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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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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.