This “Las Vegas Elvis Skeleton” design, printed by Lon Winters of Graphic Elephants, is a multimedia SFX print that incorporates gold glitter, Sculpture Base, HD clear gel and foil in one design. All photos provided by Jenny Ortolani.
Garment decorators always are looking for ways to create special effects (SFX) with their screen-printed designs by offering specialty inks — puff, glitter, suede, shimmer, high-density and more — to keep their artwork on the cutting edge. Those offering SFX designs stand out from the competition by drawing attention to the different textures and effects that are available in today’s market.
To be successful in SFX printing, you must give special attention to screen making by choosing the correct emulsion, mesh and squeegee, while also understanding the steps in the process before going to the press. Here’s a breakdown of some of the most popular SFX inks and general guidelines for printing each type.
Silver and Gold Shimmer: Since metallic shimmer particles are smaller than standard glitter flakes, it’s possible to print shimmer with a 110 or 135 mesh and use two print strokes for the best effect. When using plastisol silver shimmer ink, color can be infused by simply adding 10%-15% of a ready-for-use (RFU) plastisol color to tint the ink. Shimmer also can be printed directly on top of spot colors to add a sparkly effect to the design.
Glitter Inks: These types of SFX inks are a great way to achieve retro looks of the 1970s, which was a time when screen printers would purchase clear plastisol inks and add their own glitter flakes. The downside: Stray glitter could be found in all areas of a shop for months after a glitter job was printed. Thankfully, today’s plastisol glitter inks come premixed and are more user friendly.
Glitter inks should be printed through a 25- to 30-mesh screen, but many screen printers make the mistake of selecting a 60 or 86 mesh and the glitter flakes end up getting clogged in the mesh after a few garments are printed.
When coating a 25-mesh screen with photo emulsion, it’s important to use the dull side of the scoop coater and choose a high-solids emulsion to bridge the wide mesh openings. An excellent coating technique for a 25 mesh is to coat the screen and let it dry, then coat the screen’s contact side one more time and let it dry before exposing. This process is called adding a face coat and it helps to create sharp edges on the stencil after exposure and washout.
There are two approaches to printing glitter on dark garments: print directly onto the garment, or print an underbase first, then flash, and print the glitter on top. For silver glitter, a white underbase works best; for printing gold glitter, a yellow underbase works well to highlight the gold flakes. Print the underbase on a 156-mesh screen, flash and print the glitter on top with a 25-mesh screen and a 60/90/60 triple-durometer squeegee.
Clear Gel: This SFX ink adds a nice highlight to a design or can be printed as a standalone ink to create a “tone-on-tone” effect by printing the clear ink directly onto a dark garment. High-density clear inks also can be used to print over spot colors to give them a shiny or wet look. Choosing the right stencil system is key to printing with HD inks. Screen stencil systems include direct high-solids emulsion and capillary film.
Coating a screen with a high-solids direct emulsion provides a thick stencil and allows for an increased ink deposit during the screen-printing process. The most popular stencil system for high-density printing is 400-micron capillary film. The film adheres to the screen’s contact side, gets dried, exposed and then washed out.
The thick film creates a “gasket” that allows the ink to stack up on the garment during the printing process. For manual printing, a 70-durometer squeegee works well and a 60/90/60 triple-durometer squeegee is a good choice for printing gels on an automatic press.
Puff Ink: This ink type is the perfect way to add texture to a design and was developed to be used as a highlight to a design. Think snow in a mountain scene or a three-dimensional raised area in a design. Puff ink should be printed with meshes in the 60-86 range. It’s available as a base and pigment system to mix a variety of puff colors; white and black puff inks commonly are offered as RFU inks.
Puff ink has a blowing agent mixed into the ink and it’s important to reach the manufacturer’s recommended cure temperature so that the ink can achieve the proper height. Note: Don’t leave the garment in the oven too long or the puff with rise and then collapse before it exits. Suede Ink: These inks typically are printed through a 156- to 230-mesh screen, depending on the desired effect. Suede ink imitates the look and feel of real suede leather and is available in a suede base to mix custom colors. The base can be used as an additive with standard plastisol to provide a soft feel to the printed design.
Foil Adhesive: This adhesive is available in both water-based and plastisol ink systems, and is printed through 86-110 mesh in the areas of the design where the foil is to be applied. After printing the foil adhesive on the garment, cure it in the dryer at the recommended temperature and heat-apply the foil to the garment with a heat press at 350˚F for 8-10 seconds. Then let the foil cool and peel the backer sheet.
Metallic Ink: This type of ink can be printed with mesh counts in the 135-156 range. Use a print-flash-print sequence for best results. Remember to allow extra curing time in the conveyor oven since metallic inks reflect the infrared heat waves.
Sculpture and Rock Base: These two bases can be used to create a raised underbase to highlight certain areas in a design to provide a 3-D effect. Sculpture base can be printed through an 80-mesh screen with 400-micron capillary film using a print-flash-print sequence to stack the ink to the desired height. After the underbase is printed and gelled, subsequent colors can be printed on top with finer mesh counts in the 230-305 range.
Reflective Ink: Another popular SFX ink used in our industry, reflective inks have glass beads mixed into the formula that are illuminated when exposed to bright lights. Reflective inks are available in water-based and plastisol ink systems.
Reflective inks can be printed with 110- to 135-mesh screens. However, remember that screen-printed reflective inks do not pass the reflective test criteria for printing on certified EMT and emergency-worker apparel. Rather, these inks are intended to be used solely for fashion purposes as an embellishment.
The key to successful SFX printing all starts with quality screen preparation, including using high-tensioned screens in the 20-25 N/cm range and selecting the correct mesh and stencil system for the job. Also, remember to use 60/90/60 triple-duromerter squeegees and the rest will be made easier by following the ink manufacturer’s printing guidelines.
Screen printing with SFX inks will take your designs to the next level when it comes to creativity, as well as new heights when it comes to profitability at the cash register.
James Ortolani has more than 30 years of experience in the decorated-apparel industry, specializing in hands-on, direct screen printing and heat-transfer production. For more information or to comment on this article, email James at email@example.com.