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Tips for Printing Lightweight Fabrics

(April 2011) posted on Tue May 10, 2011

Discover how artwork, screenmaking, inks, and curing influence quality when working with lightweight apparel.

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By Rick Davis

Lightweight fabrics typically are constructed with thinner yarn and a looser knit than their heavyweight counterparts. This poses a true challenge for any job that involves halftone reproduction. For facilities that print halftone on a regular basis, I recommend testing a garment with whatever typical line count you would print with as a standard. If the results are unacceptable, you may consider moving to a coarser halftone line count to compensate for the coarser knit of the garment fabric.

Rethinking your approaches to screens is an important part of screen printing lightweight fabrics. Some of these fabrics are so loosely knit that you may wish to avoid even attempting to bridge the knit of the fabric by staying out of the material’s voids, much like you would when screen printing nylon micromesh.
You can print lightly colored fabrics with a 230-thread/in. mesh higher using a 70/90/70-durometer or standard 80-durometer squeegee. For direct applications darker fabrics, where underbases are required, you should keep the mesh count in the 155- to 180-thread/in. range. Using the previously mention squeegee parameters would work in this scenario as well. The overprint mesh counts would again fall in the 230- to 305-thread/in. range.

As with most applications, highly tensioned screens are beneficial and allow you to deposit thinner ink films onto the surface of the fabric, as opposed to driving it through and onto the platen. Maintaining the soft hand of a garment print is the perfect time to put the less is more philosophy to work.

Because your objective in printing lightweight fabrics is to maintain the soft hand of that fabric, you are somewhat limited in your choices of ink formulations. The lighter colored, 100% cottons lend themselves to water-based inks. You have the option of discharge printing for the darker cottons, but you should always test this process on the garment before going into full-scale production to ensure you will achieve satisfactory results with that fabric.


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