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Getting it Right with White

(August 2008) posted on Wed Aug 20, 2008

Garment screen printers seem to be fixated on white plastisol inks. Find out why.

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By Mike Ukena

White inks are not the easiest inks to use. They’re thick, they can be sticky, and they can vary in their usability depending upon shop temperature, platen temperature, fabric, and a host of other little bothersome variables. I have used white inks that I loved one day and hated the next. I don’t think that is an unusual sentiment. So when the ink manufacturer or distributor tells you about a great new white, you jump. At trade shows, fully half the conversations in the ink booths pertain to white ink. Ink companies could have mind-blowing displays of all their new specialty inks and printers would still walk right past them and ask about new whites in hope of avoiding frustrations on press.

Many factors contribute to the problems associated with white inks. Aging is a big one. Ink can change in viscosity and printability as it gets older. This situation is especially common with white inks, which have a tendency to get thicker as they get older. The easiest solution to this particular problem is to never buy too much white ink at one time. Stick to 30-day supplies as a maximum, and make sure to rotate your inventory so buckets never get old.

Another common issue is using the wrong ink in a given application. I think this is the leading cause of dissatisfaction with a white ink. The main problem, as explained earlier, is using low-bleed whites for everything. The rough prints they produce look like they are out of focus. They lack the crispness of a properly registered and printed cotton white, for example. When low-bleed whites are heated up, the gas that becomes trapped expands and may actually pop. If the expansion and pop happen in the dryer, they will show as a hole with white underneath in the finished print.

Emotional response, not logic, usually dictates selection of white ink. Sure, price is a logical factor, but even if the price is right, most answers I hear for why someone likes a particular white revolve around emotion. Here are a few examples:

• I like this white because my staff complains about it less than any other we have tried.

• I like this white because I have always used it.

• I like this white because it is brighter than any other I have tried.


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