness.

Here is an image of a mug sublimated with normal plain paper.

Printing on the wrong side of the paper

You may be printing on the wrong side of the paper.  As stated above, the coated side of the sublimation paper is brighter than the uncoated side. So be sure to print on the brighter side

If you are printing on the wrong side of the paper, you will get the same result as when you use plain paper.


Follow the instructions for your product

Most imprintable blanks will come with their own instructions.  Please follow them carefully.  Each type of blank may have a different set of instructions.  If unsure, please confirm the instructions with your vendor.

Here is a comparison between using just the right amount of heat, too much heat, and not enough heat,

As you can see images using too much heat turns the image a bit brown and in some cases the image and text on it will appear pixilated.  And images with insufficient heat will appear faded.

Using the wrong inks

If you accidentally installed the OEM inks that came with your printer instead of sublimation inks, this is what you will get.

Sublimation is an easy to learn method to print onto a variety of substrates including 100% polyester clothing, bags, ceramic mugs, tiles, plaques, etc.  But the instructions have to be followed accurately to achieve consistent results.  Also the setup of your sublimation printer has to be correct.  Sawgrass (A Manufacturer of sublimation inks) has posted excellent videos of how to setup your sublimation printers.  Here are some useful links below for your reference.

Sawgrass Sublijet-R Technical Support
Sawgrass Sublijet-IQ Technical Support