Want to get started screen printing workwear? You may find it’s not quite like printing t-shirts!

As a garment decorator, you can help accomplish both. Whether you’re printing company logos to create a uniform look, or adding reflective prints to enhance to visibility of a garment, there are virtually endless possibilities for screen printing workwear. But it’s not without its challenges!

Meeting Safety Standards

If you’re adding decoration to safety workwear, be aware of all necessary regulations. It’s important to know the difference between “high visibility” and “enhanced visibility” garments. A garment can rightly be called “high visibility” if it adheres to specific federal regulations governing its design and construction, with rules tailored for different jobs and industries. “Hi-vis” garments are important for protecting workers in dangerous industries, like highway construction.

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On the other hand, “enhanced visibility” describes any garment with reflective material added, without necessarily meeting any standards. These are better suited for less dangerous jobs and industries where increased visibility still comes in handy. As a screen printer, adding an area of reflective ink to a garment may qualify its visibility as “enhanced”, but it’s unlikely to meet the rigid standards of “hi-vis” clothing. “High visibility” is usually achieved with reflective tape.

If you’re decorating high visibility clothing (by adding a logo or company name for example), you have to be careful that your print doesn’t take up too much space on the garment; there are minimum standards for how much area must be fluorescent and reflective. With too large of a decoration, the garment’s visibility could be compromised. Make sure you or your customer purchase certified safety wear from a trustworthy vendor and take care that it meets the appropriate standards before and after you decorate it.

Grainger.com offers a more detailed explanation of visibility regulations.

Which Inks Work Best?

Regular plastisol ink is not a good choice for work uniforms that will be exposed to a dirty environment and industrial washing; plastisol prints will not hold up to these conditions for long. Special solvent inks are better suited to garments that require industrial washing or will face rough working conditions. If the garments will be washed in the regular laundry, standard plastisol ink should work fine – just be careful to cure your prints thoroughly. Workwear may be lighter or heavier than the shirts you’re used to printing, so you’ll have to adjust your curing time and temperature accordingly to avoid over- or under-curing your prints. Careful testing is the best way to find the proper settings for curing.

Depending on the garments you’re printing, you may need specialty inks to get good results. Workwear is commonly made of polyester, which is highly susceptible to dye migration. Low-bleed inks can help avoid this issue. Nylon is another potentially troublesome material which may need inks designed specifically for it. As mentioned earlier, reflective ink is also a popular choice when printing on workwear. Remember that if you’re printing “high visibility” safety garments, the reflective material must meet strict government standards. Reflective ink is unable to meet these standards like tape can, so reflective ink is better suited to decorative applications like company logos rather than safety stripes. Regardless of what type of ink you’re using, make sure you heed the manufacturer’s recommendations to get the best possible prints.

Tips for Screen Printing with Reflective Ink

If your customer wants a print done with reflective ink, there are a few things to consider. Before you get started, it’s important to stir reflective ink thoroughly. Reflective ink is made of reflective beads in a carrier base – these must be evenly blended for good results. Make sure you follow the manufacturer’s recommendation regarding mesh count. Using too fine a mesh can keep the reflective beads from being properly laid down on the garment, making the final print less reflective. Try to print using only one print stroke. Multiple strokes can affect the dispersal of the reflective beads and keep them from adequately catching the light. Like regular plastisol, if you’re printing on dark colors a white underbase might be helpful for maximizing opacity.

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It’s a good idea to do a test wash on your reflective prints to make sure they’re fully cured and performing properly. As is the case with any screen printing, testing is always a good way to catch problems with your prints before you send them to the customer.

Marketing to the Construction Industry

The construction industry is a hot market for garment decorators, and it’s growing all the time – making it a great opportunity for your screen printing business. An added benefit is that construction companies are likely to buy local, so do your best to go after business right in your community. When marketing your screen printing business to construction companies, keep in mind that their needs might not end with workwear. They may also need signs, banners or promotional items, so always be on the lookout for chances to cross-sell!

While screen printing workwear can be a lucrative opportunity, the first thing to keep in mind is that the garments are often designed to keep people safe. That’s why it’s so important to educate yourself on any rules and regulations that may apply to the clothes you’re printing. With a good understanding of these rules, you should have no problem keeping even your toughest customers satisfied.