Screen printing is a technique where a silk mesh or screen is used to transfer ink onto a surface. A stencil (design) is placed on a screen that has been coated with a light sensitive emulsion that’s then exposed to harden areas the stencil does not cover making ink impassable through those specific areas. Areas where the stencil did cover allows the emulsion to be power washed out revealing the design that will allow ink to pass through the screen. A blade or squeegee is moved across the screen to push ink through the open areas onto a surface . One color is printed at a time, so several screens can be used to produce a multicolored design.
Water- Based Ink
Water based ink is an eco-friendly alternative to plastisol ink. This type of ink is plastic free. It has a softer feel and allows higher detail than plastisol inks. Water-based inks dye fabric instead of sitting on top of them making the print less heavy. Though this is a great alternative not all fabrics will work well with water-based inks. These inks are great for printing onto white and light-colored garments. Darker garments allow for a more muted color outcome.
Discharge ink is a water-based ink that you use on dark garments to give it a soft hand feel. It’s created by adding a discharge agent to water-based ink. Discharge ink is absorbed into the fabric, stripping it of its original color and taking on the color of the ink. This process can result with inconsistent outcomes. Discharge ink comes in three different versions which are clear, white, and pigmented. Clear will only remove the dye from the garment leaving its original color behind. White and pigmented discharge will remove the dye in the garment and replace it with a pigmented dye. 100% cotton is great for discharge printing because it works best with the natural fibers.
Plastisol inks are made from plastics and are the most commonly used inks due to its great color consistency and PANTONE accuracy. This type of ink works well with both light and dark colored garments. It also can achieve finer halftones and gradients which can be part of a design . These inks aren’t as soft as water-based inks, but there is a feel-to-hand when you touch a thicker print. Plastisol inks can be printed on virtually any surface that can withstand the heat requirement to cure the ink and is porous enough to hold the ink. Plastisols do not dye the fibers but instead wraps around them bonding with the fabric. There is also multiple variations of glitter and metallic plastisol inks.
As the name implies, the ink literally expands and puffs up once it’s exposed to heat. Puff additive can be combined with any plastisol ink making the color options endless. It’s important to cure the puff ink at a specific temperature, otherwise if it becomes too hot the puff will collapse. Once it has been exposed to the high temperature, the puff ink raises above the surface, which gives added texture and density along with giving the design a more three-dimensional look.
Foil- adds a super reflective and shiny finish to your design.
Glow in the Dark- The ink looks white during the day, but glows at night.
Reflective ink- A specialty grey ink that transforms into a reflective surface only when the light hits it.
Glitter/Shimmer- Gives the garment a fun sparkle.
CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow and black. Your basic printer colors) is the oldest halftone print reproduction method. The process of overlapping halftones with each of these ink colors can simulate any color desired. Process inks are water-based creating a soft and light feel rather than the thick and heavy feel plastisol would have using this process. This process is best done on light-colored garments. Putting a base white underneath the water-based inks on the garment will cause colors to pop and show more vibrant on darker garments. For this process its done using a technique called “wet-on-wet”. You can print all four colors on top of each other without having to flash (dry) each new layer of ink.
This is the most common type of process print in the industry. Spot color process prints use plastisol inks which can create vivid color values and allows for the printer to have more control of the colors. These colors can be used at 100% tint or as halftones that change the tint value away from 100%. Spot colors are matched to the Pantone Matching System (PMS) which ensures the color that is being used.