In this article, we cover the most popular types of special effects inks for screen printing t-shirts and other apparel.
These inks are plastisol based and require curing with a textile dryer or flash cure unit.
Below is a brief description of some of the most popular special inks and effects. There are other special effects inks available, check with your favorite ink manufacturer or supplier for more information.
Shimmers combine the best features of glitters and metallics.
They have a finish similar to metallic inks but with a much greater sparkle, and the color range of glitters.
Shimmer inks are non-tarnishing and high-opacity, with excellent elasticity and wash-ability.
Metallic inks are available in silver, gold, and other colors. Just as the name implies, they have a shiny, metallic look and great wherever a glitzy, showy print that resembles real gold or silver is desired. It is recommended that you instruct your customers to launder their shirts that have been printed with metallic inks to turn them inside out. This will help the print to hold up better as some metallic inks tend to “dull” from washing.
Glitter ink contains large reflective “plastic flakes” that are suspended in clear or colored, transparent plastisol. Glitter inks must be printed through a coarse mesh (around 30-45 mesh) in order for the large flakes to pass through. Glitter flakes can also be sprinkled on the wet ink for an more substantial “glittery” look although this can be a time consuming process. But this extra step will provide the customer more glitter in the design.
Printing with puff ink is a very popular type of special effect done on t-shirts and sweatshirts. Puff ink, like it’s name implies, raises or “puffs up” when the ink is cured in the printing process. It adds a three dimensional look to your design and if done properly can be used as a low cost substitute for the look of embroidery. Not all artwork and typefaces will produce good results with puff ink. Avoid using type that has thick lines or have characters that are very close together. Thin lines in a design and “light” fonts with thin lines produce the best results with puff ink.
Suede ink looks like the name implies: suede leather. It also “puffs” or raises somewhat, and because of the three dimensional look it offers, it can be considered for use as a lower cost substitute for embroidery.
Suede ink comes in light brown, dark brown, gray, and black.
Gel inks provide a 3D, “wet-look” and must be printed through a thick stencil to obtain the large ink deposit necessary for the raised effect.
Extra curing is necessary for these inks due to heavy ink deposit.
Black light ink makes the print illuminate when viewed under black lights. The effect can only be viewed under black lights and this type of printing is ideal for rock group shirts, laser tag games, cosmic bowling, or anywhere black lights will be used.
Black light ink works on dark colored shirts only, and the ink will appear as white when not viewed under black light.
Photochromic ink is an exciting special-effect ink that is almost invisibly transparent indoors. When exposed to sunlight outdoors bright and intense colors appear. Photochromic ink is available in several colors, including: yellow, blue, magenta, and purple. Photochromic ink is popular with school science projects and can be hugely profitable to use. It is especially popular with elementary and middle schools who are fascinated with the novelty of the “appearing/disappearing” feature of this ink.
Reflective ink contains millions of light reflective microspheres that when exposed to a focused beam of light, such as an automobile headlight or flashlight, reflects a bright, glittering image back at the light source. Reflective ink is perfect for night safety wear for joggers, cyclists, police, construction and highway workers–anybody who work in traffic at night. Reflective inks come in several colors, with light gray being the most popular. Reflective ink brands are not formulated the same. Some work better than others. We recommend that you try a few brands before committing to a large quantity purchase. These inks are expensive, so choose carefully.
Fluorescent neon inks will make any print attention getting! Fluorescent colors work well on retro/50's designs, hot rod designs, children's prints, or any design that you want to be noticed.
“Neon” inks are also available in super opaque formulations for printing on dark colored apparel. The standard formulation of neon inks are very easy to print.
Glow in the dark ink glows just the hands on a watch that has been placed in a bright light. This ink is great for Halloween shirts, rock designs, or any design that you want to glow in the dark!
Glow in the dark works on white or colored shirts, however colored shirts will require that an underbase of white be printed for the glow effect to work properly.
- Chalkboard (can write on print with chalk)
- Granite Base (granite or vinyl appearance) Destructo™
- Black or White (retro look) Blow-Out (sponge looking effect)
- 3D High Square (different than puff and opaque)
- Crayon Clear (can draw with crayons or markers on print)
- Thermochromic (changes color when exposed to body heat)
- Foil Printing (multi-step process to apply foil – heat press necessary)