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14 Special Effects You Can Use to Enhance Your Screen Prints

To execute and sell them, testing and experimentation are key.




14 Special Effects You Can Use to Enhance Your Screen Prints

YOU’RE LOOKING to enhance your end-product, excite customers, and elevate your position in the market, consider special effects. Many of your peers are currently offering scratch ‘n sniff scents, glitter, puff, glow in the dark, and high density to take their prints to the next level.

According to Family Industries, here’s a list of all the special effects that are possible with screen printing:

  • Water-based
    Absorbs into the fabric for a very lightweight and soft print.
  • Discharge
    Water-based inks that remove the dye from the fabric.
  • Puff
    This additive expands while being cured, for a soft, raised feel.
  • Fluorescent
    Very bright neon colors, also known as “day glow.”
  • Metallic
    Popular ink for a shiny look. Typically, in gold, silver, or copper.
  • Soft Hand
    Additive for reducing the thickness of ink for a softer feel.
  • Glitter
    Contains glitter for a sparkly look, often combined with a clear gel.
  • Glow-in-the-dark
    Almost clear, light-activated ink that glows in the dark.
  • Suede
    Similar to puff, but it creates a soft and fuzzy texture to the surface.
  • High-density
    Creates raised layers of rubber-like ink for a three-dimensional print.
  • Clear Gel
    A thick glossy coating that can be used in combination with others.
  • Shimmer
    Creates a unique reflective, iridescent shine.
  • Crackle
    Splits and cracks during curing for a naturally distressed look.
  • Plasti-charge
    Combines the best of plastisol and discharge.

Want to learn how to screen print with foils and metallic inks? Head over to for more insight from Family Industries.

14 Special Effects You Can Use to Enhance Your Screen Prints

To help you better understand puff ink, Brian Lessard, partner at MADE Lab, breaks down a recent special effect print for an open house workshop. His goal was to explain a special effect that could easily be achieved by printers. The design needed to print on a six-color automatic press using only one flash unit. Follow along for Brian’s step-by-step process of screen printing with puff ink.


We used an embroidery-inspired typeface from Mysterylab Designs purchased on Creative Market. This allows anyone to purchase the typeface and recreate similar art to what we printed.

14 Special Effects You Can Use to Enhance Your Screen Prints


This special effect print uses only one additive to keep it simple. We chose Avient Flexipuff because it can be added to any plastisol ink to achieve a puff effect and it is very durable, i.e., it won’t crack and fall off the shirt when stretched. The puff combined with the art makes an interesting print that any printer can reproduce on an automatic or manual press. All other colors are unmodified plastisol inks printed through standard mesh screens.

We printed the puff white direct to fabric and the puff red over a thin layer of red ink. We did this to show how puff reacts in both applications. With direct to fabric, the puff will react to the texture of the shirt and rise higher with more texture, depending on the shirt. Printed on top of an ink, the puff generally won’t rise as high, but can be better controlled by how thick the ink underneath is printed. This produces a more even, smoother puff.

14 Special Effects You Can Use to Enhance Your Screen Prints


We used 305 mesh for the white and grey distressed portions of the print. Using a 305, adding a texture, and reducing the opacity of the art to 65 percent allows us to use a standard opacity plastisol ink right out of the bucket and achieve a soft print rather than reducing the ink with plastisol thinner, which creates one more custom mix on the ink shelf.

For the puff we used 86t mesh. The mesh is coarse, which allows us to achieve a good deposit and also leaves a subtle texture on the ink surface to make it more interesting.

14 Special Effects You Can Use to Enhance Your Screen Prints


This can be the trickiest part for printers. A puff ink starts out flat like a standard ink when printed and then expands when exposed to heat in the dryer or under a flash. Not enough heat and the puff ink will remain flat. Too much heat and the puff will collapse and become shiny. The key to successfully printing puff is to adjust the heat and dwell time of the dryer until the puff has a matte finish and rises off the shirt. Note: The heavier the ink deposit, the higher the puff will be. For large designs, two layers of puff with a flash between may be required.

14 Special Effects You Can Use to Enhance Your Screen Prints

Where to Start?

We asked the Brain Squad: What are your tips for someone who wants to offer special effects? While some joked, like Shannon McKinnon of Aisle 6ix, who said “Good luck” or Rene Cantu of 361 Printing who said, “Rather it be them than me,” others, like Keith Abrams from The Decoration Facility, gave practical advice, like “test, test, and then test some more.” Here’s what more of your peers have to say:

  • To start, make only one special effect at a time and do a small number. It might even be best practice to start with special effects on tees for the shop not customers. — Maude Swearingen, Fully Promoted Arbutus
  • Get good at one and really flog that to the world. It’s hard to master all of them, and to keep all those extra supplies in stock. So, stick to the one that makes you the most money. — Matthew Pierrot, GetBOLD – T-shirt Printing and Embroidery
  • Research, talk to other printers, watch videos, and read articles. — Jim Heiser, Bullseye Activewear
  • Some special effects have a little bit of a learning curve, and it is better to figure them out before offering them, if possible. Specialty inks all cost considerably more than regular ink and some require extra steps in production and more time. Make sure to work these increased costs into your pricing, which is difficult to do if you have not printed them beforehand. And last, use them sparingly. We have found that many times when used to highlight one particular design element only, it can really make the design pop. You know, like using foil only for the tiger’s eyes. — Charlie Vetters, Organic Robot Designs
  • My only advice is to be careful what you offer and to make sure your productivity will not take a hit when offering these special effects and garment embellishments. — Shaun McCarthy, GL Imprinting
  • Find and get to know a supplier. They are so helpful and want you to learn how to best use their products. Always ask for help if you don’t know. — Kristin Deutsch, Hair of the Dog Graphics
  • Ask your fellow print shop owners on the technical side of things, and then someone who specializes in mechanical development, about how and when to offer special effects. Just because you can print with puff doesn’t mean you should. Meaning, make sure the decoration matches the design and client demographic. — Jeremy Picker, AMB3R Creative
  • Test it and learn how to do it well before you sell it. “Fake it ‘til you make it” doesn’t play well with some aspects of this industry. — Marshall Atkinson, Atkinson Consulting

  • Take it slow and do a wash test! Use quality products or it’ll come back to bite you. — Ian Graham, Fine Southern Gentlemen
  • Have lots of samples and a variety of special effects to show and what the additional costs would be. — Charlie Taublieb, Taublieb Consulting
  • Test them first. Special effects can be tricky and a logistics nightmare if they are not properly scheduled. — Shamus Barrett, 7 Corners Printing
  • Special effects can be fun to offer… but, trendy special effects can be short lived. Make sure you understand any financial risks… and be prepared to market this new process like crazy. — Tracey Johnston-Aldworth, Consultant
  • Experiment ahead of time doing R&D around the effects you want to offer. Document everything around the recipes or formulas you used to get the results. This includes temp, humidity, and shop conditions along with the obvious aspects of squeegee, pressure, stencil, mesh count, and tension, etc. — Mark Coudray, Coudray Growth Tech




Let’s Talk About It

Creating a More Diverse and Inclusive Screen Printing Industry

LET’S TALK About It: Part 3 discusses how four screen printers have employed people with disabilities, why you should consider doing the same, the resources that are available, and more. Watch the live webinar, held August 16, moderated by Adrienne Palmer, editor-in-chief, Screen Printing magazine, with panelists Ali Banholzer, Amber Massey, Ryan Moor, and Jed Seifert. The multi-part series is hosted exclusively by ROQ.US and U.N.I.T.E Together. Let’s Talk About It: Part 1 focused on Black, female screen printers and can be watched here; Part 2 focused on the LGBTQ+ community and can be watched here.

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