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How to Screen Print Wet on Wet Halftones and Color Blends for a Vintage Look

Remember when expert Colin Huggins showed how to create halftones and blends in Adobe Illustrator? Now he's printing that design. Watch to learn how to print wet-on-wet halftones and blends, tips to get the best colors and blends, and how shirt colors affect the look of the print.

Before we jump into the nitty gritty details, let's take a look at what Colin is using in the video. For screens, he's using 230 Hi-Dro (thin thread) Eco Frames. Colin picked Hi-Dro mesh because the thin thread creates bigger gaps between each thread, which means he uses less pressure to lay down a good ink deposit. Basically, it makes his life a little easier.

He's printing on the Riley Hopkins 250 4x2 Press. Colin uses FN-INK™, as well as a soft ink additive and white mixing base (more info on these products coming soon).  Lastly, he's printing on SanMar's District 100% cotton and heathered blend t-shirts. 

WATCH THE MAGIC UNFOLD

Even with the first print, you'll notice the color already blending into the shirt.

brown print with hand pointing to blend

When printing blends wet-on-wet, each color plays a role. As you print the new color, it smushes the printed color(s) into the fabric and blends in with the other colors more. In the end, you'll have very little ink sticking up on top of the fabric, giving a unique & soft feeling finished print. 

It's important to play around until you find something you like. For example, Colin tried doing a two-pass with the navy in order to blend the cream a bit more into the other colors. He also learns that the cream is a little too opaque, and thinning with a clear would be worth trying next time. Always test prints out and get approval from the customer before going into production.

printed shirt on press

LEARN HOW TO COLOR SEPARATE BLENDS AND HALFTONES IN ILLUSTRATOR

You may notice the opacity isn't incredibly strong. That's happening due to a couple of reasons. First, the soft ink additive weakens the opacity a bit. Secondly, the shirt's threads may peek through the print. Thirdly, Colin engineered the opacity to be less so that the colors blend well. The lower opacity is totally fine. You're printing vintage, it's the look you're going for. 

Insider's Note: Don't forget to flood the screen! Flooding the screen means filling the stencil with ink before printing the ink onto the shirt. By flooding the shirt, you'll ensure that all of the ink drops through the screen and completely fills the stencil/print area. 

back of screen with person looking at it

PRINT ORDER

The order in which you print colors have an effect on the end result. At first, Colin prints the brown first, then green, cream, and navy.

close up of nature print

Later, he prints in the order of cream, green, brown, and navy. By switching up the print order, he gets better color development between the cream and the brown around the trees. The downside to switching the order was that the light snow color on top of the trees isn't as apparent as it is in the other print. Which way you go with will depend on what you or your customer prefers.

close up of nature print

REMEMBER: The halftone dots need to overlap in order to get great blending. If you don't know how to do that, check out this video.

T-SHIRT COLORS

In the video, Colin prints the design on several different shirt colors. Why? Few reasons. For one, you truly don't know how well the ink will look on the garment until you print it. By testing out a few colors, you'll find which shirt color makes your print pop, or evoke an emotional response.

Plus, the actual blend of the shirt may affect how the print looks too. Colin discovers that he prefers the solid colors over the heathered shirts.

six printed shirts on a table

The t-shirt colors may help you decide which ink colors to use. Colin believes that he would change up the navy on the darker garments to make it stand out more. With the lighter garments, he'd just leave the navy as is. Again, you'll learn what you like best when you test it all out!

LEARN HOW TO MAKE SOFT-HAND PRINTS USING PLASTISOL INK

If there's one takeaway from this video, it should be this — play around with the design, shirt colors, shirt types, and print orders to discover what looks and feels the best. 

Next article Advice on Purchasing Wholesale Shirts for New Printers