Tri-blend garments have grown in popularity, but they present some unique challenges for screen printers. Here are some tips for screen printing tri-blends successfully!

Tri-blend Fabrics: The Basics

To know what you’re dealing with when printing on tri-blend fabrics, you have to understand what tri-blends are. Tri-blend fabrics are a mix — typically a 50-25-25 mix — of polyester, ring-spun cotton and rayon. That mix gives tri-blend fabric the comfort and stretch of polyester, the durability of cotton and the gentle draping of rayon. The blend also creates a softness that all customers love and moisture-wicking abilities that have made it a favorite for sportswear. Because dye adheres to the three different materials differently, most tri-blend garments have a heathered appearance, though there are companies that have found a way to create solid tri-blend garments.

Screen Printing on Tri-blends: The Challenges

The same blend of fabrics that makes tri-blends such a popular choice with customers also makes it a more challenging substrate for screen printers. You have to deal with the special characteristics of each individual material, as well as challenges made by the blending. Here are some common challenges of printing on tri-blend fabrics:

  • Scorching. Rayon burns at a very low temperature. For that reason, it’s very easy to scorch a tri-blend substrate. Most printers avoid flash curing a tri-blend shirt for this reason.
  • Dye sublimation. When polyester is heated to more than 320 degrees Fahrenheit, the dye within it sublimates, or turns to a gas. When this happens, that sublimated dye can alter the colors of the ink that’s been printed onto a polyester garment.
  • Print distortion. Tri-blend fabrics have a lot of stretch to them. This makes them comfortable, but it also makes printing on them a challenge. You have to be careful not to stretch the garment when loading it to avoid a fuzzy or distorted print.
  • Uneven ink texture. When you lay down ink on a tri-blend garment, that ink is going to interact with the different materials in the shirt in different ways. That means printing on tri-blend garments — especially with plastisol inks — can cause an uneven print.

Tips for Printing on Tri-blend Fabrics

Despite the challenges, you still can lay down great screen prints on tri-blend fabrics. To avoid problems when printing on tri-blends, there are some strategies you can employ. For successful screen prints on tri-blend fabrics:

  • Plan for a vintage, light-weight print. Tri-blend fabric is naturally lightweight; that’s one of the reasons customers love it. To maintain that light-weight feel, and avoid weighing down the drapey fabric, plan for a print with fewer layers and a light-weight, or even vintage, look and feel.
  • Choose the right ink. You can’t just lay down your usual inks on tri-blend substrates. High-opacity water-based inks are a popular choice for tri-blend fabrics, or you can use a diluted plastisol ink, or a plastisol ink designed just for the job. Because discharge ink will only affect some of the fibers in a tri-blend garment, discharge inks generally aren’t used on tri-blend fabrics.
  • Avoid using an underbase. An underbase means you have to flash-cure your print, which can lead to scorching on a tri-blend fabric. It also makes your print heavier, which isn’t ideal for a tri-blend. Because of this, it’s best to avoid using an underbase altogether when you’re printing on a tri-blend fabric.
  • Print wet on wet. Again, flash curing a tri-blend can lead to scorching. It’s best to practice your wet-on-wet screen printing to avoid scorching tri-blend fabrics under your flash cure unit.
  • Carefully load your press. Tri-blend fabrics are stretchy and slippery at the same time. To avoid distorting your prints or destroying your registration, make sure you tack tri-blend garments into place and be sure to load them onto the pallets without stretching them.
  • Watch your curing times and temperatures. A trip through your conveyor dryer at too high a temperature can case dye sublimation due to the polyester in the blend and scorching due to the rayon. Carefully calibrate your conveyor dryer when curing prints on tri-blend fabrics. Also consider using inks with lower curing temperatures, such as inks that are formulated to address problems with dye sublimation.

The Advantages of Printing on Tri-blend Fabrics

It does take some special care to screen print successfully on tri-blend garments, but as with most fabrics or techniques that take special considerations and some adjustments to your usual screen printing process, you’ll find screen printing on tri-blends well worth the effort. Tri-blend fabrics are a favorite for customers seeking a vintage look, modern-fitting garments or durable, moisture-wicking garments for athletics. Many customers will pay a premium for having their prints on a coveted material like a tri-blend. Offering tri-blend substrates in your screen printing shop will help you attract customers looking for the fabric and help you make an upsell to customers who value a premium product.

Looking for more tips on screen printing difficult garments? Check out this blog post:

Getting the Most out of Your Conveyor Dryer to Cure Challenging Garments

Overcoming the Challenges of Screen Printing Athletic Apparel