It’s no secret that we all love screen printed shirts. But what happens when a shirt you love starts to age? Here’s how to take care of your printed shirts so you can wear them for years to come.
T-shirts courtesy of SanMar.
REACHING FULL CURE
Keeping your shirts in perfect condition as long as possible starts at the curing process. As the printer, make sure your garments are cured all the way through. There are many ways to cure a garment. Whether you’re using a heat gun, heat press, flash dryer, or conveyor dryer to cure your shirts, make sure you’re doing it right.
Plastisol and water-based inks will benefit from an extended time in the dryer at cure temperature. If possible, leave your ink under your heat source for 10-20 seconds after it’s been fully cured. The ink will be more durable long-term, no matter which type of ink you use.
RELATED: ENSURING PROPER INK CURING
To reach full cure, the entire ink layer needs to reach cure temperature. This means that the top of the ink layer will probably be hotter than cure temperature. You can use a laser temperature gun or a donut probe to check your cure temps.
Pro Tip: A donut probe will give you the most accurate temperature reading, because it is a contact reading and monitors the entire ink layer. A laser temp gun is a reflective reading, and will be hotter by 60-120 degrees, depending on how hot your panels are and how fast your shirts are going through the dryer.
THE STRETCH TEST
Once your ink has cured, perform a stretch test to double-check for full cure. A stretch test is a surface-level method to determine how cured your garment is. It isn’t a definitive test of full cure. Don't pull too hard on it, or you can split the ink layer. Most shirts won’t go through a lot of strenuous stretching, so you don’t need to stretch it extensively. Try to imagine what the person wearing this shirt will be doing while wearing it, and stretch it accordingly during the test.
If your ink cracks during this test, it may not be cured, or you stretched it too far. Ink that looks like cracked, dry earth means it isn’t cured properly. You’ll need to flash the next shirt a bit longer to reach full cure. If it looks more like an even split, you’ve stretched it too far.
Perform a wash test after your stretch test is complete to finish everything off. If your ink flakes off during the wash test, it hasn’t reached full cure. If you test-wash your shirt the same way you’d wash regular clothes (hot water, using fabric softener, throwing your shirt in the dryer, etc.) you’ll be able to see how well it holds up.
CARING FOR YOUR PRINTED SHIRTS
Have you ever had a customer ask how to take care of a printed shirt so it lasts “forever”? Share them the following tips so they can make their shirt last an eternity.
When washing the printed t-shirt, turn it inside out so the print is facing in. Rougher fabrics in the washer and dryer can rub off the print while tumbling. Wash your shirt in cold water. The heat from the water causes the ink to soften a little, and the color may erode. You also don’t use any bleach or fabric softener, as this can change the color of the ink.
When the shirt has been washed, hang it up to dry. For best results and longevity, you don’t want to dry it in the dryer. Heat will fluff the fibers in the shirt and cause the threads to unravel. This can increase fiberlation: the shirt fibers can poke through the inner ink layer, causing it to appear faded. If you plan to run your shirt through the dryer, be as nice to it as possible. Use a lower heat setting, and make sure to turn the shirt inside out.
Don’t take your printed shirt to the dry cleaner’s either. The chemicals used in dry cleaning makes plastisol ink brittle, causing it to come off of the shirt. You can, however, take water-based prints to the dry cleaner if you feel called to do so.
Photo by Love Yourself Clothing
All shirts will age over time. By following these simple steps, you can make sure a garment is cured when you send it to a customer, and you can make sure that your shirts stay bright and vibrant for a long time.