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The Value of Standards in Printing Halftone Blends

(June 2009) posted on Fri Jun 12, 2009

Garment designs that feature blends tend to attract more attention than plain decorations. Trimingham explains how to develop standards for applying blends in your printing operation.

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By Thomas Trimingham

A blending test can also provide a benchmark for defining the right amount of color overlap and what the densities should be (Figure 2). The colors destined for blending are placed in the proper screens and then printed on a variable underbase and on a light shirt to reveal the best combination for achieving a quality blend.

A common process is to first run what might be called the blend’s foundation color. The foundation color is usually the lighter color or the one that is used in a larger amount in the final blend—yellow is probably the most common one. The next color is the accent color or modifying color that will shift the foundation color to approximate the secondary or tertiary color that you want to achieve.

Also consider the underbase and its density in this process, because—believe it or not—some inks run a lot better without using a 100%-solid underbase. And if you intend on running the print fast with wet-on-wet blending, the inks will always run better with some of the shirt coming through to which they can bind.

The final results will make clear which colors run the best. Record all of the information related to the inks and any modifiers that you added to them. Other important considerations are screen tension, print speed, and squeegee pressure. These records will enable your shop to rise up to the upper 5% of screen-printing shops that truly know their prints from the ink backwards. The final results can then be feed backwards into the art department. Just imagine a printer going into the art department and saying, “Give me an 80% underbase on this job so I can run it twice as fast with one flash and use half the ink and the final print will look better than the original.”

An ironic twist to knowing your blending standards is that the more blending of colors you have in an art piece, the easier it is to break up the underbase and use fewer flashes. I know printers who are experienced with this process advise clients to add blends to their previously solid prints so that the final shirts will look better and, at the same time, be much easier to print (Figure 3).

One interesting side effect of establishing a standard for blending colors with a set resolution, angle, specific screen meshes, tensions, and modified inks is that the somewhat painful process relieves a lot of pent-up issues between the art and printing departments. After all, setting standards makes it easier to agree and to process jobs without having to blame each other for things that go wrong.


Ink Attributes

Hue The color that the pigment in the ink reflects determines the color that we see.

Viscosity The thickness of the ink that determines how quickly it will flow through an object.

Tack The function of how sticky the ink is and how much it may get picked up by other screens or not release easily from the mesh onto the garment.

Opacity Relates to how well a layer of this ink will block light from going through it. The functional application is so that the shirt or the underbase won’t show through the ink.

Finish The ink has a certain look to it when it is cured, varying from glossy to dull or matte. Inks that are more transparent tend to have glossier finishes and inks that are very opaque tend to have duller finishes.

Value Relates to how dark or light the ink color is. Ink opacity can dramatically affect value and how much of the printing media’s color shows through.

Saturation Relates to how much pigment is in a specific ink. Higher pigment load equals higher color saturation, which makes the ink look very bright and rich with color.

A fundamentally good ink for printing blends is one that has lower viscosity, medium-high opacity with low tack, a semi-glossy finish, a deep saturation with a strong hue and value.


Thomas Trimingham has almost 20 years of experience in screen printing as an award-winning artist, separator and industry consultant. You can contact Thomas through his Website,



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