Five Steps: Create a Laser-Etched T-shirt

Target Decorated Apparel (asi/90549) shows how to create a multimedia, laser-etched T-shirt.

Target Decorated Apparel (asi/90549) shows how to create a multimedia, laser-etched T-shirt.

Target Decorated Apparel (asi/90549); circle 76 on Free Info Card or call (800) 689-6461.

Step 1.

Choose a garment.Laser etching is suitable for 100% polyester fabrics. It’s great for per-formance wear like golf shirts and moisture-wicking material, as well as polar fleece. You can try it on denim as well – it creates a slightly bleached look. Garments with high pile like polar fleece will give you more texture when etched, while thinner fabrics like running shirts will provide less texture. It’s not suitable for 100% cotton or poly/cotton blends.

Step 2.

Supply the right file format. Any art to be etched should be in vector format. This means it’s scalable to any size, and often comes in formats like AI, EPS or PDF. It’s important to start with this type of art file as it will need to be modified for laser-etching purposes. Avoid small text and detail, as the laser will not be able to etch this finely on all fabrics.

Step 3

Edit the art. Since the laser etch essentially creates a tone-on-tone effect, the vector art needs to be converted to one color. This should be one object, with any knockouts created as compound paths. This will tell the laser software where to etch the artwork onto the garment. Choose your imprint size and convert larger fill areas to outlines, if possible.


“When deciding your imprint size, remember the laser tip is round,” says Target’s Pre-Press Manager Jen Neve. “You have a 14”-diameter circle to work within. The closer to that circle’s edges, the more possibility that the design will warp at the edges.”

Step 4.

Test the fabric. There are a number of variables when running your design – it all comes down to the laser’s power, the speed at which it travels across the fabric and the number of passes over the fabric. Less of these three things will create a more subtle look; more of these three things will create a more dramatic look.

Step 5.

Plus it up. Because the imprints are limited to the 14” circle, Target likes to add some wow-factor to its clients’ designs by combining unique locations to simulate an all-over decoration. Also, on certain fabrics, Target can add foil and heat-press it for some bling.

Tips :

“Garment color is going to be important,” says Steve Kanney, president of Target Decorated Apparel. “Medium tones provide the best contrast with the laser etch – colors like Carolina blue, lime green, royal, medium gray, teal and purple. On the other hand, very dark and very light garments don’t provide enough contrast with the laser etch. Stay away from black, navy, white and light gray.”