While pixel graphics are everywhere, vector graphics occupy a rather small but high-quality niche. Vector graphics don’t replicate the design with pixels, but with geometric shapes that are rendered as mathematical formulae. This is how vector graphics can be scaled without any loss of quality while remaining razor-sharp. The image information is rendered for each size you replicate.
Vector designs are a prerequisite for plot printing. Flex and flock printing are plot printing methods. Here, the design is first punched out of colored printing foils by a plotter. Then a SPOD employee extracts the design by removing the excess foil. Once the design has been extracted, it’s placed on a T-shirt, then heat and pressure are applied to make the design stick. The backing film is peeled off and the T-shirt is good to go.
Vector graphics are the best fit for designers who value maximum flexibility when designing products. Handy: when using a vector graphic, the color of the design can still be changed after uploading it to the app. This is great if you value a high color contrast between product and design. It also helps if you want to avoid light designs on white products and dark designs on black products.
Since vector graphics only contain geometric shapes, they are very small when compared to pixel graphics. But their processing is much more demanding and requires special graphics programs. The most popular software is Adobe Illustrator (commercial) and Inkscape (open source). The examples illustrate what benefits vector graphics hold for your designs.
Vector Graphics Overview
|Well suited for vector graphics are||Less complex designs and geometric shapes such as fonts, logos, or comic style graphics with 3 colors max.|
|Print methods:||Flex and flock printing, digital direct, thermal sublimation|
|Design/structure:||The image contents consist of geometric shapes that are rendered mathematically.|
|Save/file size:||Only stores the information necessary to render the image mathematically. The image of the red circle shows that only the position of its center, its radius, and the fill color are defined and stored.|
|Scaling||Vector graphics don’t just get enlarged but scaled to the desired size. The image content is recalculated mathematically.|
|Loss of quality:||Won’t happen. Vector graphics can, theoretically, be infinitely scaled without any loss of quality.|
Minimum requirements for plot printing
Your vector hc/en-us/ can be printed if they meet these requirements:
- Possible files: .ai or .svg
- Minimum size: 10x10 cm
- Maximum size: 38x38 cm
- Minimum diameter for lines or design details: 1,5 mm
- Max. 3 colors, created separately on one layer
- No color gradients
- Texts and forms are converted into completely closed paths
Left: Vector graphic with color gradient – only possible as digital print, not as flex print and flock print. Right: Vector graphic without color gradient - we print flex and flock!
Our printers are currently able to use .ai files up to the C18 version and .svg files without CSS styles. If you have created your designs with the newer Illustrator software, you need to save the finished file as an older .ai version. And with .svg files, the CSS properties need to be changed to presentation attributes when saving the file. We’re already working on improving the upload options for vector files.
Measuring and adjusting line thickness
To prevent the flex or flock film from tearing in the extraction process, the line thickness of the smallest design elements must be at least 1.5 mm. In addition, the distance between the individual elements should be at least 1 mm so that the excess film can be easily removed.
Measuring line thickness: To check if the lines of your design are thick enough, create a circle with a diameter of 1.5 mm and place it over the thinnest line of your design. If the whole circle fits on top of the line, the line thickness is big enough. You can do the same with a 1mm diameter circle to measure the gaps between the lines. If the smallest gap can accommodate the whole circle, it’s big enough.
Important: Don’t make your design too big. If you reduce the design size considerably, the minimum diameter may no longer be maintained when placed on a product later. Then the prints will turn out faulty.
When the design is punched out by the plotter, it’s cut out of the printing film with its curves as the outline. The plotter will try to close an open curve whenever it detects one. The plotter looks for any nearby anchor point and then cuts a straight line to that point. Curves need to be closed to prevent faulty design prints.
Important: Please make sure that all curves of your design are closed. You can use the "Combine" or "Merge" function of your hc/en-us/ software.
Converting into paths
Your design can only be printed flawlessly if all objects are converted into paths. It’s important to embed all elements as paths. Fonts are a classic example here. These should first be saved as text fields, meaning all elements need to be embedded as paths. To do so, use the functions "Combine", "Merge" or "Convert" in your hc/en-us/ program.