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New Techniques in Special-Effects Screen Printing

(June 2011) posted on Tue Jul 12, 2011

Special effects give garments unparalleled visual and tactile appeal. This article showcases effective methods for boosting the value of printed apparel.


click an image below to view slideshow

By Michael Beckman

At first glance, it may seem as if the garment marketplace is running low on truly new special-effects prints. However, inks, fabrics, and printing processes are changing in response to consumer trends. For example, customer requirements for PVC-free inks and increased use of polyester fabrics are affecting garment screen-printing significantly and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.



Demand for special-effects printing is coming back right now, and most major brands have at least some graphics in each season’s lines that use one specialty technique or another. What is different is that most special-effect printing is entirely design driven rather than just technique for its own sake. The technique is secondary to a quality graphic and adds to the design rather than being just used for effect or to lend pop to a weak design. The gallery of effects shown in the images above highlights modern trends and methods and presents an overview of the techniques and consumables used.

Heat sealing with transfer paper  A very smooth halftone blend was printed on top of a specially smoothed underprint and then heat-sealed using a glossy transfer paper. This really evened out the surface of the print and imparted a subtle shine to it, much the same way a clear foil might. The effect added to the design, whereas a rainbow or metallic foil might have overpowered it. In this case, what some refer to as a smoothing screen was used on press to impart surface finish. This is a screen with a high mesh count—but without an image exposed on it—that’s printed, so to speak, with a hard squeegee after a flash in the print sequence. Squeegee actions smooth the gelled ink slightly while the garment is still on the press.


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