Nylon presents some challenges to screen printers, but its wide variety of applications represent a lucrative opportunity!

If you’re accustomed to printing on cotton and fleece, you”ll have to learn a little about nylon fabrics and the screen printing process for printing on nylon. The learning process is well worth the time, as nylon provides the perfect surface for crisp, clear prints that customers will love.

Types of Nylon Weaves

Just like other types of fabrics, nylon comes in different weaves, which have different uses and provide different challenges when it comes to screen printing. It’s important to know that regardless of the type of nylon, ink will sit on top of the fabric, rather than bonding with the fabric. And all types of nylon tend to be woven, rather than knit, which also changes the way ink sits on the fabric.

  • Taffeta. Taffeta is a basic weave of nylon fibers, in which the fibers of nylon are alternately woven together in a lattice formation. Because taffeta is a tight, dense weave, the material is stable and smooth, which allows for very precise screen prints. Taffeta is popularly used for lined and unlined jackets, umbrellas, banners, windsocks and light-weight tote bags.
  • Satin. Most people know the smooth, shiny finish of a satin nylon weave. This is an irregular weave in which one fiber of material passes over four fibers, then under one fiber. Satin is most often used for jackets, but it is occasionally used for other substrates.
  • Oxford. Oxford is a heavy basket weave, in which double rows of fiber pass over and under one another. It creates a rough texture popularly used for athletic jackets, luggage, tote bags, banners and flags. The rough surface of the Oxford weave needs a thicker deposit of ink for an even print, and it can create a jagged edge to your artwork.

Tools for Screen Printing on Nylon

There are a few specialty items – along with the usual tools of the trade – that you’ll need to help print crisp, lasting prints on nylon. Tools for printing on nylon include:

  • Nylon catalyst or specialty ink. Regular plastisol ink bonds to fabric fibers when the temperature of the ink comes to at least 325 degrees Fahrenheit. That temperature would melt nylon, so to allow for a lasting ink bond on nylon, a catalyst needs to be added to regular plastisol ink, or you can purchase plastisol inks designed for screen printing on nylon.
  • Jacket hold-down. Nylon’s smooth finish means it doesn’t stay in place for easy printing. If a jacket has a liner, the nylon shell will shift over the liner during printing. That’s why a jacket-hold down is recommended for printing on nylon substrates. The hold down surrounds the substrate on the platen, helping to smooth out wrinkles and prevent shifting.
  • Retensionable screen. The recommendation is to use a retensionable screen made with monofilament polyester mesh. The mesh count will vary from 125 to 230 mesh count for single-color jobs to 355 mesh count for process jobs.
  • A sharp squeegee. The smooth nylon surface calls for a sharp, hard, level squeegee. Either a 70 or 80 single durometer squeegee or a 60-90-60 or 70-90-70 triple-durometer squeegee is recommended.

Tips for Screen Printing on Nylon

All substrates call for their own set of tricks and tips. When it comes to successfully screen printing on nylon, here are several tips that will help you:

  • Preshrink your substrate. Nylon can shrink noticeably when exposed to heat. Run your nylon substrates through your conveyor dryer on low heat before printing.
  • Smooth out any wrinkles. Nylon is a notoriously wrinkly fabric. Make sure that your printing surface is free of any wrinkles that might inhibit your print. The hold-down can help smooth out the fabric, or you might need to iron printing surfaces on the platen if they’re particularly wrinkled.
  • Use a single squeegee stroke. You have one chance to lay down a good print on your nylon substrate. Because nylon shifts so easily, using more than one squeegee stroke increases the chance that you’ll have a blurred print or a print with a shadow.
  • Cure at a lower temperature for longer. Nylon can scorch when subject to high temperatures. That means you’ll have to lower the temperature and the belt speed on your conveyor dryer when curing nylon.
  • Allow finished products to rest for 72 hours after curing. The catalysts used for nylon fabrics continue to harden after the initial curing. The ink will be completely hardened and bonded about 72 hours after curing.
  • Beware of waterproof substrates. Some nylon products have been treated so that they’re waterproof. Even with a catalyst, your ink won’t properly bond to a treated substrate. If your item has been waterproofed, you will need to rub the area to be printed with rubbing alcohol before you print.
  • Clean screens and squeegees immediately after printing. The catalysts used for nylon substrates cause the ink to dry out quickly, so you’ll want to clean the ink off all of your equipment as soon as your press run is complete.

Testing Your Nylon-Based Screen Prints

As with all forms of screen printing, practice makes perfect! As you become accustomed to printing on nylon, make sure you perform test prints of all of your orders before you commit to the entire press run. Before you know it, you will be able to market nylon substrates, such as jackets, umbrellas, banners and bags, to your existing and potential customers.

Looking for some more tips on screen printing synthetic garments? Check out these blog posts:

Tips for Controlling Screen Printing Dye Migration

Overcoming the Challenges of Screen Printing Athletic Apparel