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Specialty Ink Printing: Glitters, Foils, Glows, Reflectives and More!

Posted by Mary Yaeger, Texsource on 5/19/2017

In the world of screen printing there is an overwhelming amount of inks on the market, and the newer you are to screen printing, the harder it is to decide what inks you should try and which you should avoid - for now at least. Being a more advanced screen printer, although knowledgeable, you still face the challenge of working with multi-color processes and finding the right ink for your next print job.

The variety is what makes the screen printing industry one of the most interesting to work in and be a part of. There is so much growth potential for screen printers. The world of ink is expanding and the demand for specialty inks is out there. We are even starting to see a blend among the print industries. Graphic design has adopted screen printing to develop posters and unique brand packaging. Screen printing has adopted 3D printing to take textiles to the next level. The industry is developing fast especially with people being able to print on the go or at home!

My exposure to screen printing has been limited to a small table top printer that I received one year for Christmas. Being green in the industry, I have had my eyes opened to a million different possibilities when it comes to screen printing - even witnessing an automatic press in action. Today, Texsource-U is teaching a class on how to use specialty inks in screen printing so I thought that it would be appropriate to write a blog article on specialty inks.

My favorite printed tees (as i’m sure some of you would agree) are the ones with quirky little quips that are decorated in some way such as gold shimmers or mounds of glitter (the kind that you find in your hair days later). The shinier it is, the more it catches my attention. But what I didn’t realize was the process for printing those inks was different from any other process. I had some idea that special screen printing inks would be different, but I wasn’t sure HOW different they would be from each other. Below, we will explore some different specialty inks and how to effectively use them for your next screen printing project!

Types of Special Effect Inks

Phosphorescent Glow Inks

Phosphorescent is a glow-in-the-dark plastisol ink which is ready to use right out of the bucket.  This ink is formulated for application to cotton and cotton / polyester garments and novelty items. The glow inks print well on white, but they can also work for colored garments.

When printing on colored garments, it’s best (and recommended) to use a white underbase to really make those colors POP! It is also recommended that you use a 86-110 mesh screen and thick stencil to get the best graphics.



Glitter Plastisols are extremely flexible inks. They provide a glittering texture and metallic-like finish when printed directly on textiles or used in transfers. Glitter inks are available in two variations.

  1. Regular Glitter Plastisols - recommended for direct printing

  2. Super Glitter Plastisols - recommended for heat transfer printing.

Crystalina is used to produce subtle sparkle effects with high gloss and excellent durability. For printing, it is highly recommend using a 25-40 mesh screen. Mesh counts higher than 40 (15 metric) should not be used as this will limit the inks ability to flow onto the garment and will result in a very spotty, irregular finish.

For stencils you can use any direct emulsion or capillary film. And due to the reflective nature of this ink, it requires a longer curing time and more heat to reach the required temperature than a standard plastisol.

Silver Luster

These inks are very versatile and can be used to enhance graphics or create a unique standalone product. Silver Lustre inks are specially formulated to give maximum coverage, and have been incorporated in the clearest, glossiest plastisol available. Not only do these inks create a dramatic effect, they also have excellent wash durability. These inks can be printed using a 60-86 mesh screen.

Pale Gold Glitter

Similar to crystalina, glitter inks are very flexible to work with. When heat cured, that’s when the glittering metallic finish shines through. These inks take on the finish of release papers like you use during heat transfer printing.

You can print these inks directly on textiles. Another great feature of these inks is that they are lead free plastisol and have great opacity when printing. For printing, it is recommended you use a 25-40 mesh screen like the crystalina. Any count higher than 40 will result in a not-so-great finish.

Puff Additive

Puff additives are formulated to be mixed with General Purpose (GEN) Series inks to give designs a raised or elevated effect. Puff Additive allows you to minimize the number of products you have on your shelf and gives you great results. For best results, you should use a screen with a good thick stencil and a medium to soft squeegee for good ink laydown. Puff additive is especially useful in smaller shops that may not want to inventory a complete set of puff colors.

HD Rubber Base

HD Rubber Base can be used as a high density gloss/clear or as a high gloss overprint to any ink.  You can also add colors to create special gloss images. These inks are an excellent adhesive carrier for foil, special flakes, caviar beads, and other creative textures. They can be used on most fabric types. The “Super Elongation” 110 mesh with 200 micron cap film is recommended if you are going to print with an HD Rubber Base.

Ultra Reflective Ink

Ultra Reflective inks are exactly what they sound like. These inks are easy to print with and create a unique reflective surface. When a garment printed with Optilux ink is exposed to a focused beam of light such as that from a flashlight or headlight, it reflects or returns light back to the light source. You can use these inks to create a novelty item or create a unique decorative tool to increase nighttime visibility of a printed design. To get the best print it is recommended that you use a 160-230 mesh screen.

Silver Foil

The great thing about foil inks is that they are press ready. They provide a bright, non-tarnishing metallic sparkle to any printed garment. The inks consist of a fine shimmering glitter flake in a low fusion, and easy to print base. This is a real plus for hand and automatic printers when it comes to equipment wear and tear.  To get the most out of foil inks it is recommended you use a 86 to 125 mesh screen.

Over Print Clear Gel

Over print clear gel  is a super smooth, multi purpose gloss clear that can be used in both high-density printing techniques and as a flat overprint onto colored inks and textured surfaces. The advantage to using Over Print is that it will create shiny finishes to any design. For this type of ink it is recommend you use a 24-110 mesh screen and 200-600 micron cap film for best results.

Now that you have learned about some of the different inks for screen printing, what inks are you considering trying for your next project?

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