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What is fibrillation? How can screen printers avoid it?

Posted by Caleb Morgan on 8/14/2018

Fibrillation can still occur despite your best efforts, but what is it and how does it happen? Fibrillation happens when the fibers of a shirt break through the ink deposit, giving your shirt a faded or fuzzy look. The success of your business largely depends on quality control. You can’t have brand new shirts becoming faded after just a few washes. Today’s market demands a softer, higher quality shirt and a softer, lighter print. Unfortunately, these are prime conditions for fibrillation to occur. However, there are some ways to prevent this from happening. The name of the game here is to strike a balance between laying down more ink and not putting enough on; in other words, don’t give your shirts a chance to fibrillate in the first place. Let’s discuss this further.

A good rule of thumb to remember when formulating a strategy to prevent fibrillation is, the nicer the shirt the more likely fibrillation will occur. But how can you know for sure that it will happen to a specific substrate? This is where testing comes in. We know that our customers are going to be washing their shirts eventually, so why not wash one of them before we deliver them? Run a few test prints and put them through a couple of wash and dry cycles. Keep in mind not to get fibrillation confused with under-cured ink. The former looks uniformly faded across the whole shirt, the latter will come off unevenly in patches. We also know that there are many types of cotton fabric blends on the market today that are incredibly soft. You must consider what type of shirt you’re working with. There’s the “plush” softness of thick fabric or subtly soft, thin and tight fabrics (ring-spun, combed or carded cotton). Whichever level of softness you go with, just know that those fibers are itching to break through your ink. Simply put, if your customer insists on a softer shirt, run a few tests on them and if your usual methods of printing aren’t working, it’s time for a new ink strategy, which we’ll talk about next.

One printing solution to consider is using water-based inks. With the recent formulation of RFU (ready for use) water-based inks from companies like Matsui, it’s never been easier to use these inks that can reduce the appearance of fibrillation, because it penetrates and adheres to garment fibers rather than sitting on top of the fabric. You could also print multiple layers of ink. By using a print, flash, print, flash, print technique you’ll be able to maintain a softer feel while controlling fibrillation. However, this method can be a hassle if you’re not properly set up to do this. You should also consider using an ink additive(s) that’s designed to essentially “glue” garment fibers down to stop fibrillation. Lastly, consider using a “mat-down” screen. This method requires a “blank” screen coated with emulsion and “printed” onto a shirt that’s already been printed and flashed, with a hard squeegee and lots of pressure to mat down any fibers. Note, with this method you’re not doing any additional printing.

In conclusion, you don’t want your customers to feel like they’re wearing a bulletproof vest. No one wants that. But you also don’t want fibers coming through your prints. By implementing these practices into your process, you can be confident that the threat of fibrillation has been eliminated.­

 


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