Intro: Big Trouble With Little Pixels
Here's the scenario, using artwork from the talented Nathan Jauregui: You've labored for hours and hours on your latest artwork of a whale in a terrarium. It looks absolutely perfect when viewing in the editing program, or when saved onto your computer... anywhere with a white background, basically.
But once you upload it to Redbubble, and put it on a sticker, something goes amiss. What is all this CRAP doing in the background of your design?
It turns out your transparent design was not so transparent after all. Is this complete disaster? Do we have to throw out the design and start again? No, of course not!! This is fixable, and more easily than you might expect. I'm going to show you how right now. This tutorial will use Photoshop 2019 because that's what I use the most, but the steps should work across any software that has layers.
Step 1: Open Artwork
Open up a copy of the artwork file [so we don't mess with the original]. If your file has many layers, delete any unused layers, and merge the rest of them, so we are working with just one layer.
Step 2: Duplication
* This step isn't really necessary to the process, but it does clarify that the artwork is not fully transparent.
Duplicate your artwork layer about 10 times.
Underneath all the duplicates, make a new layer, and fill it with a very contrasting colour [in this case, I used neon green]. Now your 'invisible' smudges will be very visible. This artwork happens to have a lot of marks in the transparent area. But that's okay, it's still easy enough to fix!
Merge all the duplicated artwork layers, but NOT the one with the background colour.
Step 3: Selection
Make a selection of just the artwork that you want to keep.
You could do this in many ways. In this example, because of the simple solid blue edge around the artwork, I used the Magic Wand tool to select that area. I used the following settings:
Tolerance: 50, Anti-Alias: on and Contiguous: on. These settings will vary depending on your needs and the type of artwork (more noisy areas may need higher tolerance, for example).
I then used the Lasso tool wile holding Shift key to manually select everything within that selected boundary.
Step 4: Deletion
Select the inverse of your current selection by right-clicking and choosing 'Select Inverse'. This will make it so only your transparent area is selected. Then, press Delete on your keyboard, and the messy pixels will vanish!
Delete the green background layer, and save your artwork as a .png.
Pro Tip: Canvas Size
The transparent area of the canvas will NOT be factored in to the size of the sticker. Redbubble will crop all transparent area around the art. Your sticker will look normal if you even upload the artwork with lots of excess canvas area, like in the design above. [Though the Editor preview may make the sticker look smaller, it will look fine when published]
However, if you miss even one semi-transparent background pixel, Redbubble's auto cropping with stop at that spot, potentially making your sticker smaller when printed.
Now that we've cleaned up the artwork, you can very easily crop the excess transparent area from your artwork, which is what I like to do. Just use the Crop tool and drag the handles in from each edge. If you have Snapping enabled [View -> Snap To -> Layers], the handle will snap to the very edge of your artwork. Then click the tick or hit Enter, and it'll be perfectly cropped.
The Final Product
Here is what Nathan's artwork looks like now that it is all cleaned up.
What an improvement! There are no more random markings or semi transparent pixels around the artwork. It will look exactly as it should when printed on stickers and magnets, which makes it much more likely to sell and be enjoyed by the buyer.
I hope this tutorial will be helpful for people making stickers on Redbubble, Society6 or any other print-on-demand websites. If any steps need clarification, just leave a comment!
And also, big thanks to Nathan for letting me use this artwork for this demonstration. Check out more of their art on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/nte.arts/
Peace, love and sunshine,