Let’s do an experiment: go to Google and search “image file formats.” You’re now facing, no doubt, an intimidating onslaught of acronyms: JPEG, PNG, GIF, TIFF, EPS, AI, SVG and a whole bunch more.
And you, who just wants to create your line of awesome custom T-shirts, have a decision to make. Which file format is the best for printing my stuff? When it comes to direct to garment (DTG) printing as we do at Printsome, the PNG is king. I’m going to give you some inside tips on the best sites to find PNGs for T-shirt printing, but first, let’s dive into why they’re the best option.
What in the world is a raster image?
Most images you see on the web are raster images, as opposed to vector images. Put simply, raster images are high-resolution output formats like PNGs, JPEGs, and GIFs. Think of it like this: a designer working on an illustration or image in Adobe Illustrator or a similar program creates a vector image (EPS and AI are the most common formats), one that’s size can be scaled to the designer’s liking.
But when it comes time to save the image for web or print use, the designer often converts it to a raster image like a JPEG or PNG, images formed with pixels allowing for greater detail and a wider spectrum of colour. This makes them perfect when printing photos, illustrations or other images on custom T-shirts. So, if you want to wear the Mona Lisa on your chest, a raster image is the best option to capture all of the Da Vinci’s master brushstrokes.
If all these acronyms are still making your head spin, check out this handy comparison article and chart on 99designs.
JPEG vs. PNG
They’re both raster images. They both use pixels. They’re both high-resolution images. Then why does it matter which you use on a custom T-shirt? It all comes down to a little something called transparency.
Take a look at the two images below. There’s only one big difference: the one on the left (a JPEG) has a white background, and the one on the right (a PNG) doesn’t. This makes a big difference in DTG printing. A JPEG forces you to use it’s set a background colour, while a PNG has a transparent background and can be placed directly over the colour of your shirt.
If you were printing this banana tree, for example, the JPEG would transpose both the illustration and its green background, while the PNG’s background would be your shirt. Not only that, but PNG images are often larger and higher quality than JPEGs. So, if you want your custom T-shirts to look sharp and professional, a PNG is the way to go.
If you really want to dive into the JPEG vs. PNG debate, Digital Trends has a great post on it.
The thing about pixels is that they can look grainy if the image isn’t high-quality enough. Unless you want your custom T-shirt to look like a Minecraft landscape, you’ll want to make sure you’re using PNGs that are 300 dpi (dots per inch) or better. This just means that the image fits 300 pixels into each square inch, giving it a better resolution.
If you’re not creating the image yourself, where do you find high-quality, free-to-use PNGs online? I’ve done some research and compiled a list of the best sites to find an assortment of PNG illustrations, art, photos and icons. Soon you’ll have top-quality T-shirts that you can barely keep in stock.
A Note on Free Images
You can’t use just any image you find on a Google search. But there are an abundance of free images out there if you know where to look. Check out our post on Open Source and Creative Commons to learn more.
Here are some of the best websites to download your PNGs:
PNG download sites are tricky. Some of them offer free downloads, but not for commercial use. Others offer free downloads, but only for use on the web. Most of the images on PurePNG, however, are licensed for commercial use through Creative Commons, and many don’t even require you to give attribution to the creator. With over 30,000 PNGs available, you’re bound to find a great logo, illustration or photo for your custom T-shirts.
Remember the vector files we discussed earlier? Well, they make for great free logos and illustrations. On Vecteezy, designers from around the world can share their work with others. And the best part of all: you can also download them as PNG files.
Plus, Vecteezy has a built-in image editor, so you can make the background transparent, add text and shapes, change colours and more. Take a look at this awesome dog illustration I found:
Or this “road trip” illustration:
Either of those would be perfect on a custom T-shirt. Keep in mind that if you want to produce merchandise without giving attribution to the creators, you’ll need a Vecteezy Pro Account. But starting at $9 a month, their pricing is pretty reasonable. Check out their Licensing Chart for more info.
Pixabay is best known for its stunning free photography, but the site also has a vast stock of illustrations, logos and other images available for download in the PNG format. And they have images in just about any category you could want. All images are free for commercial use under the Pixabay Licence, although ones that contain copyrighted logos might have other restrictions. Here are a couple of illustrations from Pixabay:
Vexels’ name is a combination of “vector” and “pixels,” which is quite fitting, as they offer a wide variety of both vector and raster files, including a whole bunch of PNGs (111,792 to be exact). Logos, clipart, illustrations, graphics—they’ve got it all. Like Vecteezy, Vexels has an onboard image editor, albeit with fewer features. But here’s the catch: all images are free for download, but if you want to use them for say, printing on a custom T-shirt, you need to purchase their license for commercial use. Still, the price isn’t outrageous. It’s $2.95 for a single image or $9.99 a month for unlimited.
You’ve likely searched Wikipedia for information on a place you’re visiting, or for when you and a mate are arguing over a celebrity’s age. But have you ever perused Wikimedia? This database has over 52 million media files, all free for commercial use. And just like its sibling, Wikimedia has just about anything you can think of. So whether you want a flag, a famous painting, or a model of the observable universe, you’ll likely find it here.
Note: Not all of the files in the Wikimedia Commons are PNGs. There are a good amount of JPEGs as well. Just make sure to check before you download.
But where else can you find old seals or portraits like this?
PNGs for Everyone
Go, take these free PNGs and run with them. But beware of falling victim of the endless scroll through pages and pages of images. It can last for a whole afternoon, and I would know. It happened to me several times while writing this post.
But if you can find yourself some fantastic PNGs, sell a bunch of custom T-shirts and bring in some cash, it’s well worth it. Give these sites a try, and if you stumble on any better ones, let us know. Happy PNG hunting!
Text: Randy Magnuson
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