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Creating Special Effects with High-Density Inks

(June/July 2014) posted on Tue May 31, 2016

High-density inks have declined a bit in recent years, but when used creatively and properly, they can achieve breathtaking effects that can't be produced with any other garment decorating technique.


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By Charlie Taublieb

In garment printing, the term “special effects” covers a lot of inks and processes, some of which I’ve never considered to be part of this category. Puff, for example, isn’t a special-effect ink to me even though some consider it to be one. Others inks, such as discharge, have been around for a long time and are now being used in ways that do make them special effects. Then there are inks that are clearly designed for special-effect printing and that can create remarkable results when used correctly. I want to focus on some of my favorites in this article: high-density (HD) inks, gels, and bases.

If you aren’t familiar with HD inks, they can produce dramatic three-dimensional images. They are designed to print through very thick stencils and have a high viscosity with reduced tack and increased flow characteristics compared to standard plastisol inks. As you’ll see in this article, they can achieve thick ink deposits with extremely sharp edges. Used correctly and creatively, HD inks allow you to produce truly unique effects.



Although HD inks were very popular for quite a number of years, they quieted down because of concerns and regulations over the use of ortho-phthalates. Now that many of the ink companies have reformulated, HD inks are back again, but few printers use them because many don’t know how. The ultimate goal with HD inks is to produce a print that has dimension to it after printing and that stays that way once it’s through the curing unit. I’ll discuss the production steps that are unique to HD printing below and show how the technology was used to create several award-winning shirts.

Screenmaking Considerations
One of the most common problems I see in shops that aren’t accustomed to HD printing is screenmaking, especially selecting the right mesh and creating stencils of sufficient thickness to achieve the desired effect. You need a thin mesh that has a good percentage of open area to allow the ink to pass through the stencil easily without too much squeegee pressure. The most popular meshes for HD printing are around 80 to 83 threads per inch with a 70-71-micron “S” thread. These meshes have an open area of about 60 percent.


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