Transparency and halftones in POD printing

This is a question asked time and time again among print-on-demand designers. If you make text or images partially transparent in your design, will it print properly?

I often wondered this myself because I had heard it could have unpredictable results, but I hadn’t taken the time to order samples to see with my own eyes until now.

Before I had first seen it asked, I had made a few designs with some transparency without even considering it, and I never heard any complaints that it had printed wrong, but it worried me anyway.

So let’s take a look at the results of my experiment! I ordered a shirt from Merch by Amazon and a mug from Gearbubble.

Transparency/opacity

This is my design as it looked in Photoshop. The words “Livin’ the” were filled with white and then dialed down to 38% opacity in the layer palette. I tried to match the look to the gray part of the far left shirt graphic, although it’s a tad darker. In the shirt the gray was solid with 100% opacity.

Halftones

To see the contrast, the word “LIFE” was made into a halftone. A halftone is made of dots. When you see a photo printed in a magazine, it’s actually made of those tiny colored dots. They can also give the impression of partial transparency.

So I made the word “LIFE” the same gray as what’s in the far right shirt graphic and then (in Photoshop) went to Filter > Pixelate > Color Halftone and used values of 4, 0, 0, 0, 0.

Here’s a little closer view, before and after the halftone effect:

 

 

The Merch shirt results

Here’s the overall view. From a distance you can tell the top and bottom lines are different, but you can’t see the halftone on the word “LIFE.”
When you get a little closer, you can see that “LIFE” was done differently than “Livin’ the.”
When you get REALLY close, you can start to see the lines of dots in the word “LIFE.”
You can see the words “Livin’ the” turned out a LOT darker than the gray in the shirt graphic, but it’s still readable. Based on this result, in the future I would not go lower than 38% and in fact would probably make it at least 45-50%, at least when starting with white.

The mug

There was a similar result on the mug from Gearbubble, although the top line is a little brighter, probably just due to the shiny surface.

The bottom line

I was pleasantly surprised that the transparency printed as well as it did. But you should still use it with caution, and you’re still safer with a halftone, especially if you’re doing a drop shadow.

I think if you’re putting a lot of time into a special design that you hope will be a big seller for you, it would still be best to order a sample before listing the design, just to be on the safe side.

Also, keep in mind that these are samples from just two of the many PODs out there, and results from other printers may vary.

I’ve changed the design now and made the text solid grays to match since this was just an experiment, but it’s good to know that it can work!

Click here to buy this shirt or mug

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