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stretch additives

Printing Stretchy Garments Using Stretchy Materials

With the popularity of athletic garments in today’s fashion trends, now more than ever, print shops are seeing stretchy substrates make their way through the door. 

If you get a job like this, such as cheer uniforms, team jerseys, or workout gear, there are several things to consider about the garments themselves and how your shop plans to tackle the garments. First, you have to get to know the material. For example, is it nylon, polyester, spandex, lycra, or some combination? Is the garment plain or sublimated (like camouflage)? Getting to know the material is important because it sets the mood for the rest of the job. Knowing the substrate you are going to print on will give you an idea of cure time and whether or not you will be fighting dye migration issues.

Next, you have to decide how you are going to print the garments. You have nylon bonding agents, plastisol with a stretch additive, and silicone ink.

Choosing a stretch additive for a plastisol ink is one option, but adding too much stretch additive could reduce the opacity of the ink. Only add one to five percent stretch additive to retain the ink’s opacity. Also, some stretch additives can be used as an underbase to help improve the stretch of the inks printed on top. While stretch additives boast that you can use it with any plastisol, you will find that the best results are found when using it with an athletic ink or ink that already has some stretch to it like athletic inks.

If you decide that you want to print on nylon using plastisol, you have to consider purchasing a nylon-bond additive. The unfortunate thing about printing plastisol on nylon materials is that if you don’t use the nylon-bond additive, the ink won’t stick. 

While nylon-bond works like a glue to keep the ink on the garment, you also run the risk of the ink cracking. The other downside to using this method is that the mixture must be used immediately after mixing. The shelf life is anywhere from eight to 15 hours depending on the environment of your shop. After that, the mixture becomes rock solid. Choosing to print this way also considerably reduces the viscosity of the ink. If this happens, you can let the mixture sit around for a few hours to harden enough to print.

Another option you have is using silicone. Silicone offers a soft hand feel, durability, and flexibility like none of these other options. You also have no worries about cracking after it is printed. Silicone ink is ideal for printing stretchy garments, but it is expensive. You also have to follow guidelines to mix toner with a catalyst or base depending on the type of look you are going for. This tends to turn people away from using it all together.

One of the benefits of silicone is that it cures at a lower temperature compared to plastisol. This is ideal for printing polyester. Polyester is one of the great offenders for dye migration, releasing dye anywhere from 220 to 340 degrees F. Because of its unusually large cure window, silicone offers a cure time around 270 degrees F (at the lower end of polyester’s cure time).