Kieth Stevens of International Coatings explains how to use gel ink to add glitz and glamour to any print

[Updated 20/02/20] According to Kieth Stevens, western regional sales manager for International Coatings and screen printer of more than four decades, adding special effects to a screen printed design does not have to be complicated. Most special effects inks require just one additional screen, yet elevate the design into something ‘a bit more special’, and can increase the overall value of the garment. “This translates into increased profits and the ability to provide customers with new and unique print application alternatives: a win-win for the screen printing shop and the customer!” he points out.

In this step-by-step, Kieth demonstrates how to create a print with “extra pizazz” by using the brand’s new and improved FX Gel Gloss Clear Ink with caviar beads. “Not all gels are created equal and this particular gel has great doming and adhesion properties.” He recommends using gel ink sparingly for the best effect, noting that it works best when covering smaller areas rather than large portions of a design. He adds: “Think ‘water droplets’.”

He also advises that many special effects inks work best when printed through a thicker emulsion as this allows for a greater amount of ink to be deposited onto the substrate and the creation of texture; using a lower mesh count is also recommended.

FX Gel Gloss Clear Ink can be applied to either cotton or polyester-blend or polyester fabrics. Do remember to use low-bleed inks for the main design if printing on dark polyester fabrics to mitigate any dye migration. Once printed, the gel can either then be cured for a simple gel-look, or caviar beads or other special effects can be added before the design is cured.

In this step-by-step, Kieth applied the beads by placing the T-shirt printed with the wet gel into a box of caviar beads. If the design is large, however, the caviar beads can be applied by spreading them onto the garment while it’s still on the pallet. A large box should be placed under the application station to collect any excess beads that fall off.

The technique shown here is with caviar beads, but they can easily be substituted by glitter flakes or flock. “Just add a small amount of catalyst [to the gel] to ensure washfastness and a superior bond when used as an adhesive,” says Kieth. “It works well as an in-line foil adhesive for a distressed foil look and works great as a glitter base for screen printing. That’s why it’s so versatile!”


Step-by-step: Gel ink print with caviar beads

(1) International Coatings chose a vector stock image and limited the amount of colours to five (the left side of image shows half of the design). An underbase layer for printing on dark garments was added, and a layer for the gel ink was created, highlighting only some elements of the design (shown in brown on the right half of the design)
(2) The main design used 160 mesh screens and – to make things even simpler – standard pre-mixed colours: International Coatings’ 700 and 7600 Series Direct Print. A 110 mesh screen was used for the underbase
(3) A 110 mesh screen with a 400 micron capillary film (Murakami) was used for the gel screen
(4) The print sequence was white underbase (legacy white 7014), double stroke, flash, yellow (golden yellow 727), pink (7637), orange (HP burnt orange 730), flash, red (scarlet 746), blue (light blue 762), flash
(5) After printing the colours, the gel was applied (FX Gel Gloss Clear 3809) using a 65 durometer squeegee, set at a 15° angle, with a quick double stroke followed by a flash then a quick double stroke. The quick stroking results in a nice dome shape

(6) At this point, the print could be left with just the gel effect and cured in the dryer. But for an extra cool effect, caviar beads can be added easily. If you are planning to use the gel ink as an adhesive, add 5% of catalyst (900 Catalyst) to the gel ink to improve washfastness and bonding

Here’s a video summary of how to print the gel ink

(7) A box that’s large enough to accommodate the design was placed near the printing station and filled with caviar beads. ‘Clear’ caviar beads were chosen to allow the colours of the design to show through. The garment was taken off the pallet carefully and, while the ink was still wet, the shirt was placed with the design facing down into the caviar beads
(8) The garment was pushed down with enough pressure to adhere the beads to the gel, taking care to press over the entire design. Excess beads were then shaken off the garment
(9) The print was cured at 330°F/165°C for one minute. If necessary, shake off any loose beads from the garment after curing
(10) The clear caviar beads, besides letting the colour of the design show through, reflect light in a way that almost gives the design a holographic look when the light hits it just right. This image shows the photo taken with flash
(11) This technique can also be used to apply glitter flakes, as pictured here, or flock