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New Techniques in Special-Effects Screen Printing

(June 2011) posted on Tue Jul 12, 2011

Special effects give garments unparalleled visual and tactile appeal. This article showcases effective methods for boosting the value of printed apparel.


By Michael Beckman

click an image below to view slideshow

Heat transfer on specialty ink  A typical puff ink was used as an underprint, and a halftone blend was then printed on top of the puff after flashing. The fabric in this example had a high polyester content, so a low-bleed white ink was printed under the puff to prevent dye migration. The finished design was then lightly heat-sealed with a dull transfer paper for just a few seconds to smooth the top surface of the print slightly. This effect is much different from a solid area of highly lofted puff. This technique adds some luster and depth to the graphic without being overly simplistic and gives it a different look.

Simulated embroidery  Puff was used as an underprint, but in this case as a small portion of a much larger design to simulate embroidery on top of a print. It kept the shirt much softer than authentic embroidery could. This fairly subtle treatment didn’t overpower the graphic. This technique was not used for the novelty of the effect, but rather because it worked well with the particular graphic and reduced the cost of production compared to embroidery.

Printing for hand  You can produce soft-hand and no-hand prints in any number of ways, but consider the possibilities of using soft-hand prints as parts of larger designs or as background color components of more complex special-effect prints. A design can use many different levels of hand in the same print for different effects. In this photo, water-based inks of varying viscosity were used to produce an accurate representation of the details of a sketched illustration. Heavy-bodied ink was used where multiple layers of cross hatching overlap and in the richer colors of the illustration. Much thinner, water-based inks were used where the line work and shading in the design fade into the garment. The varying levels of hand in the print contribute to the rich look of the design. The water-based inks used in the graphic lend themselves to soft-hand printing extremely well.

Water-based effects  Distressed techniques and washed simulations are popular special-effects variations of soft-hand printing. In this photo, extremely soft, water-based ink was used to simulate a heavily washed and worn print. Screens with high mesh counts, very thin ink, and very hard squeegees were used to limit the total amount of ink laid down on the garment.


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rocss says: Demand for special-effects printing is coming back right now, and most major brands have at least some graphics in each season’s lines that use one specialty technique or another. What is different ...

Demand for special-effects printing is coming back right now, and most major brands have at least some graphics in each season’s lines that use one specialty technique or another. What is different is that most special-effect printing is entirely design driven rather than just technique for its own sake. The technique is secondary to a quality graphic and adds to the design rather than being just used for effect or to lend pop to a weak design. The gallery of effects shown in the images above highlights modern trends and methods and presents an overview of the techniques and consumables used.

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