Three Art Shortcuts That Save Time and Money

In screen printing, there are dozens of shortcuts that artists can take to save time and money. But first, it’s imperative to have a full understanding of the proper method before changes are made. Trying to shortcut an art process without first understanding all of the pieces and how they fit together can create more problems than it solves. It’s better to achieve a comfort level first with each step, and then you can start to push towards simplifying things.

To assist in this process, you can break down some of your art and design tasks, and see if there are areas where time is being spent that can otherwise be saved. Three art shortcuts that save considerable time are graphic templates, powerclips and design scripts.

1. Terrific Templates

A useful example of an art department shortcut is to create design templates, or pre-made images that a client can quickly adapt for a custom-looking design. These avoid the cost and time of starting designs from scratch. Your art department can become a profit center if it focuses on creating graphics that will land multiple orders from more than one client at a time. The main challenge is to execute this process in a way that makes each client feel like they received a good-looking design, yet they understand that the essence of the design template is owned by the printing company.

It is critical for templates to be constructed properly, or they will not produce quality graphics or be versatile enough to serve a wide variety of customers. This can happen if fonts or designs don’t account for changes in client typographic needs or logos. For example, a long name may simply not fit the spacing or styling of the template (Figure 1). In that case, suggest another template or tweak your template to account for these instances in the future.


A template shortcut works by creating a design that has a distinct style, but keeps the design elements in an ideal state for editing. This means that all type remains as editable text, and all graphics are relatively simple to quickly change color or shape without damaging the core of the template. Once a template is developed and tested, it can be included in an in-house or online catalog. Other possibilities include using templates to quickly create samples as a sales aid to acquire new business such as athletic teams and many other types of ready-to-use graphics (Figure 2). Several companies in the industry make templates that are quickly modifiable for different markets. Or, if you have the resources or ability, you can build your own so no one else has the same designs as your business.


2. Powerful Powerclips

At first glance, a powerclip design and a template can seem very similar in the way that the graphics are created. (It is important to note here that “powerclip” is a term from CorelDRAW; in Illustrator this effect is called a “nested object.”) Just like templates, the graphics in a powerclip are created beforehand, kept in a way that editing is easier and can be reused with multiple clients and orders. The main difference in a powerclip process is that the graphics are embedded into a container object (Figure 3). This is what creates the dramatic illusion of an original design that took a lot longer than it did to create.


The other big advantage with powerclips is that you can save an enormous amount of time by having the graphic placed into the design already separated for screen- printing. Once the design is approved, there is virtually no separation time on the artwork other than a simple setup. In these cases, the design is first separated without being placed into the adjustable shape, and then the final separations can be placed individually into the shape when it is approved for output to films or screens.

There are thousands of applications and styles of powerclips that you can do. Some of the popular powerclips often used include flames, metal effects and distress filters. These effects work well because they have a consistent pattern that will work with a variety of type and graphic backgrounds, and they have wide appeal over multiple designs.

To create a powerclip design, there are a few steps that work well as general rules. Pick a type font that is blocky so the graphic will have enough positive space to show a lot of the details. Keep the rest of the design elements simple or without additional patterns, otherwise things can get really busy-looking. If you are using different color shirts, you will probably want a double border on this effect so that the type edges don’t fade into the background and lose legibility (Figure 4).


3. Strategic Scripts

One of the most underestimated time drains in creating and separating artwork is the finding, opening and importing of regularly used elements for lower-value tasks. Steps like laying out the right garment for a final design, mapping the design to fit properly on the garment in question and outputting the right format for artwork approval can take up hours of time over a month, depending on how they are done.

A way to shortcut these lower-value tasks is to break them down and see where every order has similar needs. Once you’ve identified those common needs, they can be put into a software script. The idea behind a script is that you can create a button on the toolbar that, when pressed, will run a macro set of commands that execute a variety of low-level tasks that are not dependent on the design that you have in the file (Figure 5). This means that you can finish a design and push a single button, and the script will execute a number of stops in mere seconds: duplicating your design, grouping it, shrinking it and putting it on top of and in the center of a specific garment.


A script can save between two and eight minutes for every design that you have to mock up for client approval. A good practice is to first learn carefully how to make a functional script, and then create several for each type of shirt that is most common in your shop. Other ideas for scripts can be applying crosshairs and separation templates to artwork, or outputting files for the Web or to pdf formats. At an advanced level, you could even create a script that would customize multiple designs on a catalog page for different customers (Figure 6).


The largest limitation for scripts is there may be some simple programming involved, depending on what you want to do. CorelDRAW has a macro builder that allows you to capture commands and save them for running as a group later. A lot of artists and printers tend to shy away from this process, but it is important to consider it for a busy shop. Time spent learning this process will pay you back on every order that uses the script, because you save time.

This is one of the best shortcuts for generating real big blocks of time savings. If you added up all the time on opening extra files, importing templates and exporting results for approvals, that is perhaps two minutes of lost time per job. If your busy shop runs 15 jobs a day, that equals 30 minutes per day in saved time. Over a month, that adds up to 10-12 hours in saved time!

These shortcuts can work independently or together to magnify your art department’s production and efficiency.

Thomas Trimingham has worked for more than two decades as an industry consultant, freelance artist and high-end separator. Contact him through his educational website: