Fleece garments are popular but screen printing them can be a challenge! Here are some tips to help you out.

Because of the popularity of fleece garments, even screen printers who loath printing on fleece substrates should learn to do it well to meet customer demand. To help you perfect your technique, we’re sharing our best tips for screen printing on fleece.

1. Plan Your Artwork Carefully

If your customer is requesting a simple fleece crewneck, you’re more or less free to use the same types of artwork that you would on a t-shirt. However, you’ll likely see plenty of requests for screen printing on hoodies, zip-up sweatshirts and quarter-zip sweatshirts. Because of the extra pockets, seams and zippers, those substrates will take more careful planning of your artwork. You’ll probably want to stray away from printing on seams. A print on the back of a hoodie might need to be slightly lower to be more visible underneath the hood. Intricate details might not work on a fleece substrate because fleece often requires a heavy ink deposit. Make sure you’re factoring in all of these variables when you plan the artwork for your fleece substrate, and make sure you clearly communicate to your customer what might be different or what might not be possible on a fleece substrate.

2. Choose the Right Ink

Traditionally, fleece substrates get a heavier ink deposit because of their thicker material. This doesn’t have to be the case, however. You can achieve a softer hand or print more easily over zippers or seams if you use a thinner type of ink. Discharge printing works very well when printing over zippers and seams on many fleece substrates, or you can try thinning your ink with a curable reducer.

3. Tack Down Your Substrate

Because fleece is thicker and features two surfaces — typically a soft, fuzzy fleece on the inside and a jersey weave on the outside — fleece substrates are prone to shifting during printing, which can cause blurry prints or poor registration. Make sure you use a pallet adhesive to keep your fleece in place. Web spray pallet adhesives tend to work best because they’re made to hold down thicker substrates, and the adhesive pulls away from the platen with the shirt, rather than stripping the inner fuzz of the fleece and making a mess of the platen. You may need to apply the adhesive several times during the course of your printing so it remains effective.

4. Beware of Shrinkage

More than other types of substrates, fleece is prone to shrinking, and that tendency becomes a problem under the intense heat of a flash cure unit. If the fleece shrinks even slightly during your flash cure, it can throw off your registration and ruin your final print. Some printers combat registration problems from shrinkage by adding a flash cure station before the first color station or by running the entire lot of fleece through the dryer before printing. Either of those ensures that shrinkage will occur before you begin printing. You also can find fast-curing white underbase ink that will prevent shrinkage because the fleece won’t sit under the flash cure as long.

5. Mitigate Dye Migration

Because most fleeces are a polyester blend, dye migration becomes a problem; when they’re heated during the curing process, the dyes can leach out of the polyester and migrate into and stain the ink. To combat this, you can use low-bleed inks that are less susceptible to dye migration during the cure process.

6. Use a Longer Cure Time

Fleece is a thicker material, so it holds more moisture than other substrates. That extra moisture slows down the curing process. The best way to make sure your fleece prints have been properly cured is to slow down the belt on your conveyor dryer to increase the curing time; just make sure you don’t set your dryer above 320 degrees to avoid scorching the fleece fabric. Check the temperature of your ink as it comes off the dryer to be sure it has fully cured.

As with any screen printing project, if you take the time to consider and plan, you can successfully print on fleece to meet your customers’ needs. Looking for more tips to help you provide your customers with top quality screen printed garments? Keep exploring our blog, or give us a call – we’re always happy to talk screen printing!