Imagine this: You’re a water based only screen printing shop. A customer walks in through the door, carrying cash in hand and says he wants to order 600 two color back print t-shirts. You say sure, give him your prices, and ask him what kind of shirts he wants to print on. He says he wants to order 600 G20 Gildan performance T-shirts. You know that’s a 100 percent polyester athletic garment. What do you do?
Let’s be honest, even the most experienced print shops can feel like they’re caught holding the squeegee when confronted with prospect of printing on athletic garments. Whether you’re printing with plastisol or water based ink, it’s tricky. The polyester, nylon, spandex and other synthetic fibers found in athletic garments come with extra issues when put through the printing process. If the risk of shrinking wasn’t enough, dye migration at high temperatures means you can’t cure most ink at a regular temperature.
Plastisol printers combat this by using polyester specific low cure inks and thick bleed blocker under bases. But water based inks are thin and don’t have nearly the same number of low bleed inks available. So, how do you print on athletic garments with water based ink?
Let’s get down to the nitty gritty.
There are two ways to print water based ink on athletic garments:
1. Use a low cure additive.
This is a great solution for lighter colored athletic garments, and it addresses one of the biggest issues in printing on synthetic fibers: reducing garment shrinkage. Since low cure additives lower the temperature needed for ink curing, they almost entirely eliminate the risk of high heat causing the garments to shrink and greatly reduce the chance of dye migration.
Ryonet makes a really phenomenal water based low cure additive by Green Galaxy, called Warp Drive. It’s super easy to use, and when added to water based ink, it reduces the cure temperature to as low as 180º Fahrenheit.
This solution works great for lighter garments and darker inks. However, since there is no real dye blocker involved, I still recommend that you use this only on lighter garments and avoid the high-risk dye migration pairs. Like red shirts and white ink. It’s sometimes not until after a few washes and drys that the dye migration shows up. Trust me, you don’t want to pass along 600 shirts with white ink to have a disgruntled customer return with 600 shirts with pink ink two weeks later.
2. Under base your prints with a bleed blocker.
For the ultimate peace of mind, I suggest that you invest in a good water based bleed blocker ink. Printing a bleed blocking underbase under your ink allows you to print water based ink on athletic garments of virtually any color, with any color ink. And with bleed blockers you can print at normal curing temperatures, avoid the wait-time associated with low cure additives, needed for a proper cure. That’s right, no more pink prints.
Ryonet sells a really great water based bleed blocker also from Green Galaxy called Gamma Blocker Black. It can be used as an under base for any color athletic garment, and block dyes from the garments from transferring into the ink. The technology works like this: By mixing a fine grit carbon black into our Green Galaxy Clear Core base, we were able to create an ink that blocks virtually all dye migration at normal cure temperatures. Not only does this water based bleed blocker create great prints, it retains the softness, flexibility and PVC/Phthalate-free qualities that made you fall in love with water based ink in the first place!
So next time you have a walk-in, don’t panic. Using one of these techniques will give you consistent results when printing water based ink on on athletic garments.
Download our infograph outlining how to use Gamma Blocker to print on athletic garments with water based ink!