To the general public, screen printing probably means just one thing, but those of us in the business know that depending on things like the look a customer is going for or the color of the garment, we need to tweak our process. One instance where special attention must be paid is when a customer asks for a soft-hand printing.
What is soft-hand printing? It actually has less to do with the screen printing process and more to do with the final result. Soft-hand refers to the way the print feels--as in you can barely feel it. It's much thinner than your average layer of ink. The soft-hand effect is typically difficult on dark garments, especially when the ink you're using is either very light or very bright.
One way to get the soft-hand feel is by adding a soft-hand additive to the ink. These additives--including fashion soft, chino base, or a reducer--are mixed into the Pantone ink to create a softer print. The result is close to water-based printing, but with these additives we're able to achieve more detail. These additives, however, tend to work best on light garments because they make inks lose their opacity. This means that you'll see a bit of the garment color come through into the print. Not exactly desirable.
If you've been reading our blog for a while, your next question might be why don't we run orders like this through a flashing process? Well, for one, adding a second layer of ink isn't going to get you that soft feel we're after here. Also, because inks with additives end up being so transparent, the ink color will appear washed out when applied over an underbase.
If a customer is going for a vintage feel, we might suggest water-based printing as it gives a bit of a faded look. Again, water-based printing will have a more transparent result than your typical screen print and, therefore, isn't always a good option for a dark garment. It's also important to keep in mind that water-based inks aren't always an exact Pantone match, and you sacrifice the ability to produce a very detailed design with this method of printing.
Discharge ink is your best bet for screen printing on dark garments. Also, a water-based ink, discharge ink bleaches the garment while depositing the ink. This method is also great for a faded, vintage feel as the result is muted, with flatter colors, and the edges tend to be softer than traditional screen printing. This method is probably better for a more modern-type business because it's difficult to achieve the tight, logo designs many companies are looking for. Another caveat is that the discharge process only works on 100% cotton garments.
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