Mark Colenso, managing director of Colenso Screen Services, discusses adding value to screen prints, the rise of water-based inks, and how screen print shops can fight back against DTG

What are the key trends in screen printing at the moment?
Our nationwide team are seeing an ever increasing number of print shops wanting to achieve softer prints whilst trying to produce finer detail, greater vibrancy and an all-round higher print quality. Added value is also becoming more important, whether it is special effects, print finishing or additional services other than just the print on a shirt.

What’s the current demand for water-based inks compared to plastisols, and why do you think this is? How has this changed, and how do you see this developing over the next few years?
Water-based is slowly growing. At the moment it is split into different areas. We see a few print shops combining water-based and plastisols, some using the discharge white as an under base then overprinting with plastisols, in the search for a softer print; however, this is not always the best solution and some plastisols can give the same effect with the correct selection and pre-press consideration. Those who print for the high street are the fastest growing market for water-based printing. Retail increasingly requires PVC and phthalate-free solutions, whilst plastisol manufactures have offered solutions, they are not always a workable system in production.

We see the snowball of water-based printers growing very rapidly over the next few years, as technology from the likes of Virus with their WOW range of inks allowing wet-on-wet printing in ways previously unseen with the products from typical high profile manufacturers. Water-based inks that can be printed without stopping during an eight hour shift without drying in, or stopping to clean, offer a more efficient solution.

The pre-press manufactures are now investing in research and development to match the next generation of inks. The Foteco emulsions we now offer are triple curing, to resist all the raw materials such as water, alcohol and solvent that can be involved in the print process.

Whilst water-based will become more common, don’t underestimate the new technology that is coming from the plastisol manufactures. Being the exclusive UK distributor of Wilflex plastisols, we are seeing some very interesting developments to keep their market share.

As DTG continues to increase its market share, what can screen printers do to encourage customers to opt for the screen process? 
DTG continues to increase its market share, but we have also seen the growth of DTG help to grow the screen printing market. Some of new T-shirt printers in the market started off with DTG and created a demand for longer print runs which were initially farmed out; once demand is great enough they then invest in their first carousel and bring it in-house.

DTG has now set a precedent for producing photographic prints onto a multitude of coloured shirts with little pre-press knowledge, which is great for short runs. However, as volumes increase and as print buyers’ expectations rise, the cost of gearing up volumes digitally is still expensive.

As we have seen in the growth of digital in the graphics market, once all print shops in the area have similar machines, it becomes very important to offer added value to a print, otherwise the only thing that can be discussed is price. Therefore I see DTG and screen being embrace together rather than one superseding the other.

We are introducing the Virus WOW inks to the UK, along with a colour separation service. This will enable screen printers to produce 4-colour process work, even onto black shirts. This we see as a true game changer and offers a solution to those who are looking to have increased volume potential via DTG, but now offered in a screen print solution.

Who, in your opinion, are the most innovative screen printers at the moment?
There are so many up and coming screen printers who are hungry for knowledge, willing to learn, and want to be the best they can be. They are not hung up on shaving a penny off here and there, they want the best products that can make the T-shirt they print onto have a greater value.

Do you have any practical advice/little known tricks on how to get the most out of the different types of screen printing inks? 

There are far too many to cover in one go, however helping people achieve the best they can is what Colenso as a company is all about. Each printer needs different advice, butr the best advice I could give is to say that every printer should focus on their pre-press. This can be the area that has the lower associated costs, yet if it’s not done properly, the knock on effect can be very expensive.

For example, changing squeegee blades: how often is this done? In some print shops, at best, yearly. Once the print edge of a blade has become worn and rounded, ink usage can increase by at least 5%: that also means a 5% increase in ink costs and a 5% increase in print feel. Using a too soft squeegee generally ends up with increased pressure being used to print – if the blade is bending over it is not being used correctly – and can also increase ink consumption by up to a whopping 15%!

Another example would be incorrectly stretched screens: insufficient tension equals higher ink usage and a harsher feel, and can result in 10% more ink being deposited.

How is environmental legislation affecting the choice of screen printing inks? Is the legislation set to get tougher?
Currently we only see those who print for retail and large sportswear brands being effected as the specifiers are requesting less harmful products to be used (PVC and phthalate-free). I do see some changes coming. There are a number of people who assume that water-based inks will automatically be environmentally friendly, however this is not the case – some of the raw materials, such as ammonia and formaldehyde, are contained and it is only a matter of time before new legislation will make changes to these types of inks.

What future developments can screen printers expect to see from the various ink brands you offer?
Wilflex have been investing a lot in research and development, their Epic Rio Colour mixing system shows the start of something new and innovative. These inks can be cured at lower temperatures, and in combination with the soon to be launched low-cure whites, production cost can be reduced and inks can be printed onto garments that require being kept below a certain temperature.

The latest buzz is definitely around the Virus WOW inks, the likes of which we have not seen before. They are based on very different technology than currently available from traditional ink manufactures. WOW 4-colour process inks offer the true solution to those who wish to reproduce screen prints that are akin to DTG prints. Virus offers a colour separation service which does all the hard work for you – simply provide your original design and they separate and return it with all you need to know. We see this as an ink range that can allow screen printers across the land to fight back against DTG.

What colour trends are you expecting to see in 2018? What do you expect to be your bestseller and why?
We produced and posted on all our social media the colour trends we expect to see. These have been based on the London and New York fashion shows, though due to the power of social media, these can change in an instant – one great design can make a big difference to trends.

How, in one sentence, would you convince Images readers that Colenso is the place to buy screen printing inks from?
As the largest and most trusted independent supplier in the UK, representing the best worldwide brands, we are here to help you grow your business and become more profitable, let’s shape the future of Screen printing together.

The Virus WOWinks are now available from Colenso

Mark Colenso