One cool technique printers can have fun with is tonal prints. You’ve probably heard of—or maybe even printed—black ink on black shirts, blue ink on blue shirts, red ink on red shirts, and the list goes on. One tonal print that’s often overlooked is white ink on white shirts. Printing white ink on white shirts is different and unique, producing awesome effects. Let’s talk about a few different methods of printing white ink on a white shirt.
CREATE A SUBTLE EFFECT
Printed ink breaks up the visual of the shirt fiber texture. With white ink, this effect is subtle. Instead of noticing the bold, vibrant colors of the print, you see the texture change from the shirt fabric to the ink first. This technique can create some stunning prints.
PRO TIP: Not all white colors are the same. Have you ever opened a bucket of one brand of white ink and set it next to another brand’s white ink? You may notice that the two are a bit different in color. One might look bluer than the other. This is due to the ink’s chemistry, and the same applies to white T-shirts. Printing white ink on a white T-shirt creates a tonal change based on the different shades of white. It’s something to keep in mind when trying out new prints.
How do you create rad tonal prints with white ink? Here are a few more ways to do it.
REGULAR WHITE PLASTISOL
The first method is the simplest. Print regular white plastisol ink on a white shirt. The thinner the ink layer, the less you’ll see the print. The thickness of the ink deposit will affect the texture of the print and create dimensionality.
Pro Tip: Want to make sure your customers don't overlook the effect? Print a light gray drop shadow to make the white plastisol ink stand out more.
RELATED: ENSURING PROPER INK CURING
REDUCED OPACITY WHITE
If you’re wanting a super soft effect in your prints (maybe you want the design to just barely show on the shirt), there are a few methods you can use. The first is to use higher mesh counts and harder squeegees while printing to create a thinner ink deposit.
Using additives in white ink is a great way to create an even more subtle effect. A curable reducer will reduce the ink’s viscosity, making it thinner and less opaque. Adding an extender base to white ink, or adding a few dollops of white ink into the extender base, will create a watermark effect. You can also use extreme soft hand additives to give the print a softer effect.
Pro Tip: Want a more translucent white without adding anything to your white ink? Use a mixing white instead. Mixing white inks are formulated for use in a mixing system rather than printed solo. Because they’re used for blending, they aren’t as opaque as a regular white plastisol ink will be.
STACKING WHITE INK LAYERS
If you want to create more dimensionality in the standard plastisol print, try stacking ink layers with a print-flash-print of white ink. You can do this as much as you’d like: the more ink you layer onto the shirt, the more dimension you’ll create. The print will create its own drop shadow, and you’ll be able to see it a lot more clearly than if you just did one or two print passes.
Want lots of height and visibility in your print? Try printing with puff ink.
Puff additive gives a 3D effect to a print. Instead of printing a bunch of layers of ink, you can mix in this additive and it’ll raise the print for you.
To print FN-INK™ Puff on a white shirt, first, add it to a white plastisol ink at 10% - 20% by weight. If you want more of a loft, print-flash-print the puff mix. Be careful when flashing, though: you don’t want the puff to activate too early.
When curing FN-INK™ Puff, run the conveyor dryer at a low temperature and slow speed. If you cure hot and fast, the Puff will activate too soon and will collapse in the dryer. Think of curing FN-INK™ Puff like good barbecue: low and slow is always better.
The design will also appear rounded and, for lack of a better word, puffy compared to the hard, sharp edges of a regular plastisol print. Using FN-INK™ Puff in white ink will give your designs loft and stand out from the rest.
Printing with clear ink uses the color of the shirt to bring out a design. You can use any type of clear base to print with this method: stretch additive, extender base, clear base, and more. You’re not really printing white ink, but the white shirt is darkening to create the effect.
Want to create a print with a little more opacity? Add a bit of white plastisol ink to the clear base. This method is all about experimentation. Play around with how much white ink you’re adding to the clear base. Start with just a couple of dollops and slowly increase the amount of white in the clear base. It’s all up to what you (and the customer) like best.
Pro Tip: All clear bases will behave differently. They'll also act in various ways depending on the fabric content. For example, if the shirt has a higher amount of polyester, the fabric will make the ink appear wetter and slightly darker.
USE A SMOOTHING SCREEN
Got fibers sticking through the ink? Use a smoothing screen to solve this problem. A smoothing screen is great for highlighting the texture and color change from the shirt to the white ink. Since the fabric is broken up by ultra-smooth ink, it creates a better visual difference than without a smoothing screen.
Using a smoothing screen is simple. Gently flash the print and apply the smoothing screen to it. To learn more about a smoothing screen, check out this video.
There are visual subtleties in white inks and white shirt colors. Some shirts may look a little gray, while some look bluer. Do some research and find a shirt that looks great for what you want. This difference is the same in white inks.
In the video, Josh’s favorite tonal effect is using the extender base mixed with white. It’s subtle and super soft.
The shirt you print on and the ink you use make a difference. As long as it looks white, mission accomplished! It’s time to create those amazing tonal white prints and impress your customers.
FN-INK™ Pearl isn’t strictly white, but it can create a great tonal effect that shimmers and brings life to your art. When FN-INK™ Pearl hits the light, it really stands out.
To get the desired shimmer effect, print FN-INK™ Pearl over a smooth surface. If the pearl is printed directly to a shirt, the shirt fibers won’t let the pearl effect shine to its full potential.
A smooth, paper-like base could be a base white, a clear base, or another color, depending on the print and its needs.
Josh’s favorite print is the extender base mixed with white on a tri-blend T-shirt. Why? The print is super soft and just subtle enough to show up, but not in-your-face. Regular white ink was a little too jarring for Josh, too.
The white ink with FN-INK™ Puff added to it stood out from the shirt the most. It created a shadow effect and brought an extra dimension to the design. All the differences in the inks printed are pretty subtle, but can have different effects. It’s all about what you and the customer like.
Printing white ink on a white shirt can be a fun experiment. You can get all sorts of effects based on the methods you use. Don’t be afraid to play around with the inks you have and figure out what you like best.