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Tips for Printing Lightweight Fabrics

(April 2011) posted on Tue May 10, 2011

Discover how artwork, screenmaking, inks, and curing influence quality when working with lightweight apparel.

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By Rick Davis

The cost of raw materials for garments has changed over the past several years along with the garment market itself. Even though cotton remains the most widely used material in apparel manufacture, environmental disasters around the world have devastated large portions of the global cotton crop, thereby causing the prices for cotton to skyrocket.

As you might imagine, these higher costs have prompted apparel manufacturers to offer garment lines that make use of more synthetic blended fabrics to offset the more expensive cotton. In addition, they’re presenting garment styles in thinner and thinner weights. The combination of the increase in synthetics and the decrease in garment weights challenges the garment screen printer to determine the best way to embellish these fabrics without hindering the performance of the ink film or the fabric.

Where most lightweight T-shirts weigh in at 5.5 oz., we now have fabrics that weigh in the low 4-oz. range, which makes the printing process similar to printing on gauze. It is here that the printer is faced with the challenge of creating a graphic that will pop while maintaining the softest hand possible.

As garment screen printers, we must develop the mindset that we, in essence, need to follow the same basic laws that apply to printing on heavyweight fabrics—except that we must decrease the overall ink-film thickness while maintaining the aesthetic qualities of the graphic. Let’s review the aspects of the process that maximize graphic effects and maintain the softer feel of the fabric.

Artwork engineering
Printing on lightweight fabrics of this nature successfully requires that you avoid solid ink films as much as possible. Art designed with broken image areas or distressed graphics that break up the image are ideal for lightweight garments. The basic rule for printing on these styles of garments is to stay away from the classic, heavy-handed, athletic graphics and most special-effect inks. Lighter fabrics also lend themselves to muted or rustic graphics that possess a degree of transparency. Water-based inks are preferable lightly colored fabrics, although plastisols are a must in many cases as many are blended fabrics.


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