As many of us know, much of the time it is easier to train someone new to do things “the right way” (your way!) than it is to break bad habits or open a closed mind to new ideas. It also takes time and patience, things that are usually in short supply in the print shop.
Nearly a decade ago when I started working with shops with a newly developing silicone textile ink base and the generation I products that preceded it, I quickly realized that there were quite a few printers who had tested early silicone products that were not quite optimized for easy integration. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the cart got ahead of the horse when these inks were launched however it did present some roadblocks to introducing new products to the printers who had bad experiences early in the curve. But when Prop 65 drove brands to begin to require inks that met RSL and eco compliant certification, there was a need to fill and companies who recognized this, rushed to fill the demand. I’ve always found that these challenges, when faced with an open mind are just as prime an opportunity to learn as to teach and these early trials were definitely a two-way street.
I’ve found that with the right approach and a client that was success oriented and flexible in their ability to adjust, it took a fairly short period of time to find a comfortable level in working with this relatively new ink technology. Conversely, each of those first interactions enabled me to adjust development of bases to meet the needs of the process which made it easier for all of us.
In every ink segment, whether plastisol, water-based, HSA etc. there is differentiation in the products from suppliers and manufacturers. This is absolutely true with silicones as well. Many silicone ‘inks’ are converted products from another market that are tweaked to fit into our application space. My desire is to simplify the silicone experience and the first step to do that is qualify what makes a system work. Breaking that into a few buckets will serve to identify what attributes contribute to what makes up a good option for your needs. So let’s get started:
Ease of printability should be one of the top priorities in developing products to fit into our application space. Let’s be real, the more you have to conform to a product, the less value that product has to you. Printability for me is defined by things like how much pressure is required to clear mesh? Does ink climb and stick to the squeegee? Will ink flood well in your screen?
High viscosity bases require more down pressure and squeegee angle to shear through the screen and tend to print through lighter fabrics creating an undesired-able and heavy print. Printing with these materials tends to give mesh limitations as well. Manual press operations can clear squeegee’s of ink easily but for automatic printers that leads to a lot of carding, wingtips and more ink in the screen.
Many Silicones, as stated earlier are used as multi-purpose materials, designed to be pumped, knife or roll coated. This leads to a broad range of viscosities from very high to quite low so it’s important that you get material on screen early in the decision making process.
Color masking and color matching are important considerations in choosing the ink that works for you. Opacity in our industry gives an ink the ability to block the garment color beneath and provide a consistent print color quality on multiple garment colors. Lower opacity requires more layers to block, higher opacity leads to higher viscosity which can affect print-ability. Most opaque bases in the market have similar hue properties making color matching easier.
Silicones are translucent (clear) in nature unless modified for opacity so clear ‘gels’ are generally widely available. These products offer the ability to pigment with glitters and special f(x) products or provide a super glossy effect.
#3 Screen life
Let’s face it, if you are paying extra for a PVC alternative ink, you’re going to want to make the most out of it. Screen life is very important to you as you evaluate materials.
Silicone inks work through a platinum catalyst to “cure”; the base product is shelf stable until mixed with catalyst. A chemical ‘retardant’ will slow the cure giving you better screen ‘open’ time. This retardant volatizes as the product warms or is flashed allowing the catalyst to initiate cure. This attribute varies greatly from silicone material to material and operating conditions of your shop also have a great effect.
There are some great ways to improve your screen open time and other common issues, look for some tips in upcoming articles or get in touch with Silutions Ink (www.silutionsink.com) to discuss our consulting services for your shop.
As in most cases, there are trade-offs in almost everything. It can be difficult to adjust for one attribute without affecting another. When making the jump into silicone inks, I highly recommend getting advice from a trusted source to help guide your decisions and find the shortest route to the best product for your shop
20+ years experience in the silicone industry