Term of the Week: Fibrillation

Each week Printwear turns to industry experts to learn more about the terms used in the apparel and apparel decoration industry, as well as the business realm. Contact Printwear's digital content editor, Alexandria Arroyo, if you're interested in the opportunity to be featured. 

It is one of a printer's worst enemies, and despite your best intentions, it still happens. Fibrillation occurs when the fibers of a shirt break through the ink deposit, giving your shirt a faded or fuzzy look. People today increasingly want a luxurious print and softer shirt. However, these very qualities are prime conditions for fibrillation to occur. Don’t worry; there are several ways to prevent this phenomenon from ruining your prints. First, we don’t want to give our shirts a chance to fibrillate at all. Secondly, it is imperative you find the balance between too much ink and very little ink. Let’s dive into this some more. 

You know that your customers are going to be washing their shirts eventually, so why not wash one of them before you deliver them? This is the best way to test your shirts before your customer even sees them. One thing to keep in mind throughout this entire process is that the nicer the shirt, the more likely fibrillation will occur but don’t let that discourage you. To test this, run a few prints on the same substrate the job requires and put them through a few wash and dry cycles. 

On a side note, fibrillation is often confused with under-cured ink, so don’t fall into that trap. Fibrillation will look uniformly faded across the shirt, whereas under-cured ink will come off unevenly in patches. You should also consider the shirt type. Is it ring-spun, combed, or carded cotton? No matter the fabric, those fibers want to come out. Just be sure to run several test washes before you proceed to print the real thing. This will give you peace of mind and a happier customer. If your tests don’t go well, you should look at your inks.

Going with water-based inks should be your first consideration. The user-friendliness of RFU (ready-for-use) water-based inks makes it incredibly intuitive to help reduce fibrillation on your shirts. These inks penetrate and adhere to garment fibers rather than sitting on top of the fabric. You can also utilize ink additives that are designed to “glue” garment fibers down to stop fibrillation. Printing multiple layers of ink is another effective, albeit cumbersome method to prevent fibrillation. By using a print-flash-print process, you’ll be able to maintain a softer feel while controlling fibrillation. Lastly, there’s a method that doesn’t require actual printing. This one requires taking a coated screen with no exposure and “printing” it using a hard squeegee, onto the shirt, thereby matting down any fibers.

There are a couple of other factors that most often contribute to fibrillation: 

  • When printing dark colors on light garments
  • When your design and substrate have a high contrast

Also, when your ink is thinned down to create a soft print as we mentioned above, it doesn’t mat all the fibers together and creates a higher risk of fibrillation, although it’s not a guarantee that it’s going to happen.

You don’t want your customers to feel like they’re wearing a bulletproof vest, but you also don’t want fibers coming through your prints. By implementing these practices into your process, you can confidently eliminate the threat of fibrillation.­

Source: Caleb Morgan