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Printing on Activewear

(December 2011) posted on Wed Dec 14, 2011

Performance fabrics present an interesting challenge to garment printers. The advice presented here will help you choose the appropriate inks for the job and predict the influence of the garment graphic on the finished piece.


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By Screen Printing's Solution Sourcebook

Design and print
Now that you’ve evaluated the substrate and defined the ideal ink for the job, you can now move on to the often more exciting details of design and overall print concept. While in the creative process, be aware of the intended use, function, and performance characteristics of the garment (Figure 1).

Here’s an example: If the apparel is a wicking garment for a regional foot race, you do not want a huge, bullet-proof print located on the chest and/or back. This takes away from the wicking properties (and intended benefit) of the garment. Adjust your artwork to complement the garment. Get creative! Consider placing art in areas other than the left chest and full back. A clean design centered on the chest with two or three colors and sponsors printed on the back in one color may be a good option. A tonal print that will not inhibit bleed is also a nice choice and, in addition, can be very soft. As innovations in activewear and performance fabrics continue to expand into everyday T-shirts—and even corporate wear—lightweight and refined graphics can add new dimension to the typical embroidered and single-color designs.

Don’t forget to again reference the texture of the garment. A standard ink designed for the garment type will take on the texture of the garment. A tonal print similar to the one previously discussed is great for garments that have texture as it will sink down into the garment. If that is not an option, consider doing faux embroidery or a simulated patch. This incorporates special effects into the performance wear and works particularly well on collared or polo shirts.

Remember, the graphic will take away from the wicking or performance properties of the garment, so keep it small.



It is important to discuss and clearly communicate to the customer any and all limitations that activewear and/or performance garments may present. It is not uncommon for customers to ask for something that is just not possible. Most customers are happier when they know up front what is and is not possible when dealing with expensive performance wear.

Research options and know what your shop is capable of printing. It may require some time and effort in R&D, but it is a great opportunity to offer more to your customers. Keep records of your past jobs, including notes of successes and failures in production. This will prevent you from starting from scratch with each new garment, and can even prevent wasted testing efforts or costly mistakes.

In a saturated and competitive market, the ability to print successfully on activewear and performance garments offers a great opportunity to expand into a growing and lucrative niche. In fact, it may be just what your business needs to further specialize and maintain a competitive edge. Remember, printing on these fabrics is not what it used to be. Don’t be afraid to be different!

This article was provided by Erin Lamb, Wilflex Inks Div., PolyOne Corp., Avon Lake, OH.


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