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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

Many of the lighter fabrics on the market are either cotton/poly blends or tri-blends, which means you may be restricted to using plastisol inks. These fabrics may range from simple fiber combinations to a three-way mix of cotton, polyester, rayon, or spandex. These fabrics—the tri-blends, in particular—require garment screen printers to rethink their mesh selections with the goal of minimizing ink-film thickness as much as possible and, ultimately, maintaining the original soft hand of the fabric.

Most garment printers select bleed-resistant inks for jobs that involve blended fabrics. I suggest modifying these inks by using a reducer or a soft-hand additive to increase their flow characteristics. Be careful when using these modifiers. There is a fine line between improved ink flow and a harmful reduction in an ink’s opacity.

Three additional alternatives are available when it comes to embellishing lightweight fabrics: heat transfers that produce a relatively soft hand, direct-to-garment inkjet printing, and sublimation transfers. Although all are multistep processes, they do offer the ability to reproduce a soft-handed image on lightweight materials. Be sure to pre-test the garment when using any transfer process that involves the application of heat. Blended fabrics are, at times, sensitive to heat, which can lead to unwanted platen marks on the garments.

Most garment inkjet printers are designed for cottons. Not every system can handle cotton/poly blends or more complicated fabric compositions. Consult with manufacturers before you think about making a purchase. Many printers use sublimation transfers when decorating lightweight fabrics. Although the sublimation transfer is not true dye-sublimation printing, it can often resolve issues associated with printing inks onto light materials.

Curing parameters
Curing isn’t often something for most garment screen printers to worry about when working with 100% cotton apparel, although you may want to test to ensure that the garments you’re printing do not carry excessive sizing that will at times discolor under normal 320°F curing conditions.
Blended fabrics should be measured before and after the curing process to ensure that there is no fabric shrinkage taking place while passing through the dryer. Should you find excessive shrinkage as a result of heat exposure, you may wish to use a low-temperature plastisol in an effort to lower the overall heat exposure to the fabric.

Rick Davis has been involved in textile screen printing since 1975 and has served as president of Synergy Screen Printing in Orlando, FL, since 2004. He is a contributor to industry trade publications and a member of the Academy of Screen Printing Technology.



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