Check out some tips for screen printing eye-catching designs with metal flake ink!

Metal flake ink can be used to create a variety of different effects to help your screen prints stand out, from adding a subtle extra dimension to shiny high gloss prints you can’t miss. It’s easy enough to get started printing with glitter, but there are some special considerations you’ll need to take into account that sets this technique apart from standard screen printing.

What Sets Metal Flake Ink Apart from Regular Screen Printing Ink?

Metal flake inks are composed of pieces of shiny foil, usually in a clear base for printing a second layer on top of a color. There are four basic types of metal flake inks: glitter, sparkle, metallic and shimmer. Glitter is available for screen printing in many different sizes of flake measured in hex, or the size across the hexagonal flake in fractions of an inch. The size you use will be determined by the design you want to print. A larger flake will catch more light and create a shinier effect, while it will require a coarser mesh screen for the flakes to pass through. This makes larger flakes unsuitable for finer details. A smaller flake won’t catch as much light and the glitter effect won’t be as vibrant, but you can print it through a higher mesh count screen to capture smaller details. Your ink manufacturer will likely provide recommendations for what mesh count to use with your choice of glitter ink. As a general guideline:

  • Glitter: 25 to 40 mesh count
  • Sparkle: 60 to 86 mesh count
  • Jewel tones/metallics: 86 to 110 mesh count
  • Shimmer: 86 to 125 mesh count

Screen printing through screens with lower mesh counts can be a challenge. When you’re preparing your stencil, you’ll want to choose an emulsion that dries and exposes quickly to prevent dripping, as you’ll need to use more emulsion than usual to properly coat the coarse screen. It’s a good idea to use a softer squeegee (around 65 durometer is a good place to start) for printing with glitter to make it easier to push the flakes through the coarse mesh.

Techniques for Printing with Metal Flake Inks

There are a variety of different printing techniques that you can use to apply metal flake inks, creating varying effects. There are glitter inks available which keep the glitter flake on top of the print rather than embedded in the ink by having the base absorb into the fabric when cured. These inks work well with garments of all colors because the final result is opaque enough to keep the underlying fabric from showing through.

If you want a glossier look with the metal flakes suspended in the ink, you’ll want to print one layer and flash it so it’s able to absorb into the fabric, then print a second layer on top. This will create a “gel” effect as the second layer will sit on top of the shirt. This technique creates a print with a heavier hand feel, but the high gloss print should have more pop than a single layer of ink. If you want a similar look with a softer hand, try using a clear base instead so you can print through a screen with a higher mesh count, putting down a thinner – but not as glossy – ink deposit.

Typically you’ll want to print layers of metallic ink last in the sequence, or immediately before flashing. Their deposits are thicker than standard ink and can cause problems if they’re not last in a wet-on-wet sequence. If you’re having problems getting a solid print over large areas, consider mixing your glitter ink with some shimmer ink of the same color to fill in the gaps. You can also try first printing a layer of the same color without glitter, then printing the glitter layer on top without flashing. Glitter ink can also be combined with metallic ink for an added dimension that can create some cool eye-catching effects. Experiment with different methods of printing metallic inks to find the techniques that work best for you and best fit your customers’ needs.

Whenever you try a new screen printing ink, make sure you thoroughly test before you begin production so you can get an idea of how the ink will react to printing and curing. Because the flakes reflect heat, it’s a good idea to slow down your dryer’s conveyor belt and cure for a longer time. Just be careful not to scorch your garments! Once they’ve cured, give your prints a wash test. It’s natural for a little bit of flake to come loose in the first wash, but if you notice the quality of the print degrading in subsequent washes, you may have a curing problem.

For more information on entering the world of special effects screen printing inks, check out this blog post: 

How to Get Started with Specialty Inks

Or read some more ideas on how to set your screen printing shop apart from the rest:

Make Your Screen Printing Business Stand Out from the Competition