Defined; Athleisure is a fashion trend in which athletic clothes are worn in settings outside of the gym - work, school, or social occasions for example. There are a couple of theories to why Athleisure has become so popular, but most people describe the style as convenient. Instead of having to change for the gym, change to go to work, change to see your friend for lunch and change again to go to that party later Friday night; now you can be in style for multiple occasions without breaking a sweat (literally).
As with anything in the fashion industry, once a style starts trending, it’s up to everybody to keep up to make sure that their brands stay relevant. Athleisure is no different. So what does this mean for the screen printing industry? It means that we have to adapt to the style with the inks and techniques that we use.
According to Vogue Magazine, there are a few “golden rules” for the Athleisure trend. These rules must be paid attention to if your business is going to keep up with this newly evolving style. The two biggest ones that are especially important to note for screen printers are this:
Number 1: It has to be Seasonal
Remember when you started working out and you went to look for workout clothes, but the only color that was available was black? Not anymore. The Athleisure trend demands that styles be seasonal. This means that the wilder the pattern, brighter the color and color blocks are the go to for this trend.
Number 2: It has to Combine Function and Fashion
Athleisure combines two must-haves that continue to dominate casual clothing - durability and comfort. With the Athleisure trend, many of the clothes we would consider strictly “gym wear” are now work approved. Materials like spandex, polyester, and blended materials like 50/50 cotton and polyester have risen to the top of the comfort charts.
As mentioned above there are a variety of athletic materials; all of which can be tricky to print on. Keith Stevens from International Coatings shared a couple of tips to help you master athletic prints:
Plastisol inks are usually stretchy by nature, but adding a little bit of stretch additive can greatly improve the stretchability, especially for performance and athletic fabrics, which often contain a high percentage of Lycra spandex. Adding excessive amounts of a stretch additive, however, could reduce the opacity of the ink, so it is important to add only about 1%-5%.
There also are new inks on the market, such as International Coatings’ 7100 Performance Pro, which have been specifically formulated for these next-generation performance fabrics. These inks have great stretchability and allow for lower curing temperatures (275°F). The ability to cure at lower temperatures helps to control any potential dye migration issues.
Today's athletic inks far out shine the original “athletic” inks that were dull and difficult to work with. With as many materials there are to print on, there are just as many types of inks to choose from. For example:
Low-bleed plastisols. These inks are press-ready plastisol meant for printing on polyester and poly/cotton blends. These inks stand out on dark garments.
Low-cure additives. Low Cure Additives effectively lower curing temperatures of most plastisol inks to less than 300° F (149° C). You can use this additive when printing heat-sensitive materials such as 100% polyester or non-woven polypropylene bags. It is ideal for printing athletic and synthetic fabrics that are prone to dye migration.
Silicone inks. These inks print well on light and dark cotton, cotton/polyester blends, and 100% polyester. Unlike other types of inks, silicone inks can be ironed without re-melting the ink film. They create a very nice, supple print with the ability to stretch and regain its original shape.
The truth is that there is no perfect ink for all athletic prints, but it is important to have a good understanding of the inks you have at your disposal when printing on athletic materials. It is also important to understand how the inks vary in printability, flashing characteristics, and opacity to name a few.
Some of these materials and material colors may require you to print an underbase for your athletic graphics. When printing vibrant colors on black or dark garments it is often necessary to print a white underbase first. This is due to the fact that many plastisol inks do not have the opacity to cover well on dark garments. White is printed first to provide a base for the colored ink to rest on. The under base is flash cured before the remaining colors are printed.
It is kind of like using a primer before adding the new color to your kitchen walls. The primer seals the surface which makes it nicer to paint on. Just as important as the ink itself, you also have to select the right screen. Selecting the right mesh for your screen can be just as tricky, but this article should help clear the air.
Choosing the right Artwork
When printing, remember to make your graphics as printer friendly as possible. This goes for all of your prints, not just athletic! And in addition to ink characteristics, you also need to be aware of the fabric type, required cure temperature, and (as always) your clients’ expectations.
In many cases, you will find athletic prints with excessive ink thicknesses on the garment. This is typically the result of overcompensation in fear of the dreaded dye migration.
When printing athletic graphics (as with any of your screen printing projects), the ultimate goal is to consistently reproduce a quality print.
Now that you know a little more about athletic materials and athletic inks, we hope that you are ready and motivated to get out there and tackle this exciting active wear trend!