This is probably the topic we get asked most about at ITW - It literally comes down to an imperfect science and a keen eye for detail. Years of practice and experimentation are behind perfecting the desired effect for some of the most nuanced printing techniques. Taking concept and vision to reality can be a struggle when it comes to the mechanics of working with variable liquids and fabrics.
This week, ITW gives you your guide to: PRINTING WITH INKS
inks + material content
over dyeing + gassing off
unique printing techniques
Color matching adds a further degree of frustration and creativity as different inks react wholly different to varied fabrics - PMS (Pantone Matching System - we use Pantone colors for all inks we print) 136C will look like PMS 136C in your mixed bucket of ink, but once it prints and cures onto a shirt, you can have a completely different color come out. And while it may turn out one way on one shirt, it most likely will turn out another way on another shirt - Welcome to the world of printing!
Below you can see the same design, with the same inks, each having a bit of a different result when printed on different color shirts:
Neither is considered 'better' or 'worse', they just yield different printing results, and what you may initially think is the 'better' of the two above, may actually be the 'worse', depending on what you're trying to achieve and who your market is.
On the white shirt, the print comes out very vibrant and on the black shirt you get sort of a vintage, rock & roll feel to it - the kicker? It's the same exact shirt, just a different fabric color - not even a different material content.
So what happens when you get different material contents in addition to different colors? A lot of opportunities to experiment, laugh, learn, and expand your knowledge base of printing... and maybe have a few cocktails to take the edge off the frustration you're probably experiencing if you're a printer like us while trying to learn all of this.
The graphics pictured above were printed using waterbased inks, and you'll tend to have more variety (read: frustration) with them than you will with plastisol inks.
Plastisol inks are kind of an exception to the difficulties, for the most part, and we can confidently say 99.9% of print shops print with plastisol inks because they are easier to work with. They sit on top of the garment. You get bright, vivid pigments and drying/curing is relatively straight forward. This is not to say they are exempt from any issues - in fact, they're far from it.
Welcome to gassing off - also called dye migration. This primarily occurs with plastisol inks.
This sucks one million percent.
White ink on black shirts. All the black shirts are the same. So.. it should print white.
So what's the catch?
Welcome to manufacturers and over dyeing.
Not everyone does this, and it's quite frowned upon in the apparel printing world, but unfortunately, it happens, and this is what it is.
You see 3 black shirts in the above image, and each of them are printed with white ink - yes, pure white ink - yet they print yellow-ish, pink-ish and blue-ish - so what gives?
These "black" shirts were once yellow, red and blue - And the manufacturers re-dyed (read: over dyed) them to be black shirts. (They sell better unanimously across all markets and all product types). While we understand supply and demand, altering the supply to "meet" the demand isn't the best approach.
So what happens is when you go to print your perfect white ink on your seemingly black tees, you get a myriad of colors.
This is when test printing comes into play.
The best approach when it comes to screen printing is to do test prints. Print 1, or print 5, or print 30 - however many you need to feel confident to print your whole batch.
The worst part?
The visual presentation of gassing off doesn't show until ~24 hours after you print. So it may come out clean off the press, and perfect out the dryer - but let it sit and then inspect. If after ~2 days your print still looks good after it came out the dryer, then you're in the clear.
Now let's get to the fun stuff.
Glitter. High Density. Gel. Puff. Photochromic. Stretch. Reflective. H20-Activated aka Phantom. Discharge. Waterbased. Plastisol. Glow In The Dark. Foil (not really an ink, but a cool option to consider). Appliques (again, not an ink, but another cool option to consider).
All of these are ink types (or appliques) you can play with and you should be familiar with. They're available in a myriad of colors and textures and we're sure close to 99% of apparel brands haven't even experimented with them.
They're expensive, temperamental, and inconsistent. And they require a knowledgable, experienced printer (hi, that's us). And then once they're introduced, brand owners fear it makes their core brand offerings are less high-quality - but that couldn't be farther from the case.
So what approach should be taken?
1) Limited drops: Feature a unique product for your customers. Only sell a limited amount, fewer quantities than you typically release new products in. They'll sell out fast (because there are fewer to sell) and now you've created demand. Voila.
2) Subscription boxes: They're a popular options for brands currently, but they typically only feature standard printed shirts (plastisol, waterbased/discharge inks). Stand out with a higher dollar amount per month box featuring solely premium goods that aren't offered normally on your brand site.
3) Release vault designs (but better): Release traditionally-favorited designs by your customers in fresh, updated colors and textures. Turn off a product that's a good seller (read: not your best seller, a good seller). Turn on notifications for when it comes back in stock - except notify them when the new version of their favorite is available. Announce it'll only be released once. You can always re-release it down the road. The customers that bought it while it was available won't be upset - they're already stoked they got one. Sell these at a higher price.
4) Create a line: Create a special collection of your brand solely dedicated to these types of products. Think a luxe line. This can juxtapose your daily/standard line and provide multiple apparel options for the same customer to wear out in different areas of their life.
Whichever way you want to run it, have fun with it. Order in smaller quantities until you find out what sticks. And then grow from there.
We hope this guide to inks has been useful, we nowhere near covered all the aspects to cover (we'll release a series down the road that is more full-encompassing) but for now we hope this article has educated and inspired you as the brand owner. That's always our goal here at ITW!
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