What you need to know to get the best possible print.
Quality screen printing of apparel begins with the garment itself. The garment impacts every other variable in the process, and understanding how it does so is central to achieving the best possible result. Stitch count, finish, weight, thickness, and fabric properties such as the potential for dye migration and heat sensitivity, as well as the material’s construction and color, all affect the print, and need to be considered in the production process. They may influence the mesh you choose for the job, the ink you select, the print/flash sequence, and much more; these factors, in turn, determine the quality level at which a specific piece of artwork can be reproduced on a particular garment.
Selecting the Garment
When evaluating a garment for screen printing, a good place to start is stitch count, says consultant Charlie Taublieb. “The more stitches, the smoother the fabric, allowing for a sharper print,” he explains. “Heavyweight fabrics feel good, but have so much fiber that fibrillation or fabric show-through could be an issue. The 50/50 garments usually are thinner and, for this reason, often produce a sharper looking print.”
Today’s popular performance fabrics can also enhance print quality, though they present unique challenges. “Performance fabrics are generally polyesters of some kind and usually pretty smooth, allowing for a sharp print,” he notes. “The biggest problem with them is the potential for dye migration. This may require using inks that are quite thick or an underlay as a blocker, which may result in a print that doesn’t have the hand that’s desired. However, using a roller squeegee [after flashing] can help to smooth out the surface and allows for a very flat and vibrant print.”
Tri-blends, Taublieb says, are another story in production. “Because of their higher stitch count, many take ink smoothly, but not all of them. Some are more ‘fibery’ than others, and it is often difficult to achieve a smooth look. However, flashing is where the biggest problems occur with these fabrics, and it needs to be considered in your printing strategy. Quartz flash units tend to run very hot where the bulbs are and cool between them, making it difficult trying to flash without shrinking the fabric where the bulbs are. I prefer infrared flash units when working with tri-blends.”
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