Screen Printing:

Screen Printing Artwork for Beginners, Part 2

Find out how to more effectively perform intermediate techniques, such as designing from a client's concept or coming up with a design from scratch.

By Thomas Trimingham, Contributing Writer

Figure 2

August 28, 2012

Artists who work for screen printers (or screen printers who also double as artists) must handle several tasks that are more complex than the basics, such as copying artwork and adjusting images for production. Intermediate art requests usually involve creating designs that include concepts like logos or event graphics.

Occasionally, a client will ask for “a great-looking shirt” with very little to no concept direction at all. In these cases, it is helpful to follow a simple set of steps that will narrow the amount of time and effort spent on these designs, while increasing the odds that the client will be satisfied with the results. A good way to approach clients with intermediate art requests is to have clear policies and use a step-by-step approach to manage the artwork — especially if you are a new screen print artist.

Before developing involved graphics for clients, it’s important to first consider how to sell them and present the sale to the customer. If the design will be used as a logo for the client’s company, it may be sold completely to the client — including all of the reproduction rights for the images based on this logo. This is a standard practice for logo designs, but it is not always spelled out to either the client or the printer, and can be an issue later (such as if the client decides he wants to use another printer and wants copies of his graphics sent to that company). It is always better to have your policies in place first, and then decide how you want to present and handle the creation of images that will represent more to a client than just an image on his shirts.

A simple T-shirt design usually is not an issue, but a graphic that is eventually put on everything for a business sometimes can become a concern if ownership of the graphics is not made clear. There are many resources to develop policies for the transfer of reproduction rights ( is one resource for artists).

Once you have defined your policy regarding the rights of a design, come up with some standard costs for logo and concept-based designs. Having this in place makes it easier to quote on a logo, and it can really help to spell out expectations so that there are fewer issues as the process begins. Things like number of revisions, deadlines and final file presentations can be spelled out so both the client and the artist know what to expect.

Depending on your skill and specialties, logos can be priced anywhere from $100 to several thousand dollars, though most screen printers stray to the inexpensive side because they don’t want to spend months on a logo and create hundreds of versions for a giant corporation. The average cost for a logo is probably $200-$400, with the price difference based on number of rough comps being created, the skill and reputation of the designer and the difficulty or complexity of the design that is needed.

Logo art can become quite an involved project with lots of art revisions, so it’s sometimes better to use a freelance artist or trusted source that is skilled at doing these designs, rather than spending a lot of time and potentially frustrating the client. If you have a good grasp of the design software and feel comfortable creating a logo for a client, then the first step is to research the project.

Research tends to be one of the most rushed portions of the logo-designing process, but it is vital that the designer get a feel for the type of business and style of designs the industry uses for the logo in question. A good way to go about this is to make a visual trend board for designs that are used in the same industry as the client’s request. This way, you can view the images together and get a general idea about several pieces of the types of companies that work in this field.

Look for the following when researching for logo styles:
Typically used type fonts (Are they skinny, fat, italic/slanted, fancy, handwritten, etc?)
Graphic shapes and sizes (Do they use large, heavy graphics like in construction, or lighter-weight graphics like in professional, office-style logos?)
Color combinations (What are the most common colors used by similar businesses?)

Once these ideas are researched, start developing some rough ideas to pass along to the client. I once worked on a logo design for a client whose business creates simulations of dynamic movements for modeling and product development. The client wanted some modern-looking graphics, and research in the field showed that there were certainly a lot of heavy fonts (similar to construction style) and bright primary colors being used for logos.

I started by creating a set of pencil comps to which I could refer. In this case, I felt good enough about several of the designs to go ahead and render them on the computer for review. For really short deadlines — and clients who want less-expensive logos and quick turnarounds — this is the common way. If a client wants to be involved in the concept level, I usually create a “tight” pencil comp first to show him at that point, rather than going to the computer right away without a client review. It may take some experience in “reading” clients to know when to show them designs so that the process can move along as smoothly as possible. If you show some customers the designs too soon, they get nitpicky, while other clients may take offense if you design too much without input.

The initial set of designs I created seemed to work pretty well and the client was happy with them. As it happens sometimes, however, the client couldn’t make a decision and wanted to think it over during the course of a weekend. On Monday, he indicated he wanted revisions on the last logo in the group. He also asked if I would consider another version that he had sketched — after the fact. From my past experience — and also in knowing this client — I thought it would be a great idea to look at his sketch also.

After reviewing his submission, I thought there was a way to attempt an additional rough comp with it, so I rendered the new design. This ended up being the design that the client chose, and I was very glad that I hadn’t insisted on my initial designs. The client’s idea really worked with the style of business and concept he knew (Figure 2). The lesson from this experience is simple: Clients will always know their businesses better than you do, so there is no substitute for listening and considering their feedback regarding design and other considerations when you are creating a logo for them.

The final step in creating logos can often be to suggest some layouts of usage for the graphic when it is used as a business card, letterhead and envelope. Using my example, the client’s logo worked really well in the graphic layouts and he was thrilled with the final product.

Designing for hands-off clients can be simultaneously rewarding and annoying. You often will feel like a boat that is cast off from the shore, floating around with no idea where to go. In these cases, it is important to gently insist on getting some sort of an initial idea from the client. A name or simple list of designs he may like is better than absolutely nothing. Nine times out of 10, the client will come back and say, “You know what I like, just whip up something.”

Where do you start when you have nothing to go on? I usually start with research, then look at fonts and then do a fast comp. Starting with research can help get your juices flowing and may give you a quick idea to present. Going online and checking out the client’s competition and businesses with a similar name are good ways to get ideas and concepts that can create a starting place. Of course, you need to be original with concepts instead of copying, but it often can be a combination of seeing other solutions and a flow of images that will pop just the right idea into your head for a quick presentation.

Next, look at how the required typographic copy looks in a few different fonts. I use a vector-based program like CorelDRAW and quickly type out the copy, and then I see how it looks with some different type styles and review them to see if one stands out above the others.

A client once came to me for an event graphic and wanted me to “whip it up” quickly. It was for a fitness competition and there was no direction — other than the name of the event. I started with some research, but in this case, simply knowing the client was more helpful (I observed the type of shirts he liked to wear.). Then, I decided to create a graphic for the competition that would be reminiscent of designs he wore — mixed with some concepts from the fitness industry — for a couple of quick pencil sketches (which were never shown to the client; he didn’t have time to review anything).

I took the text that needed to be included and reviewed it, along with fonts that were similar to what was used on the shirts that I would see him wear during our meetings. I decided on the gothic font. I then added some wings and used a vertical format on the shirt design so that his graphic would pop out near the shoulder crest area on the left side. This is a trendy solution that was well received by the client, and it came back as his favorite of the designs that I have done for him.

Both of these art tasks clearly spell out how managing the client interactions, expectations and the review process are key to creating intermediate designs with concepts. Since artists can’t pry open a customer’s head and see what is inside, we need to use our detective skills and attempt to create something they wanted all along. Understanding when and how to involve the client in the process takes practice and experience in dealing with different customers, and seeing how well they can visualize and understand how a graphic eventually will look.

After you work with different customers for several sets of designs, you may then be gifted with a request that says, “I don’t know, but just give me another one of your great designs.”

Thomas Trimingham, an award-winning artist, illustrator and author, has worked for some of the nation’s largest screen printers. His website is For more information or to comment on this article, email Thomas at