A shirt doesn’t have to be old to look like it’s been well loved! Here are some tips for achieving distressed screen printing.

Creating vintage – or distressed – prints boils down to three things: the right substrate, the right ink and the right artwork.

Substrates for Vintage Prints

Vintage-looking apparel needs to have a soft, lived-in look. It’s tough to get the right effect if you’re printing a vintage-looking design on a crisp, new cotton shirt. When choosing substrates for your vintage-style prints, opt for tri-blend or 50/50 garments. You can create vintage-looking garments on 100-percent cotton garments by choosing the right inks and the right graphics. Garments in heathered or faded colors also offer a more vintage feel. Ultimately, you want a soft, comfortable garment that looks like it has been laundered time and time again.

Inks for Vintage Prints

Just like your garments, you want to use ink with a soft hand feel when creating vintage-looking prints. That means choosing softer inks that set in to the fabric, rather than lying on top like traditional plastisol ink. To achieve that effect, you have several ink options, including:

  • Water-based inks. Water-based inks can create a soft print on lighter substrates. As the ink cures, the color pigment adheres to the fibers in the fabric, leaving behind a soft print. Any feel left behind from the initial print generally washes away.
  • Discharge inks. Discharge inks can create softer prints on 100-percent cotton garments. They work by washing away the shirt’s own pigment, making way for a color print with less ink. Not all shirts or colors of shirts work with discharge inks; you’ll have to work with your supplier to determine which garments will work with discharge inks.
  • Additives and reducers. If you prefer to print with plastisol, you can still create vintage prints with your usual inks. You can use a soft-hand additive or add reducers to your plastisol inks to create softer prints. Keep in mind that these additives dilute the color of the ink, though that’s often not a concern when you’re trying to create a vintage feel, as many vintage prints are done in faded colors. There also are plastisol inks designed specifically for printing vintage-looking images.

Setting Up Distressed Artwork

Distressing your graphic can create an instant vintage look for your screen prints. Most often, graphics are given a vintage effect digitally. There are a variety of vintage filters that will create different distressed looks. Some printers will even distress their own screens by dragging abrasive materials over the exposed designs.

Keep in mind that when you add a filter or distress a design, you’ll need to do a sample print to make sure that the filter has not distorted the image or rendered text unreadable. Because of the loss of detail, distressing generally works best with larger, bolder graphics, as small graphics can be too badly muddled.

Other Considerations for Printing Vintage-Looking Garments

Be aware that there are some things to watch for when creating vintage-looking screen prints. While these types of prints are often printed without an underbase to maintain a soft hand feel, if you’re using an underbase registration is sometimes difficult and will need to be adjusted. If you’re giving a corporate or event logo a vintage feel, you’ll want to make sure to create samples for your customer to make sure the logo and colors haven’t deviated too far from the originals.

By experimenting with different substrates, different inks and different graphic effects, you’ll find a combination for creating the type of vintage-style screen prints you’re aiming for.