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Sweatshirts, hoodies and zip-front pullovers are high-value products you should be decorating.
No matter how warm your climate, printing on fleece is inevitable for nearly any screen printer. Cooler weather will dictate the quantity and product choice in this product category. Crewnecks, hoodies and zipper fronts are all on the menu for your fleece-consuming customers.
If you’ve never printed fleece, you’ll be happy to know you already have everything you need on your shop floor: standard platens, screens in your inventory, and the ink you’re currently using, whether you’re a plastisol or water-based decorator.
The Perfect Underbase Underbase is key on dark fleece. There’s temptation to use a much lower mesh count than necessary; in fact, most screen printers tend to use a too-low mesh count for all decorating. Depending on the image being printed, you can produce an ideal underbase with a screen in the range of 125. If you’re printing using a technique like simulated process, you will, of course, need to use a much higher mesh count to produce an underbase with halftone dots.
Here’s the most important factor: You must use a tight, well-stretched screen. A loose screen tends to stick to the image area until raised. The result is a rough texture on your underbase that will show up in the final print. This is doubly noticeable on fleece. A tight screen will release right behind the squeegee blade for a smooth print.
Creating a grooved space in the center of your platen will allow for the thickness of a zipper fleece. Photo courtesy of Lon Winter, Graphic Elephants.
Stick With It When printing on fleece, you’ll likely end up applying adhesive four times more often than when you print on T-shirts or similar thin garments. Fleece leaves fabric pile on your platen after every print, necessitating the extra adhesive. Using pallet mask or pallet tape before printing helps make cleanup quick and easy. Pallet mask comes on a roll and is basically a wide masking tape to protect a platen surface and accelerate cleanup at the end of the run.
Check your dryer clearance. A heavy sweatshirt with sleeves and hood folded under on your dryer belt will be substantially thicker than a standard tee. (I remember coming back to my shop from lunch one day, and no one on the production floor could explain why sweatshirts were going into the feed end of the dryer and not out the other end, or why they hadn’t noticed the jam!)
It’s difficult to find a wide variety of fleece garments that are 100% cotton. I would encourage every decorator to look for high-cotton content blends – 90/10, 80/20 with the higher number being cotton. The higher the polyester content, the more issues you’ll have to deal with due to dye migration. Less expensive 50/50 blend fleece comes with greater dye migration issues.
Make the Proper Adjustments Adjust your off-contact (the space between the screen mesh and the garment). In my shop, I prefer not to make adjustments to my presses if I can avoid it. A quick way to bump off-contact from T-shirts to fleece is to place a paint stirrer in your press clamp, underneath the screen. This adjusted height will work for almost any fleece item.
With hoodies or zippered fleece, there’s a simple trick to make things easier. You’ll need to raise the printable area above the height of the muff pocket or zipper. Cut mouse pad material or cardboard and use painter tape to affix it to your platen. In the case of a zip front, tape two of these risers to the platen with a space between for the zipper to fall into before printing.
Fleece is a high-value, highly desirable product to add to your screen- print offerings, so it’s important to take some time and learn the proper way to decorate it.ithout Snags
Charlie Taublieb, technical screen-printing consultant, offers his thoughts on how to add value to any screen-printed garment: “Anything that shows you care about them, like individually folding and bagging the garments, will add value. Also, try offering the things that most shops don’t, like foil, rhinestones or any other special effect.”
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