Don’t let a limited ink selection hinder your creativity – give specialty inks a try!

Try Your Hand at Screen Printing with Specialty Inks

If you’re looking to try your hand at screen printing specialty inks, your first job will be to choose which types of screen printing specialty ink you’d like to experiment with. There’s no shortage of specialty inks on the market. Some of them include:

  • Metallic ink. Metallic inks have become increasingly popular, either for subtle highlights on a print, or for bold and shiny graphics. Metallic inks are made of actual metal particles suspended within the ink. When applied and cured, the ink takes on a solid metal image.
  • Glitter inks. As opposed to metallic inks, glitter inks feature less reflective particles suspended within the ink to give a sparkling appearance to prints.
  • Foil transfers. Foil transfers take metallic prints to the next level. What is printed on to the shirt is an adhesive coating. After that has been applied, a sheet of foil is applied and then peeled away. The foil sticks only to the adhesive areas, creating a chrome-like print on the substrate.
  • Gel inks. Gel inks have a soft, shiny finish that is rounded at the edge of the prints once cured. Gel inks are most often used to create water or wet effects on a print.
  • Puff inks. Puff inks, which were all the rage in the 1980s, are now used to subtly add texture and depth to prints. With puff inks, a puff base is mixed into plastisol ink, and during curing, the ink “puffs” to create a raised, soft feel.
  • High Density ink. Like puff ink, high density ink creates a raised, 3D texture on a print. However, high density ink has a handfeel more akin to thick plastisol, rather than the soft, squishy feel of puff ink.
  • Reflective ink. Reflective ink doesn’t add much to the look of your print, but when it is struck by light, an alerting flash results. Reflective inks are mostly used for safety purposes: They’re popular on articles of clothing for runners or bikers, as well as for roadside workers.
  • Glow-in-the-dark ink. Light exposure charges phosphors within the ink, and the phosphors glow when the lights are turned off. While most people are familiar with bright green glow-in-the-dark ink, the ink actually is available in a variety of colors.

Tips to Get You Screen Printing with Specialty Inks

Again, as with most of the screen printing trade, successfully printing with specialty inks comes down to experimentation and experience. That said, there are a few guidelines to keep in mind as you get started:

  • Read the manufacturer’s instructions. The instructions will tell you how to mix or prepare inks, what size mesh counts to use and how to properly cure the ink. Of course, once you have followed these “rules,” you can start to adjust them to see what works best for you.

Anatol’s heavy duty Formulator ink mixer
takes the work out of preparing your inks.

  • Start small. You don’t need to go wild with your use of specialty inks. A little bit of specialty ink incorporated into a design can have a big impact.
  • Consider your inks as you design. As you plan your artwork, be sure you’re thinking about the specialty inks you”ll use. How will the texture affect your final print? Will the detail in the artwork show well with the specialty ink you plan to use?
  • Be aware of your ink’s “quirks.” Each specialty ink will bring with it some challenge. Here’s a few challenges to look out for when choosing your ink:
    • The puff base of puff ink can lighten the plastisol color you plan to use.
    • Metallic inks can take longer to cure because the metallic flakes in the ink reflect the heat of the dryer.
    • Glitter inks need lower mesh count screens to let the flecks of glitter through to the substrate. Know the quirks and be ready to accommodate them.
  • Perform trial runs. As you would with any new project, make sure you perform trial runs of your specialty ink projects to make sure the print comes out the way you intend. And, of course, wash and dry your test prints several times to make sure they have cured properly.
  • Keep thorough records. Experimenting with specialty inks doesn’t do you any good if you don’t record the results of your experiments. Make sure you keep a log of your specialty ink projects so you know what worked, what didn’t work and what you’d like to improve upon.

Taking the time to work with specialty inks can seem like a burden. In the end, however, you’ll find that specialty inks become second nature to your screen printing business, and you’ll be able to create stand-out designs that wow your customers.

Looking for more ways to make your screen printing stand out? Keep checking out our blog for more ideas, or let’s have a conversation!