Most tee shirt fabric is treated with enzymes or silicone before construction and has little to no impact on print results. Enzyme washing uses organic chemicals to alter or accelerate the dye process. Silicone washing increases the softness of the fabric. Typically by the time construction (sewing) is finished, there’s not enough of these washes left on the surface of the fabric to cause any printing issues.
However some brands, particularly Alternative Apparel, like to use an extra post-construction silicon wash to make the cotton extra soft. This treatment is sometimes called a “satin wash,” “satin garment wash,” or simply “silicone wash.”
Silicone washed garments feel awesome to the touch, but they are a nightmare for printers: It makes even an easy print suddenly very difficult.
1.) It’s like printing on Teflon. Garments with silicone washes don’t stick to tacked platens as well as untreated ones. Because of this you must reapply tack often which slows production down to a crawl. If the garments don’t stick, they move around during printing = blurry prints and misaligned colors.
2.) Inks can’t sink in: Ink penetration suffers with silicone washed garments. In untreated garments, the inks soak into fibers. Not so with treated fabrics, the ink beads up and collects in the spaces between threads. This can be okay for a one color print, but for multicolor prints every additional color effects the preceding colors. The different colors all sit on the surface together which is very bad.
It’s sort of like trying to repaint something with a new color, while the old paint is still wet = a big mess.
3.) Build Up on the Screen: When you print a second or more colors, a small amount of the previous colors are deposited onto the back of the screen. This happens with all printing unless a flash is used in between every color. A larger deposit comes from garments treated with silicone making build-up a big issue.
With build up can come a few problems; The back of the screens can become sticky and start to pull up the shirt slightly and make even more registration flaws occur.
Combine this with the fact the garments are not sticking to the plattens well, and the surface of the shirt is just moving in every direction. See photo of puckering shirt below – imagine if that happened on a multicolor, finely registered print! It would be a muddy mess. Sadly we don’t have pictures of when this happens – because if this starts to happen, we shut it down.
Build up can also become so severe that it will start to enter open screen areas and block ink flow causing time consuming wiping and possible stencil failure.
4.) The Wash Out: Curing time increases or becomes unpredictable, which leads to less durable results.
To sum it up: Murakami, one of the best mesh & emulsion supply companies out there, puts it pretty bluntly. “Avoid printing on silicon washed custom dyed shirts. Silicone inhibits the ink from penetrating the fabric and can cause issues with the ink in the screen.”
1.) Listen to the experts at Murakami: Avoid Silicone Washed garments. Basically stay away from any tee that says “”satin wash,” “satin garment wash,” or “silicone wash” if you plan on printing more than one color in your design.
2.) If you have to use a silicone washed garment, launder it before printing. We offer bulk washing/laundering for a fee, and it will add two days to your turn time – but your print results will likely be much better quality. We strongly recommend bulk washing Alternative Apparel and other silicone wash garments before printing. Silicone and ESW won’t disappear completely in the first wash, but it will be significantly less.
Please note: Most printers, including us, purchase garments at the end of the manufacturing cycle from distributors. We have no control over whether a garment has a silicone wash. Sometimes we only find out about the silicone wash by feeling the garments after the shipment arrives, or after the first shirt has been printed and suddenly the print that looked great on the test swatch is a disaster on the shirt.
So if you get a call or an email from us saying “Head’s up – We found silicone on your garments!” Don’t panic… but also maybe don’t order those garments on your next order.