Marshall Atkinson shares his top ten tips for getting the best results for screen printed garments

1. Don’t sweat it, flash it!
When printing sweatshirts, preheat the sweats with your flash before printing to slightly shrink the fabric, and then use a roller to flatten out the fabric to make a great platform for printing. Then print. This action also does a great job of setting the fabric into your platen adhesive, so you don’t have to reapply as much, as well as preventing the shirt from moving during the print run. Misregistered fleece can get expensive.

2. Get stirring!
Sometimes with cold ink out of the bucket, you need to work it with a spatula or stirrer before using. This increases the viscosity of the ink and allows for a better print. Don’t just dump ink out of the bucket and into the screen. Give it a stir first!

3. Control colour with your squeegee
We’ve all been there: the ink is mixed correctly in the bucket, but the final print doesn’t match the Pantone colour. Before you remix or start doctoring up the bucket of ink to match, try examining the mechanical aspects of how you are pulling your print. Look at your squeegee durometer, as a harder or softer squeegee can give you a different result. Squeegee pressure and angle can also have an effect too. If you are tweaking the print though, only change one thing at a time so you know the results of your attempt. It is much easier to try dialling in the squeegee mechanics than scraping out the ink and replacing it with another colour.

Control colour with your squeegee. Your squeegee durometer, angle and pressure can all affect the colour of your prints

4. Lighten up!
If after some time you can start to see the image you are printing on your shirt boards it means you are using too much pressure on your squeegee. The ink should be printed on top of the fabric, not driven through it like a hammer and nail. Back off on some of that pressure. It will be okay, Mr Gorilla!

5. Tape up your whites
Regular White, Performance White, Polywhite, Top Score White? They all look white in the bucket, but perform – and also cost – differently. To quickly tell them apart, use different coloured tape on the handles so you can determine what is what from across the room.

6. Smokin’
Got some old ink that you aren’t using? Then mix up some ‘smoke’ ink.

Throw some dark colours in a bucket, then add the same amount of black. Stir it up. Add about double curable reducer to the mix. Stir it up. You should get a translucent dark colour. The more reducer you add, the more transparent the ink will get. This absolutely looks awesome on any T-shirt. On a red shirt it will print maroon. On a royal shirt it will print navy. This is fantastic on a heather grey or heather colour T-shirt. What’s great is you can use the same screen and ink with multiple shirt colours and not have to change ink colours. Also, this will quickly become your go-to colour for any drop shadow effect. Plus this has zero hand, as it is basically all reducer. This is a great way to use up some of those weird PMS colours that those ‘designers’ always specify, that you used for that one job a year and a half ago and haven’t touched since. We mix this stuff up five gallons at a time.

7. Pocket prints on sleeve platens
For on-the-pocket printing with an auto just use your sleeve platens, and load the pocket onto the board like a little mini T-shirt. It’s much easier and faster to print than trying to use lasers or other cues to line up the pocket straight. Don’t forget you’ll have to burn your screen upside down in the right position.

8. Weigh it up!
Mixing any Pantone colour is simple… with the right system. Most shops don’t even charge for this anymore as it’s a default service. Using an ink-mixing system that uses a digital scale, you zero out after each ingredient: colours aren’t mixed by eye, but rather by weight. There’s a neutral base that takes up the most volume, and concentrated pigments are added in one at a time. Mix it up, and you’ll get a perfect match every time! Not to mention it is far cheaper per gallon than ready-mixed inks. You should contact your ink rep for more information.

Check your dryer temps. Once they‘re dialled in, post them on the dryer

9. Check your dryer temps
Use a doughnut probe and adjust your temperature and belt speed to dial everything in according to the instructions from your ink manufacturer. Most plastisol inks cure at 160°C, but performance inks will cure at 140°C. Are you adjusting for the difference? Once it’s dialled in, post the temp and belt speed on the dryer so you can tell if your print crews are messing around with the settings. In a dryer log book, divide the belt in the dryer into nine zones and measure and record the temperature of each zone. Temperature is such a crucial component to how we print, it is imperative that you have a close eye on your results.

10. Tacky tricks
Scorching tri-blends constantly? The trick with printing these is to make sure that the fabric is tacked down well on your platens. During the print process when you flash, the air between the fabric and the platen board can get superheated. This causes the shirt to scorch and get crispy. Tacking the boards evenly – and not just where you are printing (like the left chest area only), but all over the board – will prevent this from occurring. Unfortunately, we learned this the hard way.

Weigh it up! Use an ink mixing system with a digital scale for accurate Pantone matches

Marshall Atkinson is the owner of Atkinson Consulting, LLC, a service firm focused on the decorated apparel industry for process improvement and efficiency, sustainability, employee training, social media marketing, and long term strategic planning. He has over 20 years experience in the decorated apparel industry and has championed two companies to become SGP certified sustainable printers. A frequent trade show and webinar speaker, he also publishes his own weekly blog.