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I honestly can’t believe some of the artwork that my clients bring in to me, sometimes a penciled logo on a piece of scrap paper – and then they want a finished logo sewn from that scrap on 500 polo shirts in less than a week. I don’t want to lose the business, but I can’t fulfill these sorts of orders. How do I get my clients to submit good artwork to me?


Anyone who decorates for a living knows that artwork is one thing that can make your job easier or more complicated. The quality of the artwork used to create decorated apparel or accessories matters. Because we do this work every day, we understand the difference artwork makes in the time it takes to do a job and the quality of the job produced, but the same can’t be said of our customers. That’s why part of a decorator’s job, whether we like it or not, is to continually educate our customers about what sort of artwork we need to create a great finished product and why we need it.

The first way to help your customers understand the importance of quality artwork is to hit them in the wallet. The reality is that artwork that’s poor quality or not in a useable format will end up adding cost to the finished product. Time spent creating new artwork, or recreating artwork that isn’t in a useable format, is also time taken away from production, which slows down delivery time. Many shops also do, and should, charge additional fees if they have to spend time cleaning up or creating artwork. Letting your customer know that artwork that isn’t up to standard will cost them both time and money may help motivate them to improve their artwork submissions on future orders.

While you’re educating your customers about why quality matters when it comes to artwork, you might also teach them what constitutes artwork in the first place. Almost every decorator has had the experience of being handed a napkin with a coffee stain and some stick figures and being told it’s the art to be used for the project. This isn’t artwork; it’s a concept and while concepts are a necessary part of the creative process, they’re nowhere near what’s required when considering artwork for decoration. If you get handed a concept and told it’s art, make sure you spell out for your customer what you’ll charge to turn their concept into actual useable artwork. You should also explain how this will impact final costs and delivery time.

Another useful thing for those who are submitting artwork to you to know is this: Poor quality art generally results in a poor quality finished product. Badly done artwork can be reworked or recreated, but that costs time and, most likely, money, and the end result may still be poor quality unless the artwork is completely redone. When your customer brings you substandard artwork, do more than just tell them it’s substandard. Explain why it won’t work for the intended purpose, and explain what will work and what’s needed. Spending a few moments educating your customer will pay off in time saved when you get artwork that’s immediately ready for use.

Always remember that educating the customer is important. Explaining what quality artwork is and how it impacts the price, production time and finished quality of the product doesn’t have to be complicated or time consuming. A short explanation could include things like defining terms such as camera ready or vector art. You could explain the forms of artwork that result in a good finished product and why a .pdf isn’t generally one of them.

It may only take five minutes to help your customer understand what requirements need to be met for artwork to be considered good quality, but the benefits will last the entire life of your relationship with that customer. Explanations can also help the customer see that you’re not being difficult or draconian in your insistence on certain artwork standards, since they’ll now understand why you’re requesting what you’re requesting. The explanation you give doesn’t have to be technical or long, but helping your customer understand the creation process will also help that customer see why quality artwork is important and necessary.

One final idea is to create an artwork tips sheet (and extra artwork charges) that you post on your website, hand out in your shop or e-mail to new customers. This should help set artwork expectations from the beginning, and will help to weed out clients who want to submit poorly executed art from the start of your business relationship.