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Decoration Methods - Screen Printing

Screen Printing

Screen printing is a printing technique where a mesh screen is used to transfer ink onto a substrate, except in areas made impermeable to the ink by a blocking stencil. A blade or squeegee is moved across the screen to fill the open mesh apertures with ink, and a reverse stroke then causes the screen to touch the substrate momentarily along a line of contact. This causes the ink to wet the substrate and be pulled out of the mesh apertures as the screen springs back after the squeegee has passed. One color is printed at a time, so several screens can be used to produce a multi-colored image or design.

Spot Color printing is the most common form of screen printing where each of the colors within a design are printed using individual screens in a single pass. It requires each color within a design to be separated and printed individually. The inks used in spot color printing are typically referenced by the Pantone Matching System (PMS) for color accuracy. PMS colors can be chosen from a Pantone swatch book

4 Color Process printing, also known as CMYK, uses only 4 colors to achieve high color count or photorealistic images (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black) with smooth gradients and bright colors. It requires a graphic artist with proficiency in the art of accurately blending percentages of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black to yield an accurate print result to the original artwork. 

Simulated Process printing is a technique used on high color count imprints, strictly using spot colors and halftones to achieve a high resolution look. Much of this process is reliant on the complex color separation of the artwork performed by the graphic artist prior to printing. Most simulated process prints require anywhere from 8-12 individual spot colors in order to achieve a desired outcome

Simulated 4 Color Process printing uses a combination of both 4 Color and Simulated process techniques. It allows you to achieve the best possible imprint outcome for high color count complex images and designs that can not be accomplished with use of just one. This approach starts with the 4 Color Process separation and adds complementary spot colors to help accentuate certain colors and areas of the imprint

The info below provides you with as detailed of a brief description as possible for all screen printing mediums and techniques offered. Keep in mind that more than one of these mediums/techniques can be used in combination with another to achieve a unique desired result. Feel free to contact us for assistance and recommendations as to which print medium(s) will best be suited for your project

Plastisol Ink is the most widely used ink in apparel screen printing. It is made up of PVC particles suspended in a liquid plasticizer. It is very durable, flexible, and easy to use in the screen printing process. It is particularly useful when it comes to accurately matching specific coated Pantone colors as well as achieving an opaque print on both light and dark colored material backgrounds. This ink sits atop the material it is printed on, giving the print a raised, plasticized texture.

Specialty Plastisol Ink Effects

Soft Hand Plastisol is achieved by mixing an additive/thinning agent to standard plastisol ink in order to reduce the weight and overall thickness of ink to create a softer “hand/feel” print

High Density Plastisol produces a 3 dimensional heavier deposit print by applying thicker layers of ink through the use of lower mesh count screens and increased layers of emulsion to the stenciled design layers on the screens. It is also capable of achieving extremely sharp edges within a design.

3D Puff Plastisol is the combination of mixing plastisol ink with an additive to give a raised or elevated effect. It is somewhat similar to a high density print but yields more of a bubbled/round 3d look and is not able to achieve extremely sharp edges. 

Foil Printing is a two part process that results in a reflective metallic surface. The first step involves printing and curing a layer of plastisol based adhesive. Then a sheet of foil is laid over the printed and cured adhesive and applied using a high pressure heat press.

Foil is offered in an assortment of different colors. The most common ones are listed below.

  • Gold

  • Silver

  • Bronze

  • Black

  • Pink

  • Additional colors are available, please inquire

Specialty Plastisol Inks

The most common specialty inks include but are not limited to the following

  • Metallic Inks

  • Shimmer Inks

  • Glitter Inks

  • Gloss Gel

  • Glow in the Dark Inks

  • Leather Inks

  • Ripped Metal

  • Soft Metal

  • Diamond Plate

Water Based Inks are composed of a water based solvent and either dyes or pigments that penetrate and are absorbed into cotton fibers creating a more permanent imprint that is soft to the touch. Since water based inks are only absorbed into natural fibers (cotton and hemp**), 100% cotton or hemp** or a cotton/hemp blend** will yield the best results and brightest colors. Water based inks can be used to print on blends (cotton/polyester, tri-blends: cotton/polyester/rayon, etc.) but the colors will be muted. The less cotton that is present in the fabric composition the more muted the print result will be. For example, a 50% cotton/50% polyester blend will show roughly 50% opacity since the water based ink won't be absorbed into the polyester fibers. Same goes for all other synthetic fibers. You are able to accurately match any and all (uncoated) Pantone colors but not as well as Plastisol inks (coated).

Discharge can be used by itself to remove/bleach the garments dye in lieu of printing a plastisol under base layer to limit the overall thickness of a plastisol print. It can also be added to water based inks when printing on darker colored fabrics for the same purpose - to remove the fabric dye while at the same time replacing it with the color of the water based ink.

Natural fibers (ideally 100% cotton) are best, however some blends work great too! When discharging with heathered or tri-blend fabrics, the effect might not be as bright, depending on the color of the polyester. Garments with black polyester won’t discharge because the agent isn’t able to strip the color from polyester.

Another consideration with discharge is the color of the garment. Certain colors, like Kelly Green, Royal Blue and Red can be tricky. Discharge ink responds very powerfully to reactive dyes, but these colors have less reactive dyes so this results in a more muted discharge. Designs that plan for this, look incredible, but it’s important to understand and expect this outcome.

**pre-production samples/test prints are recommended and are required to be done on all hemp & hemp/cotton blends to ensure desired results

Water Based/Discharge Ink vs. Plastisol Ink

  • Water Based Inks are more environmentally friendly

  • Water Based Inks provide a softer feel

  • Water Based Inks yield the best results when the fabric they are being printed on uses reactive dyes 

  • Water Based Inks are only absorbed by natural fibers

  • Water Based Inks yield a soft hand print (A soft hand is the condition where the ink film cannot easily be felt with the hand when passed across the surface of the fabric)

  • Water-based ink prints on dark garments are limited in their vibrancy. Not only are the inks more transparent than Plastisol, but it’s more difficult to get a bright white underbase, and using discharge will give you an off-white underbase at best, diminishing the potential for an overall vibrant print. Colors tend to appear more muted, which is usually desired.

  • Water Based Inks since they are absorbed into the natural fibers of the fabric last the lifetime of the garment

  • Water Based Inks have better “breathability” since are absorbed into the natural fibers of the fabric and do not block the openings between the fabric fibers

  • Water Based Inks do not provide much versatility since they are only best suited when applied to natural fibers and when combined with discharge the use of reactive dyes

  • Plastisol Inks sits atop the fabric it is printed on and therefore yields more of “hand” (can be felt with the hand when passed across the surface of the fabric)

  • Plastisol Inks have better color vibrancy and opacity especially on darker colored fabrics

  • Plastisol Inks have better color accuracy when it comes to matching specific (coated) Pantone colors

  • Plastisol Inks although very durable, will eventually show wear over an extended period of time since they sit atop and are not absorbed into the fibers of the fabric

  • Plastisol Inks do not provide the best “breathability” especially larger solid prints, since they sit atop the fibers of the fabric and create an impenetrable plastic surface

  • Plastisol Inks have greater versatility as they are able to be applied to just about all fabric types with various types of inks, additives and under different print press conditions

  • Plastisol Inks are more cost effective

  • Plastisol Inks are more stable, can be recycled/reused and therefore create less waste

Flocking or Flock Printing is a type of decoration made that adds a raised layer of tiny fibers made up of cotton, rayon, wool and/or other natural or synthetic fibers which add a suede-like or velvet texture to the surface of the print. This type of printing has 3 different methods of application.

  • Traditional Electrostatic Manual Flocking is when a design is first screen printed onto the garment with adhesive ink and while it is still wet a machine filled with flock fibers is placed over the printed design. The flock is then given a negative charge and fly vertically onto the fabric, getting stuck to the wet adhesive print almost in a magnetized fashion.

  • Flock Stencil Cuts are die cut from a sheet of special flock card on a computer driven, vinyl cutting machine. The special flock card contains an adhesive layer between the card and the flock itself. Once the design has been cut from the card, the paper backing is peeled off and then heat pressed onto the garment in the correct position. The high temperatures of the heat press, melt the adhesive bonding of the flock design to the t-shirt. This method is great for designs which contain multiple colors.

  • Flock Transfers are first screen printed onto the garment with an adhesive ink. The ink is then dried to the touch with a flash cure unit. A sheet of flock transfer paper is then placed overtop of the printed adhesive ink and heat pressed. The high temperatures created by the heat press, melt the adhesive ink bonding the flock fibers to the t-shirt. The garment is then given time to cool down allowing the adhesive to set, the sheet of flock is then peeled away from the t-shirt, revealing the newly flocked graphic. This method only allows for a one color design

Burnout Printing is a special effect printing where an acid chemical is applied to a garment which removes/chemically dissolves any natural fibers (such as cotton) leaving behind only synthetic fibers (like polyester) resulting in a considerably more sheer texturally different area to the portion of the fabric it has been applied to.