By mastering the ever-expanding range of special effects that can be achieved on apparel today, you can take your relationship with clients to an entirely new level.
By Lon Winters
Because we use different meshes and sometimes thicker stencils for these inks, the print can require a steady, slow flood coat with heavy pressure to fill the stencil with the ink. Then we set the print stroke at a medium to fast pace with decreased pressure to transfer the ink from the stencil to the garment. The flood and print strokes require some finesse to get just the right pressure, speed, and off-contact combination. Choosing the squeegee itself takes a bit of know-how, too. Sometimes we want a sharp though soft edge, but we obviously don’t want the squeegee to roll over. The best way to accomplish this is a triple-ply, duel-durometer blade. For textures, we frequently use 65/90/65 and 55/90/55 blades. Various squeegee profiles such as bevels or round edges can be useful in certain applications as well. With water-based inks, we often use a hard durometer such as an 80. Using different squeegees and floodbars can help you create some very interesting effects.
A rock base printed with a lift-off technique with negative off-contact, topped with foil.
Specialty applications usually require a bit more attention to drying requirements than traditional prints. The ink deposits can be much thicker, and with some water-based inks, the water must be driven off before curing can take place. Both of those conditions mean the print often needs to spend more time in the dryer chamber. Typically, the conveyor belt speed will need to be reduced to get the additional drying time required, or the temperature increased, or both. With special-effect inks, dryer settings can dramatically influence the final appearance or texture of the print. Because these inks often require different curing parameters than standard products, be sure to refer to the product data sheets. It’s also a good idea to do wash tests when trying out techniques to be certain of durability.
Keeping detailed, accurate records is critical. Documenting how the process and inks react in production is vital to success and your ability to repeat the results. Having everything as standardized as possible ensures CPR (consistency, predictability, and repeatability), a concept we learned years ago from Mark Coudray and from Joe Clarke’s book, “Control Without Confusion.”
Once you are in control of the process, then you can begin to manipulate it. Combining effects allows you to develop exciting, truly original new looks. Before trying this, take the time to learn how each effect behaves on its own and which ones work well with others. These multiple-effect applications require testing and control of as many variables as possible. Sampling and investing time in research and development will help you learn to produce these types of special effects efficiently, and are an important step in your journey to becoming a specialty printer.
There Are No Rules
Specialty applications present some challenges, but you can overcome them with some basic separation techniques, screen making procedures, ink adjustments, and on-press tricks. As Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Specialty printing doesn’t come in a can: The things you learn through sampling and production will be as valuable as the product information from the manufacturers. Success does require planning and careful documentation, but it also takes a willingness to break the rules.
Specialty printing is lucrative and customers will pay more for it, removing you from the commodity pricing model. It will improve your bottom line. Tackling these applications will also improve your skills and help you gain additional control over your process, giving you a better understanding of the production variables. It’s exciting to keep up with these embellishment methods as they evolve, all part of being a true specialty printer.
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