COVID-19 (Coronavirus) has changed the way we all work and live. Midwest, like many companies, has made significant changes to keep its employees, customers, and partners safe and informed. One of the most common questions we get related to COVID-19 and social distancing is, “How do I print on face masks?” Below are five tips to help you print safely and effectively on face masks for your customers.

Choose a Fabric

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that an effective mask should include at least 2 layers of fabric, and that cotton is an excellent fabric choice. That is good news for customization, because garment decorators know how to successfully decorate cotton since they have been doing so for years! As for fabric color, we suggest light colored cotton fabrics for face masks for a few reasons (outlined below). If you are planning to screen print on a dark fabric, choose one that can be printed with discharge inks.

Choose Your Decoration Method

Choosing a decoration method for face masks is no different than choosing a decoration method for any other fabric. It is generally just a matter of numbers. If you are going to print a large number of the same design, screen printing really excels. If the quantity of each design is limited, then digital is the way to go. Before you get started on your first run of masks, it’s a good idea to print the material first. It will be much easier to screen print or digital print your design on a flat piece of fabric than printing on it after the mask is cut and sewn, even if you invest in a special mask-pallet.

Your Primary Concern: Breathability

A key consideration is that the mask needs to have reasonable airflow. Nobody will want to wear a mask that they can’t breathe through! For that reason, water based inks, not plastisol, are the best choice. Plastisol will create a barrier of ink that air cannot penetrate. If you choose to print digitally, the ink choice is easy because digital direct to garment (DTG) printers all use water based inks. Ultimately, decorating face masks will be easiest if you are printing on white or light colored fabric.

Choose the Ink Color

Why does the ink color matter? White inks, needed to decorate dark fabrics, will block airflow. If you are going to print digitally, DTG printers will need to print a white underbase to be effective, and that requires pretreatment. Pretreatment will close up the airspace between the threads making the mask much harder to breathe through. Keep your art small since white DTG inks block airflow. The smaller the print coverage, the more area there is for air to flow through the mask. If you are screen printing on a dark mask, we recommend using discharge inks in order to mitigate air restriction.

How to Print

If you are printing on a DTG printer, we would recommend using a platen that allows you to print multiple masks at once. A platen designed for printing tags will generally provide plenty of printing area as well as let you print up to eight masks at once. If you are screen printing, try out a mask pallet, which includes a hold down allowing you to print on one-or two-ply masks without having to use adhesives.

A Tag Platen will let you print 8 masks at once.

Wash It and Label It!

Since print shops are generally not FDA approved clean rooms, any mask that a printer produces must be washed before wearing. It is a good idea to wash the masks before shipping them and also include a label on the mask for customers, indicating they should wash the mask after they receive it and after every use.

We hope these tips are helpful for you as you navigate your business through this tough time. If you need more help, please reach out to your Midwest Representative.