More than meets the eye: Opportunities with Screen-Printed Caps

Roger Jennings is president of the R Jennings Manufacturing Co., an equipment manufacturer and printing supplies distributor in Glens Falls, N.Y. Those seeking additional information on the subject matter below should feel free to contact him at

Embroidered caps dominate the market, but screen printing offers attractive opportunities to increase sales. A headwear design with something special to attract attention motivates people to buy. That something special can be created a number of ways. The following ways are the product of the photographic process that is screen printing.

Three-dimensional printing

Three dimensional prints that have the image raised off the cap certainly are different from the norm. One layer of thick ink can be printed though a thick capillary-film stencil or the lamination of a series of films. Successive layers of additional inks can be printed over the first layer to create a wide variety of eye-popping art.

When we add some unique aspects to the art like bumps on a football or seams on a baseball, the image looks even more realistic. Ink can be printed in thick layers with each layer being a different image. The bumps on the football are halftone dots, but the laces could be white ink raised off the surface of the football to look like a real ball.

Add the name-drop of the school or team under the image, and sports fans will think this is cool. Then offer a matching shirt, and double the sale. People will pay premium prices for apparel bearing art that jumps out. So what are the markets?

Crossed lacrosse sticks that are raised with a mesh in the stick that is not raised lends depth and interest to the image. Then add the name drop. Three-dimensional hockey sticks on either side of a puck printed with a raised flat surface will catch everyone’s eye. Pucks used in games frequently have a team or tournament logo on the puck. That can be printed on top of the raised puck.

Sports are just the beginning. Today many businesses provide employees and customers with caps and all sorts of apparel. This is advertising or image, and companies have budgets for advertising and image. The company and product names can be reproduced exactly as they appear on stationary, business cards, ads and signs. When a PMS color match is required, that customer requirement can be met with ink, but not always with thread. Some companies like Coca-Cola demand exact matches before they will approve a print.

A photographic process allows exact reproduction of fonts, logos, legal registration marks, dots and details that match the reference image we recall when seeing the printed image. Hard, sharp edges from a photographic process result in high resolution and a clean look to the image.

Whether the image is raised or not, that first deposit of ink can be treated as an underbase. Then a second deposit can also be raised, or halftones or spot colors. The possible combinations are limitless. Dimensional ink allows printing over irregular surfaces such as six-panel caps and corduroy, or the soft, spongy foam front trucker caps.

More special effects

The following is a quick look at a variety of special and not-so-special printing effects that will get your work noticed:

Reflective—There are a number of screen-printing methods known as “reflective.” Reflective inks that are printed like standard plastisol inks reflect some, but do not meet ANSI code that would be required for police, fire, EMT and highway workers. There is a reflective material made by 3M and some other companies that does meet ANSI code. This material is actually glass beads imbedded in an adhesive. The beads reflect light. Easier for the decorator is foil. Foil typically requires screen printing an adhesive, flash curing that adhesive, then applying the foil on a heat-transfer press where the foil is made to stick to the adhesive pattern and is peeled away elsewhere. Actually, foil can be laid over plastisol ink in the same way which re-melts and bonds to the foil from the heat of the transfer machine.

Process—True process and simulated process offer a wide range of color that can be used in many ways. A background can be a rainbow of color or a softer change in colors with a spot-color or 3-D as the highlight of the image. Another approach is to print process color over an underbase of 3-D ink to leave a raised process image on the cap. Now that is the kind of unusual image that will have heads turning.

Puff—This is an ink with a gas that expands when heated. The ink expands in all directions: up, down and sideways like a ball inflating. This contrasts from high-density ink which does not inflate but which holds a sharp, hard edge. Puff may cause letters such as p, d, e, o and q to close in. It does, however, produce a raised look that alone could be the image or could be an accent to an image. Text is the most common application, but puff has been used to attract the eye to focal points such as a star or a sea shell.

Metallic—There are a lot of different looks in metallic. There are flat colors, shimmers and glitters in silver and several different golds. Metallics reflect light attracting attention, like a silver spoon on a fishing line. So a screen printer can reel in customers using metallic as the image or to accent an image.

Suede—Available in a variety of colors, properly applied and cured “suede” ink feels remarkably like the leather it simulates. So a rectangular patch with a stitch line close to the four edges looks like the sewn patch on the back of blue jeans. Flash cure the tan, navy or red suede, then print an image on top of the suede similar to images on blue-jean patches. Suede can be printed over a thick deposit of 3-D ink to make the raised image more noticeable.

Multi-media—Of course, a decorator can create novel, attractive images from combinations of ink and thread. The image would be screen printed and the ink cured. Then the cap is embroidered, because thread can be sewn through the ink. This technique allows covering a larger area economically with ink, thus keeping the stitch count to a minimum for economy and higher productivity. The embroidery can be the focal point of the image, or an accent to make the focal point stand out more than an all-ink or all-embroidery image. Caps so adorned are high-end products that sell at premium prices, but also have a higher cost from the double handling required to both print and sew.

New relationships

All of the above methods look different from embroidery and offer you as a decorator options for your customer. If you display samples of each method, customers will be able to judge better for themselves which decorating method best meets their needs. This is a great way to create new business, happy customers, and new long-term customer relationships.