Looking to try a cool new effect at your screen printing shop? Give flocking a shot!

Expanding the capabilities in your screen printing shop to include flock printing can allow you to create high-end specialty prints that help attract new customers and charge higher prices. If you’re looking to add interesting effects to your screen printing shop, here’s what you need to know about flocking.

What is flocking?

Flocking is a centuries-old process that involves laying down short, thin fibers on an adhesive to create a textured surface. In its modern screen printing applications, printers lay down an adhesive design and then add short fibers, usually in rayon or polyester, so that prints have a textured, 3D look. In screen printing, flocking can be used a single-color process, or it can be used to create multicolor prints. Flocking generally works best with vector images of 3 colors or less that don’t have a lot of fine detail; however, the best flock printers can use flocking to create or accent photorealistic prints.

How do you flock print in a screen printing shop?

The method used to flock prints depends on the scope of the shop’s flocking operation. The basic process, however, is always the same: An adhesive is applied to the garment in the desired pattern, and the flocking is applied to the adhesive. To ensure that the flocking fibers “stand up” in the same direction to create a soft, even texture, a negative electric charge is emitted above the fibers, which are grounded to a metal pallet, before the print is cured.

In large-scale flocking operations, specialized printers are used for the job. The adhesive is applied, the flocking is sprinkled onto the adhesive from an automatic hopper, and the garment is passed under a station that blasts the print with the negative electric charge. The garment then travels through a dryer, as any screen print would, to cure the adhesive.

Expanding Your Screen Printing Shop's Repertoire 01

Anatol’s flocking system allows you to easily add
flocking to your existing screen printing setup.

For printers who want to offer flocking on a smaller scale, hand-held flocking devices are available. Generally, using a manual printer fitted with metal pallets to allow for grounding, the adhesive is applied and flash cured. The flocking is sprinkled on, and then the hand-held flocking unit provides the negative current with the press of a button. Excess flocking is removed either with a vacuum designed for the job or a blast of compressed air. Then, the print is cured.

An easier way to offer flocking is with heat transfers. You can buy and cut sheets of flocking that can be heat transferred, or you can opt to order flocking cut to your design from a supplier and transfer the image using your shop’s heat transfer press.

What do you need to know before flock printing?

As with any type of printing, there are “dos” and “don’ts” that lend to successful flocking. Some things you should know before you flock include:

  • Use a lower mesh count and thick stencil to lay down plenty of adhesive for the flocking to stick to.
  • Monitor the humidity in your shop. If the humidity is too low, say below 50 percent, flocking will fly easily through the air and make a mess. If the humidity is too high, above about 70 percent, the flocking will clump. Ideal humidity for flocking is around 55 percent.
  • Use the right adhesive. There are adhesives designed specifically for flocking, but even within that category, you’ll want to look for the adhesive that’s ideal for your print job. For example, if you’re printing on a stretchy athletic fabric, you’ll want a flexible adhesive that will move and stretch with the garment without destroying the print.
  • Know the ideal charge for your flocking device. If you’re using an automated flocking device, you have to know how strong the negative charge should be. Too low and the flocking won’t stand up to create a velvet texture. Too high and the flocking will fly everywhere once the charge is emitted.
  • Allow for extra curing time. The flocking insulates the adhesive during curing, which means it takes longer for the adhesive to reach curing temperature. You will need to slow down your belt speed and adjust the temperature of your dryer to compensate.

Should you offer flocking in your screen printing shop?

Only you know if flocking is right for your screen printing shop. It is a printing method to be considered, however. Few printers offer flocking, so it can set your shop apart. It also allows you to have fun creating new textures and looks for your garments, and it can help you avoid problems like dye migration. And finally, offering flocking can be a quick and relatively inexpensive proposition for your shop. You can enter the market at nearly any price point, depending on whether you want to heat transfer your flocking or invest in starter flocking equipment.

Want to give some other special effects a try? Check out these blog posts for tips:

Screen Printing That Pops: Getting Started with Metal Flake Ink

How to Make Your Screen Prints Stand Out with Foil

How to Get Started with Specialty Inks