Screen printing can be challenging enough on a smooth, flat surface – don’t let fasteners and seams get in your way!

More and more, however, customers are looking for less traditional artwork placement, making prints that go over zippers, seams and hoodies increasingly popular. In this blog, we’ll help you create on-trend prints over garment details.

The problem with printing over garment details is the disruption caused when the squeegee hits the bump of a zipper, seam or button. That disruption causes the ink to pool around the raised surface, resulting in an uneven, blobby ink deposit that won’t look good or last. There are a few tactics that you need to employ to create smooth, quality prints over buttons, zippers and seams.

Make way for the zipper, button or seam

The only way to get a smooth print over a raised garment detail is to create a flat, smooth surface for the squeegee to pass over. There are a few ways to accomplish this. First, there are pallets that are designed specifically for printing garments with zippers and buttons. These pallets feature trenches that the zipper or buttons can sit in during printing so that the overall print surface is flat.

If you don’t do a lot of printing on zippered or button garments and don’t want to invest in a specialty pallet, you can create your own trenched surface using thick pieces of cardboard. Simply cut a trench in the piece of cardboard that allows the garment to fit flatly across the top, and affix the cardboard firmly to your pallet. Or, employ this extremely simple solution: Attach a piece of neoprene foam to the surface of your pallet. When the squeegee passes over the raised surfaces of the garment, the foam will compress, and the squeegee will pass smoothly over the garment.

Use a thinner ink

Regardless of your graphic or your printing surface, if you’re laying down a print on top of a zipper, button or seam, there are going to be nooks and crannies that you need the ink to seep into. The best way to make sure that your ink reaches the detailed surfaces of your garment is to use a thinner ink. Water-based and discharge inks work well when printing over zippers, buttons or seams. If you do wish to print with plastisol, you can thin your ink with a reducer. A reducer might be necessary particularly if you are printing with a light ink on a dark substrate, as lighter inks tend to have a higher viscosity.

Consider distressing your graphic

Despite your best efforts, you might find it difficult to get a thick, smooth print over a button, zipper or seam. Again, if you’re printing with a light ink on a dark substrate, printing over a garment detail becomes more difficult. One way to overcome inconsistencies in the print is by distressing your graphic. If you give your graphic a distressed look, it can help to disguise any gaps in the print created by the garment’s terrain.

Protect your screen

If you’re laying down a lot of prints on a substrate that features zippers or buttons, the stress caused by the zipper pull or button hitting the screen with each squeegee pass can take its toll. Eventually, the screen can develop a hole or tear. Especially if you are doing a longer press run, protect your screen from the garment button. Do this by taping a piece of scrap film, or other light but rigid material, to the top of the pallet and screen, out of the way of the graphic, so that the portion of the screen the zipper or button would come into contact with is fully covered. The film will take the force of the squeegee strike rather than the screen, which will protect your screen throughout your press run.

Never try to print on a zipper or button

All of these recommendations for printing over zippers and buttons apply to garments that have seams and fabric covering the zippers and buttons themselves, or where the zipper or button will be out of the way of the graphic, but close enough to impact it if you don’t take special care. Never try to print directly onto a zipper or button, as the ink will not adhere and could interfere with the function of the zipper or button.

While the screen printing convention has long held that we should adjust artwork to avoid garment details like zippers, buttons or seams, we don’t have to. With a little extra care, we can lay down quality, trendy-looking screen prints that span all of the surfaces of jackets, hoodies and sweatshirts.

For more tips on screen printing sweatshirts, check out these blog posts:

Best Practices for Screen Printing on Hoodies

Our 6 Best Tips for Screen Printing on Fleece