Print a Base Worth Printing

print a base featured
  • Why do I have to print a base?
  • Which color tee shirts need a base?
  • When do you print a base underneath a color?
  • Should I underbase blacks?
  • How do I get a good base?
  • How do I choke my base?

I’m sure you’ve either heard or asked yourselves one, if not many (or all) of these questions. Allow me to shed some light on the situation.

Why do I have to print a base?

Most people would respond with something about dark colored tees. Others would add that the garment itself is important, especially when combatting migration.

While this is true (and commonly known), many seem to ignore one other reason—to even out your substrate.

When printing something like a canvas bag or piqué polo, consider printing a base to even out the surface for your inks to sit on.

If the rough garment is dark, print a white base. If it’s lighter in color and you don’t need the white base, print it with a clear. The inks will be a bit more shiny and thicker afterwards but on a tote bag, this usually isn’t as important.

Which color shirts need a base?

On a normal tee, the shirt color isn’t the only factor to consider when deciding if you’re going to use a base or not. You must also think about the color of ink going down on top of it.

As a general rule, if the tee is darker than the ink, you should consider using a base underneath it. However, there are exceptions. These often involve the opacity of the ink color itself and how said color interacts with the garment color.

For instance, black tees don’t need a base underneath grays. The only time I would use a base in this case is to get a range of shades and tones. I would do this by altering the amount of base under any given area.

More base for brighter areas, less for darker. This gives depth to the print.

Ultimately, it’s up to you as a separator, to evaluate the ink color, tee color, and image itself. Then ask yourself whether or not you need a base in any area of the image and how much.

In the end, this one question should also be on your mind when separating.

“How will x amount of ink act on top of x amount of base on this particular tee color?”

When do you print a base underneath a color?

Part of your job as a separator to become familiar with the inks and how they act on different garment colors. We know most dark garments require a base but do all ink colors?

That’s why I say the best answer to this is, “When the design needs it.” Stop thinking about the base as just something you need in order to print onto dark tees. Use it to your advantage.

Use your base to get depth in your print. If a color needs the base in one place but not in another, use this to your advantage.

to print a base or not

An illustration of how the base affects the inks above it

This example shows this concept at work. Areas of the base with more coverage will be brighter in the final print. Areas with less coverage will be darker.

But, experiment with this. A red will react differently on this dark gray garment than a yellow would. This is why it’s important to know your inks.

Should I underbase blacks?

Regular readers of the RSG blog will know my response to printing blacks on top of a base. It’s a terrible mistake rookie color separators make. But for the uninitiated, no. NO! NO NO NO NO NO!

Never print a black on top of a base.

How do I get a good base?

To be very clear, let’s rephrase this question. It should say, “How do I build a good base?” You can’t “get” one. They’re not handed out at the door.

“How do I build a good base?”

This is an important distinction to make. There are times where we can grab a good base with a click or two. But, the reality is that good bases are made. They’re crafted by you, the artist.

You are the artist, and in being so, you must manipulate and weave and craft your base into what you want it to be. You must mold it into something you know will work once printed and interacting with the colors that will print on top of it.

How do I choke my base?

Choking the base is important. We don’t want it to show once all the other colors are printed. Choke the base just enough to accomplish this and nothing more.

Do not make concessions here to accommodate for an easier time registering the job on press.

How to choke your base depends on the type of image you’re working with. For a spot color image, simply choke it 1pt to the center in Illustrator or 2px to the center in Photoshop.

For simulated process (aka, “spot process”) jobs, use your information palette and make sure your base is covered by enough ink that it won’t show through.

To manipulate your base, use levels to adjust the lighter end.

Use a levels adjustment to fine tune your base

Use a levels adjustment to fine tune your base

Use curves to adjust your base but do it as shown here. It’s much easier than dragging the curve line.

Use a curves adjustment to fine tune your base

Use a curves adjustment to fine tune your base

Print a base worth printing

Remember, we “build” our bases. This screen will be one of, if not the most important screen on most any job. So build one that will work for your image, the color garment it’s going on, and the colors that will print on top of it.

Download, practice, compare

Download a low resolution practice file, complete with instructions and practice what was talked about in this post. Compare what you make with my own seps, which are included in the file.

Download this free file to practice tweaking your bases

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