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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.


By Michael Beckman

click an image below to view slideshow

Discharge printing  Discharge formulations facilitate the production of distressed graphics on dark fabrics. Dye migration makes soft-hand techniques with thin inks a challenge on polyester and polyester-cotton blends. No very soft-hand inks can prevent dye migration with any reliability. Discharge fluids are not commonly used on polyester fabrics because the solutions do not remove the dye very well from the polyester fabric. This limitation is an additional challenge to any type of very soft-hand printing on some of the fabrics popular right now.

Dye-interactive inks  Some inks are formulated to resist the dyeing process; others are designed to attract additional dye to the areas on which they are printed. You can use these water-based inks to satisfy customer requirements for PVC-free product. In these photos, two strengths of dye-resist inks and two strengths of dye-gain inks were printed in halftones using screens with high mesh counts. A soft-hand, almost distressed print becomes visible after the dyeing process.

PVC-free plastisols  These prints were made with some of the newer PVC-free plastisols currently making their way into the marketplace. These inks are a response from the major ink manufacturers to customer demand for inks that do not contain polyvinylchloride or phthalates. Additionally, the inability of water-based inks to provide everything needed by every printer has helped lead to the development of these new acrylic alternatives. These inks, depending on how they are used, print much like standard plastisol ink with a few minor production limitations. Few alternatives are available that prevent dye migration on polyester fabrics, though solutions are in development and testing.

Printing with silicone  Silicone inks are among the newest products on the market. They’re designed to meet customer demand for PVC-free ink and are in testing and development for a number of different uses. Some production difficulties exist, especially with regard to high-speed, automatic production. However, the ability of silicone inks to impart a very desirable look keeps the pace of product development high. These inks also represent some very attractive performance characteristics, especially on polyester and performance fabrics. Dye-migration resistance and elongation are excellent. In this example, silicone inks were printed through coarse screens with thick stencils. The semitransparent inks used in the print give the graphic a look and feel similar to traditional gel ink.


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rocss says: 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 ...

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.

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