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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

Separations Remember that the garment will become very transparent in the burnout areas and that other prints that rely on the cotton will not be visible after the wash when the burnout areas overlap them.

Ink Special handling of ink and waste ink is recommended, as is adequate ventilation.

Production Remember that the final effect is only shown after the wash, so an onsite washer and dryer can be crucial to make sure the ink with the activator is working properly to dissolve the cotton in the printed areas.

Combination printing of effects
The samples shown from Shockwaves emphasize how effects can be combined and work together to create a very unique, valuable garment that is sought after by customers and has an incredible point-of-sale attraction (Figure 8).

“It is important to learn how each effect is done separately and then which ones will work well with another to then start to combine effects,” Gaardbo says.

Water-based discharge is clearly one of the first, and then the others can be built upon this foundation to create some original printing styles. The best way to create successful and consistent special-effect prints is to test them and then control the variables individually. Then you can combine several effects to achieve a really exciting final product.


Other Popular Special Effects

This is an ink that gets very hard and can then be cracked to appear old.

Chino base
A plastisol ink that sinks into the shirt and appears and feels like a water-based print.

This base or additive will print and then expand slightly and become fuzzy like suede.

Puff ink
Though less popular these days, this ink expands and lifts off of the shirt to create a 3D effect.

Phosphorescent inks that charge up in daylight and then glow in the dark.

UV ink
This ink appears clear in regular light but changes to full color when exposed to sunlight.

Particles of reflective poly are either dusted onto an adhesive on the shirt or printed with a clear base to achieve a sparkly surface.

Prints are made with fluorescent ink to create a really bright, retro-looking design.

Reflective ink
Little glass beads are suspended in the ink to make the ink reflect light.

All images and graphics property of Shockwaves Promotional Apparel, Arlington Heights, IL.

Thomas Trimingham has worked in the screen-printing industry for more than 15 years as an artist, art director, industry consultant, and head of R&D for some of the nation’s largest screen printers. He is an award-winning illustrator, designer, and author of more than 45 articles on graphics for screen printing. He can be reached at



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