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Dramatic Depth on Dark Shirts

(June 2009) posted on Tue Jun 02, 2009

Striking a balance between vibrant colors and subtle details requires a careful approach to creating separations. Trimingham describes his favorite method in this month's column.

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By Thomas Trimingham

One of the things that separates an average printer from one who wants to reach the next level is the good enough equation, when the printer may look at an art reproduction and decide that, even though it isn’t perfect, it is good enough to be accepted and not rejected. The difference is that the printers who want to grow beyond the basics are the ones who are willing to document and test their processes so they achieve more control and consistency with difficult printing tasks.

“But these are only T-shirts,” some printers say. “Why spend the extra time and redo the screens?” The reality is that the retail buyer and consumer may not know why they pick one shirt to buy over another, but it is a known marketing trend that customers pick shirts that make them say wow at a rate of ten times to one for every shirt that is simply good enough. The extra time and effort are often intangible values, but the potential that they add up to can be amazing with word of mouth and development of new business factored in.


Determining the ink-fall-off point

General-purpose plastisol ink has a certain opacity and viscosity that affects how it covers a dark shirt without an underbase print. This property is very difficult to guess without testing how the ink will perform in a certain separation set. Artists commonly produce a set of separations based solely on their experience and make an educated guess as to how much of an underbase is needed and when the ink will start to change color depending on the percentage of underbase beneath it. Unfortunately, this method requires a high percentage of press downtime and film/screen reshoots. The entire job must often be torn down when the underbase shows in areas where it shouldn’t and when the fix requires more of the top colors to compensate. The best way is to print an art reference of your inks so that you don’t have to guess. Then the artist will be able to quickly see what color will result with a given percentage of top color (Figure 2).  


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