Glitter plastisol inks can create many different effects, but getting the look you want requires more than just choosing an ink. You also need to consider a few questions about the print you’re planning.
First, how detailed will it be? There are two sizes of glitter flake that can be screen printed. The larger flake (0.008 hex) is best when screen printed through 38- to 40-count monofilament mesh. This mesh is quite large, resembling a screen door, so it won’t provide a large amount of detail. For finer detail, a smaller glitter flake (0.004 hex) is also available. These inks are best when screen printed through 61-count monofilament mesh. The large and small flakes are available in the same colors. The larger flake simply has more bling when compared side by side.
The next question is what sort of base the print requires. Inks are available with a clear or pigmented base. A clear base allows the fabric color to show through. A pigmented base obscures the fabric color. Each look can work in certain situations, but a shop should determine the type of base needed so you can order the proper ink. Some inks also have multiple glitter colors suspended in the base, so consider that as well.
Developing screens for glitter ink can be difficult, since the mesh required for printing it can be so coarse. One Stroke Inks recommends a higher viscosity photopolymer emulsion. Once coated, the screen will have a lot of emulsion to dry and eventually expose. A high viscosity emulsion will prevent drips as it dries. Photopolymer emulsion exposes fast. This is very helpful as these screens take much longer to expose compared to a typical 110- or 158-count screen.
Now that the screens are exposed, the detail of the print determined and the proper ink purchased, the next question is: What kind of look do you want to achieve? For a rough look, where all the glitter is on top of the print, don’t use a base. One Stop’s Glitter and Sparkle Series inks, for instance, are formulated with a special base, which wicks (or absorbs) into the fabric, allowing the glitter flake to stay on top, where it can be seen and felt clearly. This is great on any fabric color, as opacity is no problem and no fabric will show through. Very important: Don’t print-flash-print if you want this look.
For a gel look, which is extremely high gloss with the glitter flake embedded in the print, the printer must print-flash-print the glitter ink. The first print is going to wick into the fabric as I mentioned. Once the second layer is flash-cured and printed, the base can’t wick into the fabric, so it creates the high-gloss gel appearance. This will be a rather thick print.
There may be times when you want a gel-look without such a thick print. Perhaps the fabric is very thin and the print feels heavier than the entire shirt. In these cases, you can achieve the gel look by first printing a clear base, flashing and then printing the glitter ink on top. Once again, the clear base prevents the glitter base from wicking into the fabric, leaving a high-gloss gel appearance that feels very smooth. Since the clear base can be printed through fine mesh (158 monofilament is perfect), the print won’t feel so heavy.
The final option for a gel look involves screen printing with a glitter ink in a clear base and printing a base of a different color. Example: Print a regular navy ink, flash cure and then print blue glitter on top. Now you have a bright blue glittery look with a deeper navy base where some of the flake may be missing or spaced out. This helps to create a more detailed print because the navy ink can be printed through a much finer screen mesh, which eliminates saw-tooth and disguises the poor detail of the 38-count mesh used for the glitter layer. It’s an excellent way to fool the eye.
There are times when your customers want to see what a glitter print will look like, but creating an actual sample isn’t always the best option. This video by screen-printing expert Dan Campbell explains how to create a virtual mockup of a glitter design.