Want soft-hand prints? Print with water-based inks.
Well, water-based printing isn't accessible to every printer. Luckily, there are some things you can do to make your plastisol prints softer. Between the inks you choose to use, the garments you're printing on, to the available ink additives, achieving soft plastisol prints is possible. Let's take a look to see how to accomplish this goal.
THE EASY WAY
Pick a plastisol ink that is inherently softer. All inks have resins, which bind and hold the ink to the garment. Various types of resins exist, each has a different property. Right now, we're focusing on inks that contain resins that either have more hard or soft qualities to it. For example, Wilflex™ Top Score Ink, an athletic ink, has more durable resins whereas FN-INK™ has more pliable resins. The harder the resins are, the more stiff and durable the ink will be.
Before you grab your softest ink on your shelf, look at what you're printing. Are you printing on shirts for sports, where it'll have abrasive contact? You'd want to grab an ink like Top Score since it's more durable and therefore, the print will hold and last longer. If you're printing shirts for a fundraiser or a local school's club, FN-INK™ would be a good choice.
LEARN MORE ABOUT FN-INK™
HIGHER MESH COUNTS, THINNER INK DEPOSITS
Higher mesh counts lay down a thinner ink deposit. Less ink on the shirt creates a softer feel to the print. A screen with a mesh count between 200-305 and a hard squeegee will do the trick.
The drawback to this method is that it doesn't typically produce a durable ink layer that mattes the shirts fibers. When printing a thin ink deposit, you're laying just enough ink down to cover the top of the shirt's fibers, but not enough to bridge the weave of the shirt and lock in the loose fibers in the threads.
For example, say you're printing black text on a white shirt. After a few washes, you may notice that the ink is starting to appear grey and edges of the print are starting to look fuzzy. Nothing is wrong with the ink or the print. Unwoven fibers from the shirt are coming loose and beginning to appear through the print due to the washing, exhibiting the fuzzy grey look.
In the end, it'll come down to what the customer wants. Is it okay for the print to be vintage, looking a little faded? If so, printing plastisol ink for a soft hand print will be a great route to pursue. If the customer wants bright, solid colors on mid to dark garments, you will have to work a little harder to get the vibrant colors with the soft feel.
Also, how many colors do they need? For multicolor designs, you'll want to print wet-on-wet to maintain the ink's thinness. During the printing process, the ink will wrap into and around the shirt's fibers, which will allow the shirt to move freely with the body.
CREATING AN EVEN THINNER INK DEPOSIT
When you're printing, you may notice that the shirt fibers do not stay down well. When the ink hits the shirt, the screen can stick to the shirt a little. As the screen comes up, it tends to bring up some of the fibers, making the print look fuzzy. There are a few ways to get rid of the fuzzies.
If you're using an auto, smoothing prints is easy since you have lots of tools to choose from like an iron. After you flash the print, the iron will run forward and back over the shirt and the ink. The heat from the iron will press the fibers back into the shirt and the ink. The finished print will be smooth like butter and super soft. If you have a heat press in your shop, that will work well too. Top-of-the-line equipment like the Stampinator will do the job for you as well.
Another way to push the fibers back down into the shirt is using a smoothing screen. To make a smoothing screen, pick a screen with a mesh count of 230 or more. Coat it with emulsion and expose it without any imagery. Once it's exposed, put the screen on your press and use it right after you flash the ink. On the screen, you'll want to put a lubricant on it. That lubricant could be a cure reducer, mineral oil, petroleum jelly. Due to the heat of the recently flashed ink, it can end up curing any ink on the smoothing screen, so you need a lubricant that isn't ink. For the smoothing screen, you'll want a harder squeegee to ensure all fibers are pressed back into the shirt.
The pressure also affects the feel of the print. Similar to the higher mesh count route, you're trying to lay down just enough ink to cover the top of the shirt's fibers. Apply just enough pressure to get the ink to clear the screen.
Insider's Note: Maintaining consistent squeegee pressure on a manual press is difficult. On an automatic, printers can dial in the pressure and produce hundreds of shirts that look exactly the same. If you're printing on a manual, you may want to set parameters for your customers like the amount of shirts and/or amount of colors because the more you need to print, the greater the likelihood that inconsistencies will appear.
You could also put ink additives like Wilflex™ Fashion Soft in your inks to make them softer. Add about 5%-10% of the ink's weight of the Fashion Soft into the ink. You do not want to go more than 10% because Fashion Soft is a clear ink additive, so it will reduce the ink's opacity.
After you cure the garment, clench it in your hands. You'll notice a difference between prints without Fashion Soft and ones with Fashion Soft.
We do not recommend using Fashion Soft if the print is highly detailed or needs strong control on the lines. Fashion Soft reduces some of the ink's surface tension, so the ink becomes a bit runnier.
Another additive you could use is RyoCharge. RyoCharge will make your plastisol ink a discharge plastisol ink. Discharge produces softer, thinner prints.
Printing discharge isn't a walk in the park. First, to print discharge ink, you need a forced air conveyor dryer (harmful chemicals are released in the air during the curing process). It's also important to note that it'll take longer to cure because you'll need to evaporate the water from the ink and then cure the ink. Discharge can dry out, so you cannot walk away from the press, eat lunch, and come back. It will need to be refreshened while you're printing.
LEARN MORE ABOUT PRINTING DISCHARGE INK
USING DISCHARGE BASE
Print Discharge Base as an underbase and print plastisol ink on top of it. Discharge Base will create a softer feel (if you use a ROQ Iron or Stampinator, it'll make the print even softer). The discharge ink will not affect the overall hand-feel of the plastisol ink, so if you're using an ink with more durable resins like Wilflex™ Epic Rio, you may want to add Fashion Soft to the ink to make it more pliable.
If you find that the garment does not discharge well and some of the shirt color is impacting the print, you could make a base that's 80% Discharge Base and 20% discharge white ink. It'll make a milky color that will cover the shirt's color.
THE GARMENTS YOU'RE PRINTING ON WILL AFFECT THE FEEL OF THE PRINT
Two types of shirts exist — ring-spun and carded open end. Ring-spun shirts are fashionable fabrics or tri-blends: brands like Allmade and Bella + Canvas offer ring-spun shirts. Ring-spun is naturally softer because it's made of finer threads. The ink will take on the feel of the shirt and therefore, it'll be softer.
Carded open end shirts are the standard shirt. These shirts are more bulky. If you're striving to print soft plastisol prints on these shirts, you'll definitely need to use an ink additive to get the softer feel.
When trying anything new, always test before going into production. One method you thought was going to work may turn out to be not the best option. Or maybe you just need to practice to perfect the process. Try some of these options out and go with what works best for you.