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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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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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ELT-S Series: Let me convince you.

One Stroke Inks is the innovator of true low temperature screen printing inks. First, we pioneered the ELT Series (ELT = extreme low temperature). This ink put an end to so many heat-related screen printing problems. However, this was only the beginning. We needed ELT-S Series.

What does the “S” stand for? The “S” is for stretch and softness. ELT needed an upgrade to handle compression tees, running pants, and singlets. We invented a special S-Additive to allow for these extreme screen printing situations and incorporated it into the already successful ELT Series formula. Obviously, we did not want to compromise bleed resistance or opacity by adding the S-Additive. We had to make some adjustments and improvements as we wanted this new ink to be an amazing improvement. ELT-S Series was born.

With the history out of the way, why should you be screen printing with ELT-S Series inks? The better question is why not? This ink will cure as low as 250ºF. This low cure temperature will prevent so many heat related screen printing problems. These problems include:

  1. Ghosting.
  2. Dye migration.
  3. Fabric discoloration.
  4. Scorching.
  5. Shrinking.
  6. Melting.

How about some other non-traditional benefits? Think about the incredible energy savings you will pocket by turning your conveyor dryers down so dramatically. In my opinion, the energy savings alone makes ELT and ELT-S our most environmentally friendly inks. Your production team won’t mind either. The amount of heat in your shop will be far less abrasive.

ELT-S Series inks don’t just cure at a lower temperature, they flash cure very quickly. Compared to most inks, the flash time will be about half as long. This provides another set of low temperature benefits in which most other plastisol inks cannot compare:

  1. Longer-lasting platen adhesive.
  2. Prevents shrinking which leads to poor color registration.
  3. Prevents dye migration.
  4. Prevents fabric discoloration so common with fluorescent tees.

We also wanted a plastisol ink to replace silicone ink as it is such a hassle to work with. For those not keeping score, here is a list of reasons you don’t want to screen print with silicone inks. Keep in mind all of these statements are found on the silicone ink technical data sheet or sell sheet.

  1. Silicone ink requires a catalyst.
  2. Silicone ink often requires a retardant to improve on-press life.
  3. Silicone ink has on-press life of up to 6 hours.
  4. Silicone ink is only recommended to add enough ink to the screen for 2 to 3 hours.
  5. Silicone ink is not available in a selection of colors, you must custom mix them.
  6. Silicone ink must be cleaned from the screen immediately as it will cure with time.
  7. Silicone ink is not recommended for automated equipment.
  8. Silicone ink is not recommended for “fuzzy” fabric.

As excited as many screen printers were about silicone ink when they first found out about it, these facts inevitably sent them searching for an easier alternative. This is where ELT-S Series comes in. Here is a list of reasons ELT-S Series is a better choice when compared to silicone ink:

  1. Soft/stretchy feel.
  2. Impressive opacity on dark fabric.
  3. Excellent bleed resistance on polyester.
  4. Universal ink. ELT-S will screen print on virtually any fabric.
  5. No catalyst required unless you are screen printing waterproof nylon or waterproof polyester.
  6. It’s plastisol. ELT-S Series can be left in the screen like any other plastisol ink.
  7. Huge color selection with custom color matching available.

Now that I have compared ELT-S to silicone ink, explained the benefits of a quick flash and a low cure temperature, let me tell you why you are really going to make the change. The fact is, you are tired of worrying about expensive fabric. Whether it is a name brand polyester hoodie or an inexpensive neon yellow tee, you don’t want to order one or two more pieces for a screen printing snafu. You don’t want to set that job up again tomorrow for these few replacements. You really don’t want to replace hundreds or even thousands of $65.00 uniforms due to dye migration that did not exist when they left your shop. All of these problems cost you far too much money to keep using high temperature, often ineffective inks. This is a better way. ELT-S gives you the ability to sleep at night. Nobody knows how the next shirt is going to react to your ink or dryer. ELT-S will always give you the best chance at success. I won’t sit here and tell you there will never be a problem with ELT-S in your shop. However, I will tell you there is not an ink on the planet that can do what this ink can do.


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Do your customers make you look bad?

Polyester printing can make you look bad even if you are taking all of the necessary steps to prevent dye migration. Why? Because your customers are often not following the washing and drying instructions printed on the inside of the shirt. Even if you print with one of the most bleed resistant inks by One Stroke Inks, ignoring this little tag can cause your bright white print to change into a dirty white, pink, or even green print. Screen printers need to do their best to educate their customers on the reasons the tag was sewn or printed in the garment in the first place.

The fabric is not going to self destruct. It will, however, be much more likely to have dye migration problems once it has been washed in hot water and dried too hot. This makes you look bad, even though it is not your fault. It can also make us look bad as our ink may not be holding up as well as advertised. Quite simply, we all need the same thing. We need the end user of these polyester shirts, uniforms, bags, etc. to fully understand the WHY behind the tag in the fabric. I would prefer a neon sign over the box of printed polyester t-shirts that glows brightly with the text “Tumble Dry Low”. “Hang Dry” would be sufficient for most of the lightweight polyester as it dries in just minutes anyway.

I know this is not an easy thing as you do not get to speak with every parent on every team to warn them about our industry and the nuances involved with polyester printing. However, the more you drive this into your customers ears, the more likely they will stop the problem before it starts. We will always keep innovating the polyester inks. We simply need you to help educate as many of your customers as you can. In the end, it will lead to higher quality prints and better longevity.