April 29, 2020
Often referred to as athletic, performance, synthetic, novelty or blended apparel, high-polyester blended garments have grown in popularity, which can be attributed to the athleisure trend. In fact, the United States athleisure market is expected to reach $83 billion this year, according to market research firm The NPD Group.
Consumers and the industry appreciate polyester because of its many positive attributes: wrinkle resistance, durability, moisture wicking, stain resistance and the ability to resist shrinking. The question remains: How do these high-poly-blended garments affect your printing process and business?
Before Quoting a Job
When you receive a request to print on a synthetic or performance garment, consider the differences in the process before providing a quote. Done correctly, it may cost more and take more time.
Points to consider include:
• Inks used for printing on high-polyester blended apparel are more expensive.
• Design setup usually is more time consuming.
• The dryer belt will require a slower speed.
• Temperature must be exact and lower than when printing cotton.
• More screens are required because the temperature is lower.
• You won’t be able to immediately stack garments after processing.
These extra steps add time to the process, and require more labor and money — which will affect the garment’s price.
Inks for the Job
You can choose from different ink platforms when printing on high-poly synthetic garments:
• Low-Bleed: These inks are ideal for 50/50 blends with low synthetic content.
• High Poly: This ink is ideal for 100% polyester and high-poly-content fabrics. Its viscosity is thicker and super opaque.
• Carbon Base Gray/Black: This ink is used as an underbase to absorb the fabric’s dye when it gasses. The ink reduces or blocks the fabric dye from filtering through to the ink surface.
• Low-Cure: These inks have a low blocking agent, but they cure at 250˚F-280˚F and are ideal for heathers, tri-blends and substrates requiring detail and a great hand. The low-cure quality enables heat reduction — which means no more scorched garments — and energy reduction, which saves money.
Standard plastisol inks must cure at 320˚F, so you can’t use them on synthetic apparel without blockers. The key is to keep the garment temperature less than 280˚F to prevent dye migration, melting or scorching.
Best Printing Practices
Mesh Count: Using a 110-160 mesh will allow the best coverage and opacity for base screens. Top inks can be printed using 160-230 mesh and 110-160 mesh can be used for a white overprint.
Viscosity: Stir the ink prior to production to reduce viscosity and help push it through the mesh, resulting in a better print surface.
Squeegee Pressure: Use the least amount of squeegee pressure. Keeping the ink on the fabric surface will help with opacity, hand and migration. Fibers working up through the ink increases the probability of dye migration. However, using too much pressure will push the ink through the fabric, leaving an undesirable feel.
Tapping/Smoothing Irons: Polyester inks are thick; hand is just as important as reducing migration when printing on performance, heather and tri-blend fabrics. Smoothing the ink surface will improve the print’s quality and feel.
In the first station, use a tapping/smoothing screen to lay down any fibers. Print the base screen and flash, but instead of a cooldown station, add another tapping/smoothing screen to smooth out the ink. Then, print the top-color inks. Using two white screens is recommended.
Screen Tension: Keep ink on top of the fabric by having the proper screen tension. If screens are tight and you use a thin thread diameter, the mesh openings will allow better laydown. You won’t need as much pressure, and registration will be cleaner and tighter.
You also can achieve a smoother surface with less mesh texture in your ink. Poor screen tension will result in registration issues, forcing you to apply more pressure to get the ink through the screens. However, increased pressure will drive the ink through the fabric and allow fibers to work themselves to the top of the ink, causing more dye migration.
Flashing and Curing: The most important step when printing on high-polyester synthetic fabrics: Don’t over-flash or over-cure garments. Migration occurs at about 270˚F, so use inks with a quick flash point. Flash only for a few seconds and keep temperatures below 200˚F.
Also, reduce the number of flashes in your design; don’t flash if it’s not required. Use inks that cure at a lower temperature — around 250˚F-270˚F. Slow the dryer’s belt speed to ensure the ink is cured and don’t exceed the curing temperatures.
No Stacking: Don’t stack garments until they are completely cool. Pressure and heat can accelerate any migration. Fans and long cooling stations on dryers will expedite the process.
Set Customer Expectations
Be prepared with different design options depending on your customer’s request. A big, bold design may not work on a lighter-weight synthetic garment; the ink will be super heavy and dye may migrate. Heathers and tri-blends are good examples of super-soft, lightweight garments on which heavy inks aren’t very appealing.
One option is to rethink the artwork, open up the design or use more of the garment’s color instead of putting so much ink on the garment. You also can recommend changing the substrate. Instead of using a strictly synthetic and lightweight garment, offer a more durable option, such as a cotton or 50/50 cotton/polyester T-shirt.
White artwork also can be problematic because of dye migration. For example, choose a blue, navy or black print on a pink or red shirt instead of using a white or light-colored design.
It’s important to communicate with customers and set their expectations about what they could be getting. Be prepared to discuss graphic options that work with specific substrates for the best outcome when decorating synthetics.
High-polyester blended apparel options certainly offer many challenges, but following a few simple steps will yield a product you can be proud of and your customer will love. Learning how to work with synthetic garments and performance fabrics will help you offer on-trend options with winning designs.
Donnie Mullins is product decoration specialist for Fruit of the Loom Activewear/JERZEES. For more information or to comment on this article, email Donnie at Donnie.Mullins@fotlinc.com.
Know Your Substrates
All polyester fabrics can experience dye migration, so always test garments prior to production. Print a test garment with the recommended inks and print processes, place it inside a box in a warm area and leave it for a few days to allow any migration to run its course. The process may happen immediately or take up to a week. If dye migration occurs, then you must alter the process to be successful.
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