by Heather Rykowski

There are the countless ways to promote your brand using apparel.  From hats and jackets to shirts and uniforms, these items provide a way for your clients to express themselves while marketing your company. Wearables as a whole maintain a very high advertiser awareness rate.  Look to the popular styles in apparel for your next promotion and watch how these trending threads can effectively promote your brand to consumers of all ages and interests.

Nowadays there are a number of choices for decorating wearables, though one of the most common is still screen printing, also referred to as silk-screening.   In addition to traditional screen printing, which most people are familiar with, there are a number of newer applications, which is what we’re going to focus on here.

Let’s first start with what screen printing is.  Screen printing involves creating a stencil (printers call this a “screen”), and then using that stencil to apply layers of ink on the printing surface.  Each color is applied using a different stencil, one at a time combined to achieve the final look.  You can now understand why a one color design costs less than a multiple color one.  There is a higher cost associated with the specialty applications too.  Though keep in mind, specialty application creates uniqueness which in turn translates to increased advertiser awareness which is what you want.

Here’s a list of specialty screen printing applications along with a brief explanation of each:


High-density ink is used to give a design a dimensional appearance or texture. This type of ink can also be used to give a look similar to stitching and are available in virtually any color.


Flock is a technique that gives the design a fuzzy feel. It has a similar look and feel to felt and can be applied in many colors.


Foil is used to give a design a shiny metallic look; great for adding highlights to a design. Foil is actually a heat press application but can be applied on press for certain affects. Foil adheres to plastisol inks or a clear foil adhesive. Available in silver, gold, bronze, red, and blue. There are some awesome iridescent foil affects available too.


One of the original specialty affects in the world of screen printing. Puff ink is a plastisol that has been modified with the addition of a heat reactive foaming agent. The ink expands when exposed to high temperature heat as the garment is cured.


This type of ink, as the name indicates, has the look and feel of suede. When applied to a t-shirt it adds texture and dimension. Derived from puff ink, the process for printing is similar, but suede ink results with  a raised fuzzy nap reminiscent of suede leather


Metallic inks are used to give the design a metallic shimmer. The shine is not as strong as a foil and is great for subtle highlights.


Clear gel can be applied over a print to give any design a glass-like look. Gel inks can also be stacked for dimensional printing. These inks are also available as a high-density gel for an even thicker appearance and rubbery feel.


Water-based inks are used to give a design a soft-hand feel and almost no-hand feel after wash. The result is a design that looks and feels like it is almost part of the fibers of the shirt as opposed to a plastisol print that sits more on the surface of the fabric. Water-based inks are often used to achieve a vintage look.


Discharge is basically a bleaching agent that is used to take the color out of the shirt. Discharge can be applied as raw discharge or tinted discharge. Raw discharge will give a dark-colored shirt a bleached look, and tinted discharge results in a more muted tone of the ink color that is used.


Printed apparel with a super soft feel is huge right now.  Various methods that can be used to achieve this affect include soft-hand base additives, water-based inks, and discharge inks.


This 3-D specialty ink achieves its best affect when printed in layers. High temperature is introduced in the curing process causing the ink to raise into a high square stack.


You guessed it – turn out the lights and areas printed with glow ink are illuminated in that yellowish green we know and love as glow.  Glow ink is also available in glowing colors like blue, white, purple, orange, red, green and yellow!


These fun inks are practically invisible when indoors and come alive when you step into the sun. Ultra violet light brings out the pigment in the design. The brighter the UV rays, the brighter the print becomes.


Teensy reflective flakes suspended in a clear carrier ink make these sparkly metallic inks. The print is nice and solid in 100% fill areas. Available in silver, gold, and bronze.


Functional for safety and a cool effect for designers to play with. Garments printed with reflective ink provide enhanced visibility for joggers, cyclists, construction workers and others who work around traffic at night. that these  out that not all screen printing companies offer specialty printing options

Now that I’ve made you aware of some ways to create uniqueness through screen printing specialties I also need to be clear that not all screen printing companies offer specialty printing. These techniques require a greater degree of skill.  Products and equipment used to produce these results are also a factor.  Then there’s the increased cost to the consumer making it in less demand. You’ll find working with an experienced promotional products distributor will save you time, headaches and even money with your screen printing and other projects.  They have access to many resources you wouldn’t normally have on your own.