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The Future of Special Effects in Screen Printing

(July 2010) posted on Wed Jul 28, 2010

This month, Trimingham looks at creating special effects on garments and gives advice on how to achieve the desired results.

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By Thomas Trimingham




Demands for special effects on screen-printed apparel are at an all time high. In many markets, such as boutique and fashion stores, there are more special effect prints than any other kind. The challenges to producing these types of prints fall into four separate areas: the artwork, the separations, the inks (or effect items), and the production. Within each of these areas are certain variables that are specific to that particular effect, and the best way to control these variables is to start with the artwork and then work through the process long before any prints are made. In this manner, a lot of problems can be caught in the planning stages of print production rather than on the press.

To look at special-effect printing in its environment, we had to go to the source. In this case it was an honor to have an open door into one of the nation’s premier special-effect screen printers, Shockwaves Promotional Apparel in Arlington Heights, IL. Shockwaves’s president and founder, Greg Gaardbo, walked us through some of the hottest trends in special effects. Then he showed some award-winning examples of how different effects could be executed and combined in final products.

Discharge printing
Assuming this is a special effect, the technique of discharging the dye from a garment leaves the printed piece with a perfect surface for adding other effects on top. For this reason, Gaardbo emphasizes it as a foundational special effect—one that needs to be on top of the list for printers who want to be more fashion oriented (Figure 1).

Art Designing artwork for discharge printing isn’t very different from traditional screen printing. The biggest concern is that any halftone needs to be kept slightly larger to avoid small dots drying into the screen and losing detail through clogging.

Separations When separating a discharge print, note that each color likely will need to be a discharge ink, so an underbase may not be used as in traditional screen printing, depending upon the art and the process.

Inks The discharge ink is created from a water-based ink with an activator added to it, which will then make the ink discharge the shirt dye upon curing. This activator requires special handling and careful ventilation.


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