Polyester is a notoriously tricky fabric to decorate. Due to the way it is dyed, it has a tendency to discolor your print and ruin your work. Fortunately, there are workarounds that allow you to print onto polyester without losing sleep thinking about your white print turning pink. Below are some polyester decorating methods!

What Is Dye Migration?

Dye migration is the term for what happens when the dye that colors your garment reactivates when it hits a high enough temperature and starts to interact with the ink sitting on the garment. This in turn will discolor your ink - if you’ve ever seen your white ink turn pink, that’s dye migration.

Low Cure Screen Printing

While almost every ink manufacturer has long had low bleed inks, which block dye migration through a variety of chemical tricks, many manufacturers are now introducing low cure inks. These inks nip migration in the bud by never re-activating the dye in the first place. By not getting to the temperature needed to reactivate the dye, your ink should never migrate.

The key challenge with low cure inks is to ensure you are drying at a high enough temperature to cure, but low enough to inhibit migration. Because most low cure inks cure at 270 degrees, and many dyes reactivate at 280-290 degrees, you have a small window for success. These inks also include dye blocking properties, so you will probably still have success as long as you aren’t blasting your garments with heat.

Laser Transfer

Laser Transfers are a great option if you are looking for a solution for low quantity, high color, and high detail orders. With a low cost of entry, you can decorate on cotton, polyester, and even hard goods. In this process, you print your design onto a film. After printing, you will press this film onto a sheet of paper that carries an adhesive which only transfers to the printed area. Next, you will transfer the film onto your garment.

This process is great for designs in which you need to print fine text but can’t warrant screen printing, as the self-weeding process allows for very fine text. While the process initially can be a little finicky, once you have a system down, you will have a very low failure rate. Laser Transfers can have a plasticky feel, so we recommend low coverage or using a RIP which will rasterize full coverage images.

Heat Transfer Vinyl

Heat Transfer Vinyl is a foolproof solution to decorating on polyester. There is usually no difference in decorating polyester or cotton garments using this method, so it is a seamless workflow between the two methods. Chemica Hotmark Revolution is a fantastic option if you are concerned about bleeding, however, because you can apply it at a variety of times and temperatures – as low as 230⁰ Fahrenheit!

Another benefit of HTV is that there are options for sublimation-blocking materials! If you need to decorate any patterned garments (like camo), sublimation blocking HTVs will ensure that the pattern will never make its way to the top of your print.

Direct to Garment

With Epson’s recent introduction of Polyester Pretreat, the DTG market has opened up to polyester decorating! With all the same benefits of DTG (no color limits, soft hand feel, simple process), now anyone can succeed with printing on polyester.

DTG on polyester is a more involved process than printing onto a cotton or blended garment. The key differentiator is that once the garment is printed, you will want to quickly rinse the pretreat off of the garment to get the best handfeel; polyester pretreatment is a bit thicker than regular so the “box” is more noticeable. You will also notice that the print is less solid looking than one on cotton. This is due to the more open weave of polyester. While cotton has a very tight and overlapping weave which leads to a more consistent print surface, polyester is quite open. The ink can only adhere to fabric, so where there is no fabric there can be no ink.

Takeaways

The textile industry has adapted to the growing polyester and blended garment market with some great solutions. With options that can easily be adapted to your current process, or simple investments, you can become a polyester decorating master in no time.