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Real Talk: Ink Cost

Our premium inks cost more than our competitors. If you didn’t know that, I was totally kidding. Ignore me. Regardless, we are often asked how we can justify the higher price to the owner or general manager. Screen printers love the ink but they often are not in charge of budgets and other financial decisions. The first thing out of my mouth in these situations is something along the lines of “do you know how awesome we are” or my personal favorite “our ink actually works”. Unfortunately, this is not good enough for everyone. It’s enough for me but I am biased. Also, I don’t believe in money. I mostly work for food.

So what do we say? How do we convince non-screen printers that our ink is worth it short of telling you that we are the coolest, best, and sexiest company in the industry? This is pretty easy. Weigh the ink. Just weigh it. Get a scale. Put the ink on the scale. Weigh it. Okay, this sounds sillier than my Halloween costume when I was 16. The point is this, you can weigh a shirt before it is screen printed and then weigh it again afterwards to figure out exactly how much ink you have used. Once you know how little ink you actually print per shirt, you can do some fun math and know for a fact how much that print cost. Spoiler alert! It is much less than you expect. It isn’t enough for you to base your ink decisions on cost. Quality should win every time. I will prove it to you.

Grab one of our empty buckets. If you don’t have an empty bucket, pour out our competitor’s ink and make it empty. Don’t worry, it probably didn’t cost you much anyway. Weigh the empty bucket. Now weigh a fresh bucket of what is hopefully our ink. If it isn’t our ink, that’s okay for now. The difference in weight is ink…all ink. Precious not-a-commodity plastisol ink. This will vary quite a bit from ink to ink as the weight is not the same from color to color or ink series to ink series. There are a lot of reasons for this but we don’t need to get into details. Some inks are just heavier.

Now that you have a weight (hopefully in grams) for a gallon of ink, you can do a little math. What is the cost per gallon of this ink? You need this number to figure the cost per gram as that is where I am taking this party. I weighed a random gold ink and came up with 4620 grams. Depending on the cost of the ink, we can determine the price per gram very easily. I will do this for a few different price points:

Ink Price #1: $70.00 per gallon – $0.01515 per gram
Ink Price #2: $100.00 per gallon – $0.02164 per gram
Ink Price #3: $130.00 per gallon – $0.02813 per gram

So, how does this number help you determine the cost per print? Get that scale back out! You have work to do. What you need is a t-shirt, uniform, jacket, or whatever you are about to print. Weigh the apparel before you print it. Weigh it again after. Hey, there seems to be a weight difference here. That number is your ink consumption. I printed a 100% polyester tee. Before printing with the gold ink it weighed 140 grams. After it was printed with the gold ink, the weight was 144 grams. Okay, let’s do some math…4 grams. Yes! That has to be right! We have 4 grams of ink on the polyester tee.

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For those in a curious mood, the picture above is the print in question. It measures 6″ x 6″ with a little over a 50% fill. This is a print, flash, print with no white base. So let’s dive in…what did this actually cost me per shirt?

Cheapest Ink at $70.00 per gallon = 6.06 cents per shirt
Middle Range Ink at $100.00 per gallon = 8.66 cents per shirt
Premium Ink at $130.00 per gallon = 11.25 cents per shirt

Do you have auto insurance? I hope so. How about screen printing insurance? Never heard of it? The insurance plan is our premium ink. Whether it is our low temperature ink or one of our universal inks, our ink will prevent numerous problems which cause you hitting the redo button and paying for a bunch of fabric. What does our plan cost you? Well, looking at the per print cost, it may be 2 cents a shirt. It may be 5 cents a shirt. It depends on how much your current ink is and which of our premium ink options you choose. If I were you, I would give our low temperature ink a shot. ELT-S Series. Call me, I have stuff.

Run these numbers for yourself. Check your current ink price and check with us about the cost per gallon of a One Stroke Inks upgrade. For 2 cents a shirt, surely you can justify better prints, less problems, and no apparel replacement. Remember, replacing printed apparel costs much more than just the fabric. You must also account for the time, labor, shipping, and screens. It’s a couple of cents to not worry about these problems.

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Real Talk: ELT Additives

Before you even ask…no! You don’t need to be a chemist to work with our low temperature inks such as ELT and ELT-S Series. You don’t need additives. You don’t need a professional mixer. This ink is ready-to-use out of the bucket. That doesn’t mean you won’t want to use an additive. There are certain circumstances which an additive or “ink companion” can give you an assist. Perhaps you want to print a difficult wet-on-wet job with ELT Series and you are worried about build up on the back of the screen. Out of the bucket I will admit, ELT (along with all “universal” screen printing inks) is not a great wet-on-wet ink.  That is a reality. This is one of the situations which may guide you to our new line of ELT additives.

Each of our new additives is discussed below in detail. One important note I want you to take out of this conversation is that all of our low temperature additives will also work perfectly in regular/high temperature inks. Nothing to fear! Mix it in! It is all compatible. Just another bonus working with the cool cats at One Stroke Inks.

ELT Reducer

The first of our additives is wonderful to have around, especially when ink has been on the shelf a bit too long. Sure, plastisol ink gets thick when sitting around. It needs love. It needs a stir. Plastisol thins when it is stirred, heated, or hugged. ELT/ELT-S will last a long time on the shelf without thickening.  However, it is still plastisol so things happen. Warehouse heat happens. When you need to thin our low temperature inks, you don’t want to accidentally raise the cure temperature. This side effect rules out so many reducers/thinners. ELT Reducer will not only keep your low temperature ink…a low temperature ink, it will also maintain the impressive bleed resistance and opacity of these inks. This is a chemical reducer which means it will take very little ELT Reducer to thin an ink significantly. One ounce can thin an entire gallon significantly.

Aside from ink being too thick, there are other uses. Perhaps you are printing through very fine screen mesh. Thin ink makes this so much easier. Maybe the ink is running up the squeegee. This implies it may be too sticky. ELT Reducer will help.

ELT Thickening Powder

Everything I just said about the ELT Reducer…reverse that. ELT Thickening Powder is like adding flour to gravy. It instantly thickens up the ink. It is like a bulking powder. This will not alter the cure temperature and that matters. We certainly don’t want to lose the benefits of ELT, right? Thickening an ink is not often necessary. However, ELT Thickening Powder will provide an assist when the platens are really hot and ink is becoming runny. If you have automated equipment with quartz flash cure units, you know what I am talking about.

ELT S-Additive

This is a fun one! ELT S-Additive will make your ink far more stretchy. Add 10% ELT S-Additive into ELT Series ink and it will allow your ink to be stretchy enough for compression tees, wrestling singlets,  or running apparel. This turns ELT into our popular ELT-S Series without ordering a second ink. ELT S-Additive is not a curable product so you never want to add more than 15% without testing. You cannot print this onto a fabric and cure it. Also, this will not thin your ink. It is a medium/high viscosity liquid.

ELT WOW Additive

Wet-on-wet screen printing is hard with a universal ink. This is because any ink which is effective on sportswear will be somewhat sticky. Sticky is bad when you don’t want the ink to build up on the back of a screen. Enter ELT WOW Additive. Adding this will allow the ELT/ELT-S Series to “wick” into the fabric. By wicking into the fabric, the ink is far less likely to build up on the back of the screen. Mix in 1-2% ELT WOW Additive by weight. Never exceed 5% as this is not a curable product.

ELT Stretch Underbase

This is more of a companion than an additive. ELT Stretch Underbase is a clear ink meant to print under your entire print. This will do a few things for you:

  • The entire print will be more stretchy.
  • Increases adhesion. This is specifically important when screen printing nylon and nylon/stretch football uniforms. Most inks will peel off. This ink prevents any problems and allows for low temperature printing on these fabrics.
  • Improves ink deposit which improves durability.

ELT Stretch Underbase flash cures quickly so it will not hinder production times.  Also, it’s crystal clear! You can use this as a clear gel for screen printing the “wet look” or tone-on-tone effects on dark tees. I do want to stress one thing, this ink really gives the print a nice feel whether it is used as an underbase or an overprint.

Conclusion

You don’t NEED any of these additives/companions. You may want to try them though. They can be helpful, even fun to play with. Today we released the ELT Companion Package which includes one gallon each of these five products. More to come later!

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Real Talk: ELT-S Printing Tips

ELT-S Series is our most popular ink. There are numerous reasons for this but we aren’t here to talk about the reasons to buy ELT-S. Kidding! I am totally going to give you these reasons as I cannot resist. This ink is so soft. It’s so stretchy. The cure temperature is a low, low 250ºF. Yes, ELT-S inks will cure at a ridiculously low temperature. This protects your expensive stuff. Stuff that eats your profits when ruined. Apparel such as athletic uniforms, tech tees, yoga pants, sports bras, singlets, and tri-blend tees cost a fortune. Don’t forget polyester hoodies and jackets. ELT-S is the best ink to protect all that is expensive and delicate. Combine ELT-S inks with a low cure temperature and prevent these items from shrinking, scorching, ghosting, discoloring, melting, or dye migrating. You don’t want that.

OK, you aren’t here for my sales pitch. You are here to make sure you are screen printing ELT-S Series inks with great success. I will admit, I do get complaints from time to time about certain aspects of this ink. Luckily, all of these complaints are solved with simple solutions that you can do. You don’t have to be some famous, talented screen printer to make this ink work. You don’t need 40 newton screen tension. You don’t need top-of-the-line automated equipment. This is the most user-friendly ink we have ever offered. It’s easier than texting with one thumb (I totally do this as I was not raised by tech savy parents #notamillennial #hashtag #yolo).

I know what you are thinking. If this ink is so easy, why do you need printing tips? This ink is different than the ink you are used to, especially if you have printed with old school polyester inks to control dye migration. Those inks were thick, puffy, and usually undesirable. ELT-S is so different.

Tip #1 – Print thicker bro!

A common complaint involves ink coverage. ELT-S inks will cover dark fabric well but we receive a few complaints. Sometimes the complaint involves a white or gold ink on black fabric. Other times the problem involves printing dark colors on top of a white base. In both situations you need to come to terms with a few of your printing habits. First, this ink is creamy. It is not the puddy-like garbage you may be used to. Lighten up on that squeegee pressure. The ink will clear the screen. I promise. Don’t drive the ink through the fabric onto the platen. This is bad.  No like. Second, this is absolutely not a puffy ink. Don’t treat it like one. It will not gain coverage in the dryer like an older polyester ink. Not happening. I can cover any black fabric with a print, flash, print of ELT-S white, yellow, gold, or any of these normally tricky colors. If you cannot, it’s back to basics for you.

If you really want amazing ELT-S coverage, consider your emulsion. How are you coating your screens? You can either add a coat or use a higher solids emulsion. If you want to be the coolest kid on the block you will consider the Chromaline Quick Film. This is a thick sheet of emulsion like a capillary film. It is amazing as all 40 microns of the emulsion will be on the T-shirt side of the screen. This provides an excellent gasket for thicker ink deposits. Regardless how you decide to achieve a thicker emulsion stencil, this will help ink coverage with any plastisol ink.

Tip #2 – Feeling hot, hot, hot!

My favorite complaint (yes, I have favorites these days) is dye migration. I am sure this sounds crazy as who wants to hear about polyester uniforms bleeding dye into our rad ink. Well, here is the catch…99 out of 100 times I can ask one question and get to the bottom of this problem. Is the ELT-S ink glossy? If you answered yes, I can already tell you the ink has been cured at a high temperature. This is what happens. A lot of gloss. Kind of sticky. ELT stands for “extreme low temperature”. At this extreme low temperature the ink has a matte/semi-gloss finish. Lets dial that back a bit. Thermolabels. Use them. 270ºF is a perfect temperature to dial in. 250ºF is as low as you should go. All good things happen between 250ºF and 270ºF.

Another common complaint is “my ink is sticking to itself as it lands in the box at the end of the dryer belt”. I am cringing right now. The only reason this happens is because the ink is still really hot. Really hot ink is basically still wet. The ink is really hot as you decided to speed up the dryer belt instead of turn down the dryer heat. Sometimes okay, usually not cool. Not cool…that’s golden. ANYWAY, you really should not have a fast belt speed if you want to avoid these problems. It is not an ELT-S specific problem as many plastisol inks will hate this.

Tip #3 – The fuzz is after me!

No, not the police. I am talking about T-shirt fuzzies. Your print is rough. This is not comfortable. You can start by referring to Tip #1. A thicker ink deposit will help this. However, I do have a couple of other ideas. We have this nifty ink called ELT-S Black Underbase. The purpose of this ink was to provide an extra layer of bleed resistance for really terrible polyester fabrics that keep you up at night with dye migration. Usually you will not need this as ELT-S is pretty awesome. There is a time and place for everything. Well another time and place for this black underbase is to hold down the fuzz. This ink is really good at this. Simply print one layer of ink, flash it super-duper quickly (it’s really fast), and print your ELT-S white and colors on top. It helps!

Another idea is a new industry thing…rollers! Whether you print manually or with automated equipment, rollers are available to squish the ink down after you flash cure. Get the ink hot, smoosh ink, print on top. This leaves a perfectly smooth print and really does not cost a lot of time. I really like it!

Tip #4 – Snap, crackle, and pop!

If you are experiencing ELT-S ink sticking to the next screen after you flash cure, consider turning down that flash cure unit. ELT-S flash dries extremely quickly. When it is really hot, you know by now that it is sticky. There is no need to get it this hot. Please don’t. If you are in a situation where you print then spin the platen under a flash cure unit where it continues to heat up while you print another, you need to either turn the flash cure heat down or raise the height of the unit. Either way, it will heat the ink less and that is good. No need for stickiness.

Automated equipment with quartz flash cure units may have this problem as well. Quartz units get really hot. As the job runs on and on, those platens get very hot and you can turn down the heat of the quartz unit. Trust me, not only does it work, it protects the fabric from shrinking and scorching.

Fin.


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Real Talk: Curing Ink

We manufacture plastisol ink. We are doing it. It’s messy. Come to Louisville and check it out. This is happening. Having said this, why are we not the first phone call you make in regards to testing your dryer temperature? Oh, you called the dryer manufacturer? Bad idea. These guys are more interested in how many prints an hour their dryer can produce. Their testing methods are clearly biased towards a fast dryer belt speed and higher temperature. This makes them look good when you are producing 800 or 1000 prints an hour (I picture an equipment salesperson flexing his muscles as he brags of production capabilities). Hey, we like some of these guys but this is how they sell equipment. Fast and hot is not a curing strategy we can get behind. Too much can go wrong.

Again, we manufacture ink. Our motivation is to keep the ink on your fabric. Vibrant prints. Consistent prints. No fabric damage. Our motivation of keeping our ink looking good should tell you that listening to us about curing will keep YOUR best interest in mind. We don’t want our ink washing out. Under/over curing can lead to dye migration. We don’t want that either. We want you making fantastic prints you can post to our Facebook page with a smiley face emoji or a thumbs up.

Let’s get into it. How are you testing your dryer? Whatever you do, don’t say the thermostat on the dryer. This is an important number but not for judging the ink temperature. Are you using Thermolabels (paper thermometer), heat probe, infrared gun, something else, or nothing at all? Scratch the something else and nothing at all from your wish list. Nope. Can’t do that. How about the infrared gun? This is a sticky situation and I can already feel the eye roll coming. You can’t use this to measure ink curing. You can’t. I know you want to. I know it’s convenient. You can’t. The infrared gun will only measure the surface temperature of the ink. When an ink is not cured, it is always where the fabric meets the ink. This part of the ink deposit is still “gummy” for lack of a better word. It is not fully fused. It isn’t cured at the bottom. The infrared gun can’t see this. I was once told this was similar to a PC vs. Mac conversation. I was against the gun out of my own snotty preference. Nope. I was against the gun out of necessity. It can’t help you unless you are looking for hot/cold spots on a heat press or checking a dryer element to see if it is working. I am not questioning its accuracy, only its ability to measure where it matters. Moving on. The heat probe is accurate only when the cross wires are placed in the ink. This creates a few problems. First, it ruins the print. Those wire marks aren’t coming out. Second, it can be hard with thin ink deposits to keep the wires in the ink. Finally, it is known to be inaccurate when testing dryers without forced air. Most electric dryers do not have forced air.

This conversation just lead us to Thermolabels. These paper thermometers are not perfect. However, they are the best option to ensure your ink is cured properly. This is reality. This beautiful, low tech device has been saving screen printers from bad decisions for years. The #5 package measures from 290ºF to 330ºF. This is perfect for regular plastisol ink which is most often cured at 320ºF. The #4 package is available for our low temperature inks measuring from 240ºF to 280ºF. Side note: if you aren’t using our low temperature inks…you want to. Call me.

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So, how do you use these wonderful little devices? First, my suggestion is always to test each and every fabric you are going to print when you are going to print them. Place a Thermolabel next to the first and last print of the order. Take these Thermolabels and attach them to the work order. This is accountability at its finest. This will save you thousands of dollars and prevent angry customers. Just do it. OK, this is important…make sure when you are attaching the Thermolabel to the fabric, you push it down firmly. Rub it if you have to. Thermolabels often get a bad name when the 310ºF indicator has not turned black but 320ºF indicator has. This is why I like to attach it when it is still on the platen. This gives you a hard, flat surface to work with. The 310ºF indicator didn’t turn black as it was not fully attached to the fabric. It’s not a bad label, it simply did not get the opportunity to read accurately. Another important note, the temperature has not been reached until the entire 320ºF square is black. Black around the edges is meaningless, please disregard these.

Now that you know how we test for ink curing, you need to know how to set up your conveyor dryer. Gas dryers are the most consistent. This is always our preference as electric dryers are prone to hot/cold spots. This can really be a drag, especially when you are running a fast belt speed. Regardless of your dryer type, they will be set up the same way. Let’s get your belt speed correct. Don’t worry about the temperature yet. Get a hold of a stop watch or a smart phone with a timer. Place something on the belt and start timing the moment it enters the chamber and stop the moment it exits. The size of your dryer combined with your production requirements will largely determine your belt speed. We would like to see the print in the heating chamber for a minute if you have a short dryer belt. A minute and a half is ideal for a longer dryer belt. We know many printers with smaller dryers don’t want to hear this but it really is the way it should be. However, if you simply cannot do this, please keep the print in the dryer for an absolute minimum of 30 seconds. This is risky as ink curing is a time and temperature event. Thanks to the inconsistent nature of electric dryers, if there is temperature fluctuation, there is no chance the ink will be cured. Very small margin of error.

Now that you have the belt speed set up, you need a temperature. I really can’t tell you what temperature your dryer needs to be. So many factors! I can tell you a few things I have seen. Gas dryers are often in the 350ºF to 375ºF range. Electric dryers could be anywhere. 400ºF…800ºF…1100ºF…I have no idea. It depends. This is why Thermolabels. You need them. Get yourself a starting point, let the dryer heat up, and test with a Thermolabel attached to a cotton shirt. Important note, we are sticking with cotton for the moment. You don’t need a printed shirt, only a shirt and Thermolabel. Also, don’t change shirt colors. Don’t change shirt sizes. Keep it consistent. This matters, especially with electric dryers.

Do you have it now? I am looking for a slow belt speed, a cotton t-shirt with zero heat-related damage, and a Thermolabel with 320ºF indicator that is completely black. If so, you aren’t finished. Grab a thick cotton hoodie. Attach your Thermolabel. Place it on the belt. Now you may be upset. Those of you with a gas dryer and a long dwell time in the heating chamber probably feel pretty good. Those of you with an electric dryer hate me. It’s not my fault. Be nice. The Thermolabel is indicating a far lower temperature. This is reality. Yes, the hoodie was heavier than the cotton t-shirt. This means it takes longer to heat up. This is why you will be attaching a Thermolabel to each and every order. First and last print. You can predict some of these temperature fluctuations but not all. A thin 100% polyester tee will go the opposite direction. You will heat up quicker and possibly damage the fabric. Again, printing with our low temperature inks yet? Call me. What you will want to do now is slightly slow the belt speed for the heavy cotton hoodie. Slightly speed up the dryer belt for the thin polyester tee. I said slightly. Remember the time minimums I discussed earlier? Try to stay above these.

OK, you now have a road map for curing ink properly. You have Thermolabels. You have accountability on every order you will print. Now for the fun part! I get to tell you what is going to happen if you don’t listen to me. Predicting the future is my favorite!

  • Fast dryer belt speed:  You are begging for a problem. A faster dryer belt means you need a hotter chamber temperature. So many problems. Think about this…the faster the belt is moving, the quicker the print will either drop into a box or be stacked onto a table. In both situations you have ink risks. The ink is really hot with no cool down time. It may stick to itself or another print. Ruined! Also, if plastisol ink heats up too quickly it can get bubbles or little holes in the ink. This looks terrible. Add fabric problems such as ghosting, shrinking, scorching, fabric discoloration, and melting to the already fatal ink problems, just don’t do it. Have you heard of our low temperature inks? Call me.
  • Using an infrared gun:  Your ink is under-cured. That’s the deal. Promise. Your gun measures 320ºF. Your Thermolabel is not turning black. None of the indicators are black. Does this mean the Thermolabel is broken? Expired? They never worked? Nope. 320ºF is the surface temperature. That is all. For those who want to make the argument that they can use the infrared gun to measure the surface temperature of the ink to the same surface temperature of the ink when a Thermolabel was indicating 320ºF…how thick is that ink? What color is that ink? Just don’t.
  • Using a heat probe:  This is not a horrible option but you are left with lines in your print and calibrating every year. Time consuming. Messy. I love me some Thermolabels.
  • Not testing your dryer at all:  Why did you even read this? You are living on the edge.
  • Using Thermolabels…but not often:  Your dryer may look like your most trustworthy friend, but it is not. This is your dryer. Test it. Each fabric heats up differently. Test it.

Hopefully after reading this you are timing your dryer belt speed, adjusting temperature, and including accountability into your process. If you have any questions or problems, be sure to call me at 800-942-4447.


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What is ghosting?

Screen printers struggle to prevent a problem known as ghosting. It simply is very difficult to predict exactly when the problem will occur. Luckily, we have tested enough fabric to know what causes ghosting and how to prevent it. If you give us the chance, we will stop ghosting problems from affecting your production.

What is ghosting? See the picture above. What is that exactly? Ghosting is a term we coined as we had to call it something. Perhaps reverse dye sublimation would be a better name. Dye sublimation is the process of dying polyester fabric. Ghosting is basically the reverse process as some of the dye is leaving the fabric. This is why you may be left with some strange colors. For instance, a navy tee which ghosts may look magenta as the blue has disappeared. The magenta dye was not harmed during the screen printing process so magenta is what you see. Sounds simple, right?

“Why can’t you invent an ink which stops ghosting?” This is a question I hear often.  We already have created an ink (a few actually) to prevent ghosting, but it is not as simple as that. Ghosting has more than one cause. I will explain. Physical ghosting is caused by heat. You may have seen this when decorating a light color of polyester. If the tee is not layed flat on the dryer belt, the folds of the fabric which are closer to the heating element may change color. The heat alone is ghosting the fabric. Screen printers who decorate apparel know there is no way to take heat out of the process. You can certainly limit the heat as I will discuss later in the article. You simply cannot remove it from the process.  Ink needs to flash cure. Ink needs to fully cure. Heat is going to happen.

Chemical ghosting is when the ink formula itself is causing the ghosting. Keep in mind chemical ghosting is most often found when screen printing white ink. Ghosting is not a problem exclusive to white ink but it is far more common in white ink due to a variety of necessary additives. These additives may help white ink cover better on dark fabric, print easier through fine mesh, or prevent dye migration on polyester and polyester blend fabrics. Even a simple black ink is capable of ghosting fabric.

Now that you know what causes ghosting, there is just a little bit more to know. Your ghosting troubles can be a combination of physical and chemical ghosting. One common occurance of this happens while hot stacking. Hot stacking is exactly what it sounds like.  You snatch a garment off the dryer belt and place it on a table. You snatch the next garment and place it directly on top of the previous garment. Both of these garments are hot. The ink is hot. If you are printing the wrong fabric with the wrong ink, you may have a ghost image on the back of every garment. Heat in addition to ink formulation is the most likely ghosting culprit.

OK, give me the magic fix already! Hey, no problem. First thing is first, let’s remove a factor. Get rid of the excessive heat. That’s right! We have low temperature ink for a reason. Ghosting isn’t the only purpose for low temperature ink but it certainly is near the top of the list. ELT Series, ELT-S Series, and Smart Series are the three low temperature inks we currently offer. ELT and ELT-S will cure as low as 250ºF. Smart Series will cure as low as 280ºF. All three offer a nice cushion below the typical 320ºF to 330ºF cure temperature of most plastisol inks. Choose one of these three inks and you will have the ability to remove excessive heat from the ghosting equation.

If you have been keeping up, we need more than just low heat to prevent ghosting problems. Let’s talk chemistry! OK, we are not going to talk chemistry. Why? Well, lets just say we have our secrets. Do we know what causes ghosting? Sure. Are we going to get into the chemical formulations of our inks? Nope. It’s not really our thing to give away our secrets. However, when it comes to our inks we have the safest possible option which is ELT Series. We are highly confident that you will not ghost any fabric with ELT white and colors when kept at a lower temperature (270ºF and below). ELT-S Series and Smart Series are also ghost-free formulas and only slightly behind the ELT Series in this regard, but they really need to be cured at the lower temperature. At high temperatures (280ºF and higher) we get nervous on some of the most ghost-unfriendly fabrics. Cure this ink properly and we have no worries.

Yes, I did say ghost-unfriendly fabrics. No, I do not have a list of problem brands and style numbers. The reason I cannot provide this is not because there are tens of thousands of styles out there. The problem is that all styles are not created equal.  Consider a typical “moisture management” tee. They wholesale for around $3.50 to $4.00 each. If you order a dozen of these tees today, will they be the same as a dozen from a few months ago? Is the fabric from Honduras? El Salvador? China? Who dyes this fabric certainly matters and it changes not only from style to style, but within the style. There is just no way to know what you are printing before you print a few.

Here is the good news…I know many of the common offenders! I have a nice list of colors and fabrics which may lead to easy ghosting. Of course, if you were listening earlier you are already sold on our low temperature inks and you will not have to worry about much. Regardless, here are many of the “problem children” out there which will require a skeptical eye:

  • Light colors of 100% polyester including: charcoal, light gray, silver, light blue, columbia blue, pink, tan, vegas gold, royal blue, all fluorescent colors, and sometimes black (I know, that one surprised me too).
  • Fluorescent poly/cotton tees. All of them. Keep a close eye on these tricky kids.
  • Pale colors of cotton and poly cotton including: ivory, off-white, tan, khaki, light blue, light pink, you get the idea.
  • Stone-washed tees.
  • Pigment-dyed tees.
  • Any tee which states “vintage” in the description.
  • Tri-blend tees. I would like to state colors here but it is sporadic at best.

This list is specific but don’t think for a second we haven’t seen ghosting on the common fabrics such as a black or navy poly/cotton. I trust zero fabrics unless I am printing with low temperature inks. That’s all there is to it. If you read this and you understand the importance of dryer temperature, give One Stroke Inks a call and ask us about our ELT Series inks. This is a universal ink so it can be printed on virtually any fabric. Make the change and this will be the only ink you need to stock.

 


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Innovation by One Stroke Inks

I try to never speak of the competition. I concern myself with our business. Our ink. If we always create the most innovative and effective ink for the fabric in question, there is simply no reason to be concerned about the competition. I am concerned with the next big thing. Here is the catch, the next big thing is not what I want it to be. It will be what you need it to be. We don’t dye fabric. We don’t cut and sew tees or uniforms. We react to the marketplace. Big money brands who influence the marketplace such as Nike, Under Armour, and Adidas will tell the world what to wear. Smaller manufacturers not spending billions of dollars on advertising will follow suit to produce a far less expensive version of this apparel. We simply keep a close eye on what these fabrics are and pounce on the opportunity when problems arise. Problems always arise.

This is how ELT Series was created. Extreme low temperature ink sounds so obvious now doesn’t it? I would love to say that we simply dreamed up the idea and knew it would be a hit. Not at all. We had a customer share his experience of screen printing 100% polyester sweatshirts. These sweatshirts used to be smalls, mediums, and larges before they were decorated. Once the fabric met the 320ºF heat of the conveyor dryer, we had a much differently shaped sweatshirt. This was unacceptable as their customer would certainly not accept these miniatures. It was an expensive situation but it raised an excellent question. Why not manufacture an ink which can cure at a lower temperature?  Of course! I won’t waste your time or our secrets to tell you how we manufactured these inks. Just know that we have good people who know things about things.

So why did our competition not do this? Well, at first they said it was impossible. It did not appear impossible to us as we were already doing this but they are known to say some things. Next, they decided to force plastisol screen printers into silicone ink. This seemed like the coolest plan ever. Silicone is super-stretchy. It had a pretty cool feel. Unfortunately, it also has difficulty sticking to fabrics, hates fuzzy material, experiences dye migration, and has a very short shelf-life. OK, that may not have been the best plan. The bright side was many of our customers who were loving our ELT Series ink convinced us to make an ink with that cool silicone ink feel. ELT-S Series was born and this concluded the silicone ink experiment for many more screen printers who were tired of that process.

Finally, I am hearing that our competition may have a low temperature ink specifically designed to compete with our ELT Series. 3 years after the original introduction of ELT Series we finally have a follower. That last word is exactly the point I am going to make about our competition. Follower. We are the innovators. Our competition follows us and hopes to make an ink which is kind of like ours, just cheaper. This is not how One Stroke Inks operates as we don’t concern ourselves with the competition. We concern ourselves with our customers, ink quality, and the next ink which will help you out of a jam. Why would we copy something our competition is doing if they are simply making a cheap version of our innovation from 3 years ago?  Just wait until you see what we have next.


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How To: ELT Zip Transfers

Previously I wrote about low temperature transfers. Low temperature transfers are becoming more important as delicate fabrics invade the apparel decoration industry. However, the biggest downside of low temperature transfers is the fact they must be printed on cold peel transfer paper and then peeled cold. Additionally, we have many customers decorating some very difficult polyester fabrics and sublimated polyester fabrics which require maximum bleed resistance.

Enter the ELT Zip Transfers! We developed this as a true solution to stopping dye migration and protecting the fabric from heat-related damage. Also, even though these transfers are screen printed on cold peel paper, we have formulated the ELT Zip Transfer inks to peel hot, immediately after transferred. Zip!

Here’s what you need to get started:

  1. Cold peel transfer paper. We offer the T-105 paper for the job. Important note: Other hot peel papers may work with the ELT Zip Transfer inks and process. You must test to be sure. T-105 will always work.
  2. ELT Zip Transfer Powder. There is a “fashion” and “performance” version of this powder. A good rule to follow is apply performance powder for bad bleeders and fashion powder for everything else.
  3. ELT Zip Transfer ink. This ink is required. Other plastisol inks will not peel off the T-105 paper while hot. Also, the opacity and bleed resistance is outstanding!
  4. Multi-color tranfers will require a vacuum platen. Otherwise, you can make this work on your standard press and platens.
  5. Conveyor dryer.
  6. Thermolabels.
  7. Heat press.

Step 1:  Art work and screens

Your art work should be set up to be “mirror image” as you are screen printing transfers now. It will be backwards until you turn the paper over and heat press it to the fabric. For most ink transfers, we highly recommend 86 count screen mesh. 110 is also very effective. For all other screen mesh counts, you will need to test and see if you can achieve effective coverage, bleed resistance, and release from the paper. Expose the screen with the art work as you always do.

Step 2:  Screen Printing

If you are printing one color art, simply register your screen so the print is near the middle of the transfer paper. Many transfer printers will gang up designs so every pull of the squeegee is actually printing multiple transfers. This will lead to less pulls of the squeegee and less paper use, saving time and money.

One item to forget about is the flash cure unit. It is not required, expected, or even recommended to print, flash, print ink onto transfer paper. Flash curing ink onto paper is a time consuming, paper curling process. This is another reason for the coarse mesh count. Without the ability of flash curing and printing a second layer, ink deposit is critical. If opacity matters, ink deposit matters.

Once you have given the print a flood stroke and a couple of pulls of the squeegee, you are ready to powder the transfer. This must be completed while the print is wet so the powder will adhere to the ink deposit. Everybody has their own method for powdering the print. Some decorators simply pour powder out of a small cup over the print and then they shake off all the excess powder. This is pretty quick and efficient. Others have a small bin and they gently lay the paper face down into the powder. Again, they will have to blow, or tap all of the excess powder off the print and paper.

Important note: Any excess powder left on the paper where it does not belong will leave a clear/white stain on the fabric. This is hard to remove so you want to take great care in preventing the powder from sticking to the paper. One way to help this is to send the transfer paper through the dryer prior to printing. This will remove moisture which tends to be a problem.

Step 3:  Dryer Temperature

Low temperature transfers are just that…transfers that can be heat pressed at a low temperature. However, the ink must be fully cured to the transfer paper with the low temperature adhesive powder applied for this process to work properly. ELT Zip Transfer inks are fully cured at 320ºF. This means you must fully cure the ink to the paper at this 320ºF temperature. We recommend the use of a #5 Thermolabel to ensure 320ºF was met.

Step 4:  Heat Pressing Instructions

Preheat the fabric with a short 2 to 3 second press to remove excess moisture and smooth out any wrinkles. The heat press should be set to 280ºF for 10 seconds, medium pressure. The transfer should be peeled hot. Typically this means you should lift the press, wait a second or two, and then peel the transfer while it is still hot. However, if you do allow it to cool down, the ELT Zip Transfers will also peel cold without any problems.


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How To: Low Temperature Transfers

Low temperature transfers are becoming more important as delicate fabrics invade the apparel decoration industry. If you have not experienced any heat-related damage by heat pressing fabrics such as 100% polyester or fluorescent tees, you will. It is unavoidable at the high temperatures required for hot split, hot peel, and cold peel transfers. Luckily, we have developed a method of transfer printing which only requires a 10 second press at 280ºF. This will prevent most heat-related damage. This will also provide better bleed resistance for use on polyester fabrics.

Here’s what you need to get started:

  1. Cold peel transfer paper. We offer the T-105 paper for the job.
  2. ELT Zip Transfer Powder. There is a “fashion” and “performance” version of this powder. A good rule to follow is apply performance powder for bad bleeders and fashion powder for everything else.
  3. Any plastisol ink. Select the ink depending on the fabric. Polyester fabric will require a polyester ink.
  4. Multi-color tranfers will require a vacuum platen. Otherwise, you can make this work on your standard press and platens.
  5. Conveyor dryer.
  6. Thermolabels.
  7. Heat press.

Step 1:  Art work and screens

Your art work should be set up to be “mirror image” as you are screen printing transfers now. It will be backwards until you turn the paper over and heat press it to the fabric. For most ink transfers, we highly recommend 86 count screen mesh. 110 is also very effective. For all other screen mesh counts, you will need to test and see if you can achieve effective coverage, bleed resistance, and release from the paper. Expose the screen with the art work as you always do.

Step 2:  Printing

If you are printing one color art, simply register your screen so the print is near the middle of the transfer paper. Many transfer printers will gang up designs so every pull of the squeegee is actually printing multiple transfers. This will lead to less pulls of the squeegee and less paper use, saving time and money.

One item to forget about is the flash cure unit. It is not required, expected, or even recommended to print, flash, print ink onto transfer paper. Flash curing ink onto paper is a time consuming, paper curling process. This is another reason for the coarse mesh count. Without the ability of flash curing and printing a second layer, ink deposit is critical. If opacity matters, ink deposit matters.

Once you have given the print a flood stroke and a couple of pulls of the squeegee, you are ready to powder the transfer. This must be completed while the print is wet so the powder will adhere to the ink deposit. Everybody has their own method for powdering the print. Some decorators simply pour powder out of a small cup over the print and then they shake off all the excess powder. This is pretty quick and efficient. Others have a small bin and they gently lay the paper face down into the powder. Again, they will have to blow, or tap all of the excess powder off the print and paper.

Important note: Any excess powder left on the paper where it does not belong will leave a clear/white stain on the fabric. This is hard to remove so you want to take great care in preventing the powder from sticking to the paper. One way to help this is to send the transfer paper through the dryer prior to printing. This will remove moisture which tends to be a problem.

Step 3:  Dryer Temperature

Low temperature transfers are just that…transfers that can be heat pressed at a low temperature. However, the ink must be fully cured to the transfer paper with the low temperature adhesive powder applied for this process to work properly. Most plastisol inks are fully cured at 320ºF. This means you must cure the ink to the paper at this 320ºF temperature. We recommend the use of a #5 Thermolabel to ensure 320ºF was met.

Step 4:  Heat Pressing Instructions

Preheat the fabric with a short 2 to 3 second press to remove excess moisture and smooth out any wrinkles. The heat press should be set to 280ºF for 10 seconds, medium pressure. The transfer should be peeled once it has fully cooled down as the paper will not release the ink until then.


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How To: Hot Peel Transfers

This is a step-by-step guide for screen printing and heat pressing hot peel transfers. If you currently screen print directly to the fabric, you can easily print one-color transfers without investing in a lot of equipment or supplies. If you plan on screen printing transfers regularly or diving into two or three color transfers, I recommend buying a vacuum platen or a flatbed graphics press.

Don’t make the mistake of confusing hot peel with hot split transfers. This is a very different process. Hot split transfers use an uncoated paper and very specific hot split ink. Hot peel transfers use a coated paper and the majority of the ink will transfer to the fabric. This is better for opacity and bleed resistance. Also, hot peel transfers are great for athletics.

Shopping List

  • Hot peel paper (we recommend Perfect Print by Midwest Lettering)
  • Transfer powder (not necessary but recommended)
  • Hot peel ink (discussed below)
  • Thermolabels #4 (240ºF to 280ºF)

Ink Selection

This is where it gets touchy. Many inks are capable of hot peeling…off the right paper. The easiest thing to do is to purchase our 380 or 388 Series inks for use as a hot peel ink. These inks should perform on all hot peel paper. However, if you have time to test, consider some of our universal inks such as Bravo Flex or Smart Series as they perform wonders on many different styles of hot peel paper. This will be great on 100% polyester applications.

Keep to one ink series. Different inks may gel quicker/slower than others. Sticking with one ink series will make the gelling process much simpler.

Screen Prep

Expose the screen with the art work reversed (mirror image). Remember, you are turning the transfer over to heat press so it needs to be backwards. Choose an 86 count monofilament screen. You cannot print, flash, print on transfer paper so ink deposit is critical. Also, thin ink deposits applied by a heat press will typically not wash well. 110 count monofilament screen mesh is acceptable when you need better detail.

Prepare the Press

If you own a vacuum platen, connect the vacuum and find the spot to place the transfer paper. I usually use a thick tape to create a corner to place the paper into. This will make all of the transfers line up in the same place. It is much more important with multi-color transfers but that is a different class.

If you do not own a vacuum platen, simply spray mist adhesive lightly onto a clean platen. You need the paper to be flat so no fuzz should be on the platen. Your prints will suffer otherwise.

Prepare the Dryer

Place a Thermolabel #4 on a piece of transfer paper and send it down the dryer. 250ºF is the perfect temperature to gel the ink. You only want the ink dry to the touch, not cured to the paper. This is the most important step of the process. If you over-gel the ink and do not use adhesive powder, the print is likely not going to adhere to the fabric. 240ºF to 260ºF is acceptable.

Printing

Flood the screen with plenty of ink and pull the squeegee once. Sometimes you can pull the squeegee a second time but be sure to keep consistent pressure. Also, if you print too thick, this will cause problems on the edge of the print and you will get a lot of buildup on the back of the screen.

Multi-Color Prints

It is highly recommended to preheat the transfer paper as it may shrink or curl a bit, causing registration issues. Get this out of the way first by sending all of the paper down the dryer before use.

A vacuum platen or flatbed graphics press is highly recommended for multi-color print. After each color you will send the paper down the dryer to gel. You need the ability to line up the paper exactly where it was with the previous print. Some people draw lines.  I use thick tape to create two corners. Other printers drill holes in the paper and use a peg system. Whatever it takes to keep the paper in the same spot with each print.

Print in reverse order. Your underbase is printed last. If you are using transfer powder, the underbase must cover the entire art work. The transfer powder will only stick to the wet ink.

Powder and Gel

You don’t have to use transfer powder. I think you should…but you don’t have to.  Transfer powder has many great features:

  • Dummy-proofs the process. With powder, a cold peel transfer is likely to wash well regardless of your gel temperature.
  • Prevents dye migration.
  • Depending on the powder (there are many different types), you may increase the stretch of the print.
  • Far more durable with the powder.

Apply the powder to the wet ink. This can be done many ways. Pour it on, sprinkle, lay the print in a bed of powder, or pull the print through a pile of powder. Whatever works for you works for me. However, make sure you “tap it off”. All of the transfer powder needs to come off the paper where there is no ink. Otherwise, it will transfer to the fabric and leave a hard-to-remove stain. Tap it on a table, flick the paper, or blow it off with canned air.

Now you can send it down the dryer to be gelled.

Heat Pressing Instructions

Hot peel transfers should be pressed at 375ºF for 8 seconds, firm pressure. Firm pressure as measured with a Hotronix heat press is 7 or 8 on their gauge. Wait 1 or 2 seconds before peeling the transfer, especially if you applied transfer powder. You don’t want to peel before the glue has cooled off just a bit.

Extra Tips

Even pressure is critical. If you have a collar or a thick seam on the heat press platen when you press, this is where the pressure is being measured. The transfer needs to receive the firm pressure. Obviously, you can’t always avoid this. In these situations, use a heat press pillow. You can either tape it down to the platen or place it inside the t-shirt. Either way, it will allow for even pressure when seams or collars are unavoidable.


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How To: Cold Peel Transfers

This is a step-by-step guide for screen printing and heat pressing cold peel transfers. If you currently screen print directly to the fabric, you can easily print one-color transfers without investing in a lot of equipment or supplies. If you plan on screen printing transfers regularly or diving into two or three color transfers, I recommend buying a vacuum platen or a flatbed graphics press.

There are many benefits to screen printing transfers. Consider the cost of one athletic uniform. If you are printing direct on the uniform and you make a mistake, this will eliminate a lot of the profits for that order. If you make a mistake on transfer paper, it may have cost you a dime. This is far less frightening.

Shopping List

  • T-105 cold peel paper (or similar)
  • Transfer powder (not necessary but recommended)
  • Any plastisol ink (choose ink for the fabric)
  • Thermolabels #4 (240ºF to 280ºF)

Screen Prep

Expose the screen with the art work reversed (mirror image). Remember, you are turning the transfer over to heat press so it needs to be backwards. Choose an 86 count monofilament screen. You cannot print, flash, print on transfer paper so ink deposit is critical. Also, thin ink deposits applied by a heat press will typically not wash well. 110 count monofilament screen mesh is acceptable when you need better detail.

Prepare the Press

If you own a vacuum platen, connect the vacuum and find the spot to place the transfer paper. I usually use a thick tape to create a corner to place the paper into. This will make all of the transfers line up in the same place. It is much more important with multi-color transfers but that is a different class.

If you do not own a vacuum platen, simply spray mist adhesive lightly onto a clean platen. You need the paper to be flat so no fuzz should be on the platen. Your prints will suffer otherwise.

Prepare the Dryer

Place a Thermolabel #4 on a piece of transfer paper and send it down the dryer. 250ºF is the perfect temperature to gel the ink. You only want the ink dry to the touch, not cured to the paper. This is the most important step of the process. If you over-gel the ink and do not use adhesive powder, the print is likely not going to adhere to the fabric. 240ºF to 260ºF is acceptable.

Printing

Flood the screen with plenty of ink and pull the squeegee once. Sometimes you can pull the squeegee a second time but be sure to keep consistent pressure. Also, if you print too thick, this will cause problems on the edge of the print and you will get a lot of buildup on the back of the screen.

Multi-Color Prints

It is highly recommended to preheat the transfer paper as it may shrink or curl a bit, causing registration issues. Get this out of the way first by sending all of the paper down the dryer before use.

A vacuum platen or flatbed graphics press is highly recommended for multi-color print. After each color you will send the paper down the dryer to gel. You need the ability to line up the paper exactly where it was with the previous print. Some people draw lines. I use thick tape to create two corners. Other printers drill holes in the paper and use a peg system. Whatever it takes to keep the paper in the same spot with each print.

Print in reverse order. Your underbase is printed last. If you are using transfer powder, the underbase must cover the entire art work. The transfer powder will only stick to the wet ink.

Powder and Gel

You don’t have to use transfer powder. I think you should…but you don’t have to. Transfer powder has many great features:

  • Dummy-proofs the process. With powder, a cold peel transfer is likely to wash well regardless of your gel temperature.
  • Prevents dye migration.
  • Depending on the powder (there are many different types), you may increase the stretch of the print.
  • Far more durable with the powder.

Apply the powder to the wet ink. This can be done many ways. Pour it on, sprinkle, lay the print in a bed of powder, or pull the print through a pile of powder. Whatever works for you works for me. However, make sure you “tap it off”. All of the transfer powder needs to come off the paper where there is no ink. Otherwise, it will transfer to the fabric and leave a hard-to-remove stain. Tap it on a table, flick the paper, or blow it off with canned air.

Now you can send it down the dryer to be gelled.

Heat Pressing Instructions

Cold peel transfers should be pressed at 375ºF for 8 seconds, firm pressure. Firm pressure as measured with a Hotronix heat press is 7 or 8 on their gauge. Wait to peel the paper until the transfer is cool to the touch.

Extra Tips

Even pressure is critical. If you have a collar or a thick seam on the heat press platen when you press, this is where the pressure is being measured. The transfer needs to receive the firm pressure. Obviously, you can’t always avoid this. In these situations, use a heat press pillow. You can either tape it down to the platen or place it inside the t-shirt. Either way, it will allow for even pressure when seams or collars are unavoidable.