sPrint Textile Decorations demonstrates how puff ink can be used to create gorgeous designs that provide texture, interest and a point of difference between you and your competitors
One area where screen printing still has a lead over digital printing processes is in special effects. Puff ink is one of the original speciality effects in the world of screen printing, reports Ioana Vadan, PR and marketing coordinator of sPrint Textile Decorations – a printing company based in Baia Mare, Romania. And she’s well placed to comment – sPrint has invested nearly €2.5 million so far in its business, and offers a full range of services from screen printing and embroidery to DTG and sublimation to clients across Europe.
Puff ink creates a three-dimensional print. Ioana explains the chemistry: “Puff is a plastisol ink that has been modified with the addition of a heat-reactive foaming agent. Visually, it has a rough texture, however it feels soft and rubbery to the touch. Wilflex Epic NuPuff is a non-phthalate plastisol puff ink designed for raised texture effects with excellent durability. It is screen printed as normal and cured through a conveyor dryer. During the curing process the ink reacts to the heat (160°C) and ‘puffs up’, thus creating a raised or 3D effect on the shirt.
“Before puff ink is exposed to heat, it sits flat on the garment like any regular plastisol ink. Curing the finished design will activate the puff additive and enable the ink to rise and expand about 1 to 2mm on all sides.”
Puff ink additives can be added to any plastisol ink colour, she explains, and the process is “less labour-intensive than high density ink printing” and so is less expensive. Multiple puff ink colours can be used in one design, it can be used with a wide selection of other inks and effects, and promises to be hardwearing and won’t crumble or flake off. It’s best on 100% cotton textiles or cotton blends; Ioana recommends avoiding mixing puff and synthetics.
While most types of art will work with puff ink, Ioana suggests using it for solid art areas, such as in the example here, as it doesn’t lend itself to halftones and distressed art.
For this particular example, factory manager Marius Haidu used the 1200 dpi Liberator XE Wide-Format Thermal Imagesetter from Exile Technologies, which Ioana says is Exile’s ‘top of the line system’: “Its technology offers clear, compact, environmentallyfriendly solutions to artwork production, enabling us to eliminate the outsourcing of large format films. Exile’s unique, chemistry-free, dry-imaging ThermoImpression film requires absolutely no fixers, developers, inks or toners, while providing UV densities that exceed industry standards.”
She continues: “We used capillary film in this case, for superior dot quality, to provide a smooth, high-quality, textured puff print. Capillary film is not messy like liquid emulsion, does not require mixing ingredients and there is no waste, since we just cut it off and use what we need.”
After Marius had made and exposed the screen, the printing press was set up for printing. He printed the sample on an M&R Sportsman EX 10-colour automatic screen printing press; the company has 12 M&R screen printing presses in total, ranging from the manual Chameleon to the 18-colour Challenger.
The screens were set up with the light colours first in the sequence and ending with the darkest colour: white, yellow (PMS 115 C), red (PMS 032 C ) and green (PMS 7488 NuPuff Effect).
It doesn’t matter in which order the puff ink is printed, explains Ioana. “Alongside the NuPuff ink base from Wilflex, we used regular screen printing plastisol inks, also from Wilflex,” she adds. “We used this particular NuPuff base to obtain a high, textured effect.”
After it was printed, the T-shirt was placed in an M&R Radicure infrared electric conveyor dryer, which was set to 160°C. “The shirt was only inside the drying chamber for about 37 seconds – just enough time for the ink to bond to the garment,” Ioana advises.