Ink Kitchen: Reflective Thoughts

Advice and secrets from the screen printing know-it-alls.

Advice and secrets from the screen printing know-it-alls.

Tom: We’ve seen a sharp increase in demand for reflective printing in the last couple of years. When it comes to reflective, decoration options abound. Certain products have been developed for fashion where the effect is primarily, for lack of a better term, a gimmick compared to products for function, like safety. We’ve found that when reflectivity is paramount, nothing quite compares to a 3M brand transfer you see here (top and bottom).

We’ve also used the ER0200 Reflective Gray from Rutland and we have had nothing but solid results, specifically with fashion prints where the subtle tone-on-tone look under ambient light was preferred. Of course under direct light you still get that “bam!” effect.

Rick: When we first started in business in Cambridge, MA in the late ’80s, we were near MIT – the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A high-tech company moved in near us called Reflective Technologies and these MIT dudes produced reflective products under the moniker “Illuminite.” We affectionately referred to them as “the shiny guys.” There seemed to be no end to the things they tried to make shiny, and it seemed in those days we printed lots of other glittery thing for other customers as well.


We still print reflective, and I have a few old-school observations on the subject:

  • Reflectivity rarely meets anyone’s expectations. Folks want more shine than you can give them. Don’t oversell it.
  • There are “fashion” and “industrial” reflectives. Know what you are getting.
  • There are effective plastisol inks now, but water-based inks probably still work best.
  • I don’t believe any reflected ink printed will meet ANSI safety standards. You will need transfers for meeting those requirements – printing will never accomplish it.
  • Printing thicker deposits of ink doesn’t necessarily mean more reflectivity
  • The ink is always expensive, running from expensive to extremely expensive. Get your costs figured out before bidding reflective jobs.
  • Make sure your customer absolutely knows that the most reflective inks only reflect light – they are not shiny when light is not shining on them.

Don't Lose Contact

There is that day when your contact at a big customer tells you they are leaving. When I was younger, my heart would stop, I would get depressed, etc. No longer. Over the years, I have found that if you follow up and you have been doing a good job, the new person that comes in usually needs you to help them. Secondly, you might actually get more work because that good contact goes on and convinces their new workplace to use your shop as well.

Gretta Kohler was working at a design firm in Winston-Salem and was my contact for lots of work, including the cool shirt and package for Hanes Beefy that you see here. She was great to work with and I was so sad to hear she was leaving to work at Wake Forest University. My apprehension was off target. We still do Hanes work and now we work for Wake Forest as well. If you do good work and care about your customers, it tends to work out, despite our insecurities. Even better, Gretta still oversees good work with us for Wake Forest. – TD