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Selecting White Inks for Your Shop

(August 2010) posted on Tue Sep 07, 2010

Picking a white ink is a simple matter when you only print on one type of fabric


By Rick Davis

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These variables are especially troublesome when smaller shops and inexperienced printers select inferior inks and fail to control the parameters involved with garment screen printing. Spending the extra money on high-performance ink in such a situation reduces the risk of disappointing a customer.

Flashing characteristics
The flashing characteristics of white inks are as varied as their opacity. Many garment printers overlook the fact that, most of the time, the flashing characteristics of white plastisol is directly proportionate to the level of gloss. The correlation here is that the higher the gloss level of most white plastisols, the greater the level of after-flash tack. These inks require a greater amount of time to cool down and de-tack after the flashing process.

Inks with lower gloss levels typically flash faster and require less time to cool down before overprinting. The slower pace of manual screen printing negates much of influence flashing characteristics have on the process. However, these properties are critical on automatics where you may have only a few seconds prior to overprinting. Determining which white will perform best in your shop involves trial and error. One factor to keep in mind is that the higher the facility’s output, the greater the need for a high-performance, fast-flashing white.

Bleed resistance
The value of bleed resistance is one of the first hard lessons beginners in the screen-printing industry learn—and only after their white ink on a red 50/50 cotton-poly blend turns pink a week after the shirt is printed.

Like opacity, bleed resistance can vary from ink line to ink line. The most effective bleed-resistant white inks are those that are specifically designed for 100% polyester. Remember that these inks are not always practical for 50/50 knits due to ink cost and, in some instances, performance parameters (not all poly whites are user friendly).

Proper curing is the most effective way to get the best performance from a bleed-resistant ink. Printers who suffer from the more is better mentality will, in many cases, print an excessively thick ink film onto a 50/50 T-shirt or fleece to boost opacity and bleed resistance only to find later that the ink film’s thickness prevented a proper cure. In cases such as these, the undercured ink film will actually dissolve the dyes in the polyester fibers and allow the color to bleed through the ink film.

The thicker the ink film, the greater the retention time required in the dryer to ensure that the ink film is cured. The entire ink film, regardless of how thick, must reach its recommended cure temperature. Failure to bring printed ink to a full cure reduces the ink’s bleed resistance and other beneficial characteristics.

Contact the manufacturer and test
I always advise garment printers to consult with ink and garment manufacturers when printing on 100% polyester or other challenging materials. And if you’re working with a private-labeled garment and cannot determine its composition by making a phone call, you’ll need to conduct some tests to determine which ink will work best for the job.

The sad truth is that because most specialty fabrics are now knitted, woven, and dyed in Asian countries, you truly never know what you are going to get. What’s worse is that some countries use such cheap, low-quality dyes that you simply cannot print some dark 100%-polyester fabrics without dealing with a whole lot of bleeding.

Trial and error will enable you to identify the right products for your facility. Most garment screen printers in the U.S. should be about to get by with no more than three different white inks. If you print 100% cotton exclusively, you can get away with stocking a simple, high-opacity white ink that’s formulated specifically for that type of fabric. I also suggest keeping a bleed-resistant white ink on hand for the rare 50/50 order that may appear.

Finally, be sure your curing equipment is working as expected. As discussed earlier, insufficient curing is a sure-fire way to ruin a job. Heat output and belt speed are critical to successful ink-film curing and should be tested regularly to guarantee optimum performance.


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