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Make Your Garments Shine with Foil

(July 2006) posted on Fri Jul 28, 2006

Learn about foil materials and methods for enhancing your prints with them.

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By Thomas Trimingham

This foil also came from Crown Royal. It looks slightly like a rainbow oil slick on the foil paper before it's pressed onto the print. I achieved the best results with this design when I used a pneumatic Hix press set to 300°F and 25 psi. Dwell time was eight seconds. The pneumatic press really helps with this kind of foil because it automatically releases at just the right time. If this foil overheats, it loses most of its shine and will permanently glue itself to the design and not release from the backing. It still takes some tugging to get the foil to release, even when applied perfectly, where a normal opaque foil just peels right off.

Simulated sequin (Figure 3) is a really popular look in many upscale stores. You can easily reproduce this effect in programs like CorelDraw or Adobe Illustrator. Just create a sequin shape that can be blended along a path that will flow smoothly to create the text. To develop this graphic, I created my shape in CorelDraw and then carefully traced the center of a script font that I liked with a single line that would become my path. I then mapped the step-and-repeat blend of the sequin shape to this centerline text path.

The separation step proceeded as usual, except I added a gel print that would be on top of the multicolor print on just the sequins to help grab the foil in those areas and leave the simulated stitching lower and free of foil. The print was cured normally through the dryer and then heat-pressed with exactly the same settings used for the other iridescent foil print.

Inline foil printing

The most dramatic foil prints usually fall into the inline category. The foiled areas of the print contrast intensely with the normal parts of the design and really make the viewer do a double take to see how and where the foil is flashing in the design. For the inline Chicago print (Figure 4), the shirt was designed using silver gel as the foil adhesive. It was printed in this order: silver gel, flash, silver foil (Crown Royal) heat pressed onto the shirt inline on the press, white, flash, and then royal blue.

This process is only for the most dedicated printers who have a large demand for foil or transferred prints that are done inline. The cost of the equipment can be considerable. Occasionally, if the elements in a design are not touching precisely, the shirt can be printed, foiled, and lined up on press using a laser mark for a reference to print the rest of the design. But this option is unlikely to work when a design has elements that flow from one another in a kiss register. Several of the bigger automatic-press manufacturers—MHM and M&R, for example—now offer inline foil systems for their automatic presses. This technology does not come cheap, but the results are really awe inspiring if the design is done properly to showcase the foil.

Reheating the foil is an important concern with this style of printing. Some foils can tarnish when passed through a dryer or under a flash-cure unit. Some testing is necessary to determine curing and wash-resistance temperatures that preserve the foil's reflective properties.

Other methods

Some alternative processes worth noting here are the use of thin-based plastisol inks (such as Nova Base or Hydrosol Base) and water-based inks printed before a foil adhesive. You don't have to foil the shirt inline when using either of these techniques, but the garment will appear as if it had been foiled inline because not all of the print will carry foil. Both of these methods need extensive R&D to be truly production friendly and will often be a trade out for volume vs. quality. The faster you go, the more scrap you get.

I feel that any screen printer who has a heat press should investigate the foil process as a premium decorating option. The prints that have foil applied to them are some of the brightest possible options available, and foil's cost per inch remains cheaper than most special-effect inks on the market. It does take considerable adjustment to production to add foil garments with a cost-effective margin, but as a special effect on a T-shirt, foil reigns supreme.



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