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Make Your Garments Shine with Foil

(July 2006) posted on Fri Jul 28, 2006

Learn about foil materials and methods for enhancing your prints with them.


By Tom Trimingham

click an image below to view slideshow

Foil is one of the best deals when it comes to special effects on garments. Foil is cheap compared to other special-effect materials, such as high-density, reflective, and many glitter inks. Applying foil is simple, and foil is brighter than printed glitter and has an eye-catching appeal from a long distance.

Despite these benefits, foil imprints managed to develop a bad reputation among consumers and many screen printers. Some customers still feel that foil will fall right off of the garment or tarnish and dull out after the first wash. This is most likely due to the proliferation of poorly executed foil decorations that were sold to the tourist market many years ago. These older foil applications used foil that wasn't as durable as today's materials and had a tendency to crack and tarnish quickly—especially when it wasn't applied correctly. The newer versions have a thinner layer of reflective material that is more flexible and is much more durable, even after repeat washings. Additionally, screen printers now have better heat presses available that can help manage the variables and consistently produce high-quality foil decoration on garments.

This month, I will cover several design ideas that use this special effect and describe their execution in production. The important thing to consider with foil is how the design will use this reflective material to showcase its particular strengths while avoiding some of its disadvantages. The advantages include low cost compared to specialty inks and transferred graphics, simple application process, and the ability to produce extremely bright prints that attract attention. Some disadvantages include additional garment handling (at least twice as much as standard garment prints), scrap and waste caused by poor adhesion, and the need for specialized equipment and additional labor to produce consistent results.

Basic foil on a T-shirt

To create the Chicago design in Figure 1, I first created the artwork in CorelDraw with an emphasis on keeping the ink broken down into small pieces to prevent the foil from stretching over a longer distance. This is one of the lessons that I learned with foil: Don't expect foil to hold up over a large distance in a graphic. It is always better on smaller, contained pieces in a design. Otherwise, you run the risk of the graphic becoming cracked and less reflective.


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