Improving Print Quality: Fiber Mat-Down•
If you have ever printed cotton t-shirts and gotten fuzzy looking prints, your problem is probably fibrillation on your t-shirts. There are a lot of reasons this can happen, from garment selection to processes on your press, but here are a few great ways to mat down your fibers or to prevent fibrillation!
What is Fibrillation?
Fibrillation is the appearance of cotton fibers poking through the ink on your garment. When printing on white garments, this can be a faded appearance of the print after washing. When printing with white ink, this can be a fuzzy or furry looking print.
An easy way to prevent fibrillation in t-shirts is to select shirts that won't have a lot of fibers sticking out in the first place. Generally, the worst offenders are the least expensive garments, usually made with carded cotton. On carded cotton garments, fibers stick out willy-nilly and can sneak their way above the ink you print on it.
On the other hand, ring spun cottons are usually manufactured with a tighter thread, preventing stray fibers from sticking out. While these shirts are usually more expensive, they tend to feel better when you're wearing them and are almost always worth the premium. Recently, major manufacturers have come out with less expensive options for ring spun garments.
Use the Right Ink
Be sure to stir or agitate your ink for a few minutes before you use it. By stirring the ink, you loosen it up so the ink can flow better. The better the ink flows, the better it will encapsulate the fibers on your t-shirt.
While much of the industry is focused on creating and printing with the best low bleed and general purpose inks, cotton inks are formulated to help mat down fibers. These inks are generally softer and have a longer body, which means the ink encapsulates the loose fibers and pushes them down. Bonus: Cotton inks are not only better for cotton garments, they also tend to be significantly less expensive than low bleed inks!
If you are printing on white or light t-shirts, another good way to prevent the appearance of fibrillation is to use water based inks. Water based inks penetrate the fiber of the garment and effectively re-dye the t-shirt to the color you printed. If you've ever printed black on a white shirt, and it turns out gray after a washing, using water based inks would prevent that!
Flatten the Print
A final option, which is a surefire way to improve the quality of your prints, is to flatten the base print mechanically. When the under base is flattened, your print will have a much softer hand and have no sneaky fibers. There are a few ways to accomplish this.
M&R's HotHead Fabric Compression System is the ultimate solution for preventing fibrillation. With this unit, you can flatten shirt fibers before printing, or flatten the print itself after flashing it. This system provides both heat and pressure to ensure the print is as smooth as possible.
A less expensive option, the roller squeegee prevents fibrillation in t-shirts by rolling over the print (with a teflon screen above it) to flatten the ink surface.
The least expensive option, and a very effective one, is to use a screen that has been exposed with no image, putting an extender base or some sort of ink in it, and using a squeegee pass to flatten the fibers. This acts much the same way as a roller squeegee but might take a little more fiddling to get just right.
With these tips, you can prevent one of the most frustrating aspects of screen printing. With flattened fibers, you will have happy customers, who tend to turn into repeat customers.
If you need more help, please reach out to your Midwest Representative.