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Establishing Rules for Underbase Printing

(July 2015) posted on Tue Jul 21, 2015

A poorly printed underbase will produce washed-out prints or garments too heavy to wear. Find out how to establish procedures that will lead to a quality product, every time.

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By Thomas Trimingham

You may be able to solve problems like this through equipment modifications. Platens with soft, spongy surfaces can help by pushing these areas of the garment down and leveling out the printing surface. Some squeegees are designed with a gap or slightly lifted area in the middle to compensate for center seams. At one of my old companies, we would cut a notch in the squeegee blade on higher-volume jobs to get around vertical seams, a job-to-job solution that costs a squeegee blade but prevents you from tearing the screen. Other common adaptations include using different types of ink that absorb into the garment and don’t pool or pucker as easily, such as water-based inks or reduced-opacity plastisols.

In the art department, you can compensate for these issues by making the design less hard-edged and more forgiving to slight printing distortions. One way to do this is to distress the artwork, adding an overlay layer in the design software that intentionally makes it appear to be worn out or damaged, allowing any printing errors to blend in easily (see Figure 3). Another solution is to break up the design into smaller pieces and use separate screens over each side of the bump in the garment, though this is obviously a less friendly option on volume and cost.

Screen and Press Variables
Sometimes, your underbase decisions will be limited by the number of colors you can print on the machine, depending on the design and the method you’ll be using to separate it. You might prefer to add a gray screen or another off-white color to extend the subtlety of the printed image and help the brighter colors to pop, but you won’t always have an open station to allow for that. If you are short on available stations for a job, you can try to create a gray value on a darker shirt using the underbase, a technique that may also save costs by allowing you to use fewer screens (see Figure 4). An experienced separator will account for the screen and press limitations in choosing the best approach to get the right amount of detail into the design that production can duplicate.


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