Screen Printing:

The Importance of Artwork

An update on artwork trends and how to create it for various decorating processes.

By Dane Clement, Contributing Writer

May 17, 2018

I’ve been creating artwork for the garment-decorating industry since 1986 and I’ve earned every one of my gray hairs because of it. Artwork lies at the heart of all decorating processes in our industry. Without it, we’d be selling blanks.

If you want to learn about artwork and how to create it for the various decorating processes, you first should know about certain trends and other aspects of our industry, and why you should pay attention to them.
It’s also important to realize how each decorating method requires you to think differently about the artwork you will design so that embellishing products is an easier task.

Artwork trends come from many different areas. You might hear about them in various websites or social-media platforms, in industry publications or even from your favorite retail or home-décor stores.

T-shirt manufacturers discontinue certain colors — some of which may be your favorites — and introduce new ones each year based on trends.

Pantone’s Color of the Year for 2018 is Ultra Violet. Also, rose gold is the hot new vinyl color this year for heat printers. You’ll see the latter extensively in the fashion and jewelry industries. And have you noticed all the unicorns, mermaids and llama designs that are popular these days?

Why should all of this matter? Why should you pay attention? Well, remember that your customers also notice these developments. They will see purple unicorns daily in shopping malls, restaurants, fitness centers, etc., and if you’re aware, you can offer what they want when they’re ready to buy. When you start repeatedly seeing images, colors, products or production processes at retail stores or online, you’ll know it’s trending.

Types of Printing
Ted Stahl, executive chairman and founder of GroupeSTAHL, said it years ago: “People want full-color art with customization.” This certainly has proven true, especially in digital apparel printing, a process that has become increasingly popular in a market that craves short runs and fast turnarounds. Vinyl cutting, or heat printing, direct-to-garment (DTG) printing and dye sublimation are applications that facilitate full-color customization. What’s more, these methods are friendly to small quantities.

Each decorating process has its own strengths and weaknesses, with vinyl cutting being the easiest and probably the most versatile. DTG printing is best used for 100% cotton garments and dye sublimation is suited for white polyester fabrics and hard goods, such as mugs, water bottles and other polymer-based products.

Polyester Challenges
Polyester presents a new level of challenges to the market. This synthetic fabric is in high demand, but it’s not easy to decorate.
Successful embellishment on polyester may require special inks or pretreatment. Still, other issues may arise after printing, such as curing — which must be done at low temperatures. If the curing temperature reaches the level of that required to cure cotton garments, polyester may shrink, scorch or melt.

Other issues include stretch properties; performance treatments, such as antimicrobial or waterproof applications; and dye migration. Performance fabrics are thin and inherently stretchy. Such a property requires the applied artwork to be able to move or stretch with the garment, so the correct decorating method is one that lends itself to this type of fabric.
Avoid using large, solid coverage areas, as this will result in a heavy hand that feels thick and crunchy. If you’re screen printing a performance garment, it may be best to use a silicone ink, which has stretch properties when cured. Another option is to mix additives with your ink to induce stretch.

Garments with antimicrobial or waterproof coatings usually are much more difficult to decorate, as they don’t allow a print to adhere well to the surface. They need a mechanical bond in most cases and a catalyst is the best thing to use. Sometimes you can wipe the print areas with acetone, but that will alter the finish, resulting in diminished waterproof properties.

Perhaps the biggest challenge with polyester garments is dye migration. This phenomenon occurs when the garment’s color actually bleeds through the print. For example, if you print white ink on a red garment, the resulting print will be pink.

This process isn’t isolated to red ink; any color can be prone to dye migration. Factors include where the garment is manufactured, the brand, dye used and amount of heat used during the curing process. All of these things factor into the difficulty.

When screen printing performancewear, you can have an extra screen and actually print a black or gray blocker, then a low-bleed white ink, followed by additional colors in the design. The reason for the black or gray blocker is that it uses carbon to act as a blocking agent. Gray includes a certain amount of carbon, and black has even more.

So the print process involves laying down the black blocker, then flashing and letting the garment cool. Next, you print a low-bleed white ink, then flash and cool again.

Finally, you would print a second white ink (to cover the black), flash and cool again. The entire process doesn’t account for any roller squeegees to help smooth the print, and you haven’t even added top colors yet.

Did I mention the difficulty involved with printing these garments?

Water-Based or HSA Inks?
Another decorating trend that is causing a disruption to the industry is water-based or high-solid acrylic (HSA) inks. They typically require a print-flash-print technique for each color. Having cool-down stations and roller heads in place will help ensure quality, so it’s best to use these inks on automatic screen-printing presses.

Ink manufacturers are working hard to reduce the number of flashes required by offering additives for the different ink types available on the market. However, this requires a lot of mixing and knowledge of the correct formulas, so be prepared to invest some time and research into the process.

It’s much harder to print this way than with traditional plastisol inks. But if you want to become innovative in this industry, and be on the leading edge regarding what you can offer to your customers, prepare to do some homework in your ink kitchen.

Dane Clement is well known for his expertise in computer graphics and color separations. He is the president of Great Dane Graphics and vice president of creative for GroupeSTAHL. For more information or to comment on this article, email Dane at

Finding Brilliance 

One of the largest niche markets — the craft market — is a great place to see what’s hot. Have you ever browsed through Etsy or Pinterest?. When I look through Pinterest, what starts as a search for some of my favorite fine artists ends with browsing through storage ideas for my garage and a search for an artificial structure for crappie fishing!

You can lose a week of your life in just one sitting. Go to any store that might sell home furnishings, such as Home Goods or Hobby Lobby, and you’ll see the same type of images you’ve been seeing everywhere else. These are great inspirations for the kinds of designs that are trending.