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How to Print the Ultimate Underbase

(February/March 2018) posted on Mon Mar 12, 2018

Though white is traditional, using other colors for your underbases can help you create incredible designs on dark garments.

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By Thomas Trimingham

The best artwork, and often the friendliest in production, breaks the rules. One of the commonly understood rules of getting the brightest hues possible on dark shirts is to start with a white underbase. On a black shirt in particular, if the underbase doesn’t properly block the color of the garment, there can be an unexpected muting of the entire image or a shift to the colors that are printed later. Prints that are dull or look different than the original art the clients approved (typically a digital file they viewed on their computer) can upset them and even make them doubt the quality of your company. This issue can cost you business, so it needs to be taken seriously.

This fear that orders will be rejected is one reason that the majority of screen printers standardize the practice of printing a solid-looking white underbase whenever they are working with dark garments. The majority of the time, using a white underbase isn’t a bad idea. It is predictable, repeatable, and will certainly give you the brightest, most saturated colors. It can be extremely difficult to achieve certain colors like fire engine reds and deep royal blues without a white underbase. But there are some situations when using a different color for the underbase will produce a much better print than using white. (And one of them isn’t when you run out of white ink.) The choice begins with the design concept and the final effect you want to achieve. It’s much better to consider the possibilities before you have printed several dozen shirts.

Underbase 101
Before we dive into when and how to use an underbase that isn’t white, it’s a good idea to review what underbases do and why white usually works so well. Knowing how an underbase works will help you come up with ideas for alternate colors and strategies.

Fundamentally, underbases do two things in creating a foundation for the overprint colors:

  1. They block the color of the garment as well as the individual fibers of the material.
  2. They create a reflective surface that will make the subsequent colors appear brighter and more saturated.


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