8 Specialty Printing Techniques to Make Your T-Shirts Stand Out From The Crowd

If you want your t-shirt designs to be unique, to stand out from the crowd, try using some of the specialty printing effects outlined in this article. Specialty printing offers some genuine advantages. Besides simply looking awesome, special effects give your designs a point of difference from others and while they do cost more than standard screen printing, distinctive products often command higher sale prices.

Discharge ink

Discharge ink removes the existing dye from a t-shirt, leaving behind the natural colour of the fibre (generally some shade of beige). Colours can then be replaced in the fibres by adding inks to the discharge base.

Advantages: Using discharge ink on a t-shirt results in a solid, coloured print and a very soft hand (i.e. a soft ‘feel’ to the printed t-shirt). Discharge ink is especially valuable if you’re printing bright colours on black t-shirts. The alternative technique for printing colours on a dark dye base requires an “undercoat” layer of white ink to ensure sufficient opacity of colour, resulting in a thick, heavy finish.

Disadvantages: Because it’s impossible to know in advance how each shirt will react to discharge ink, colour matching can’t be guaranteed and there may be some colour variation between prints throughout a run.

Photochromic ink

Photochromic, or UV-reactive inks, are almost transparent when viewed indoors but change to vivid colours in sunlight.

Advantages: Cool effects can be created with a print that effectively displays two different designs – one indoors, and another outdoors.

Disadvantages: Only a limited range of colours is available.

Glow in the dark ink

Glow in the dark inks do exactly what their name suggests – they distinguish themselves by glowing in the dark! In the light, these inks will appear semi-transparent.

Advantages: People can find you in the dark. (Just kidding. It’s pretty cool, though.)

Disadvantages: The inks work best if they’re printed on a white or pale coloured background, so a light coloured base layer is required on darker shirts.

Foil printing

Foil printing is a two-stage process which leaves a shiny metallic ‘print’ on the shirt. First, the garment is screenprinted, using a special adhesive rather than ink, and cured (dried) in the normal way. A sheet of foil is then heat-pressed onto the image created by the adhesive. When the press is lifted away, the foil sticks to the adhesive-printed areas and the excess is removed.

Advantages: Foil printing gives the best shiny metallic printing effect. Bling!

Disadvantages: Because it’s a two stage process, foil printing may not work quite as well for fine, detailed designs, and it’s more vulnerable to energetic washing than most other decoration styles.

Metallic inks

Metallic inks result in a shimmery, sparkly effect, rather like metallic car paint. Metallic screenprinting is cheaper than foil printing, but doesn’t have the same shiny effect.

Glitter printing

Like foil printing and metallic inks, glitter inks can make your design sparkly and eye-catching. They’re available in a variety of colours.

Puff inks

Puff inks are created by mixing a specially formulated base in with the ink. The base-ink mix expands (“puffs”) as the print is cured through the heat tunnel, leaving a 3D texture. Puff inks are also available in a wide range of colours.


Flock printing is achieved by adding a special base to the ink, which gives the ink a furry, velvety texture as it cures through the heat tunnel.

All of these specialty printing techniques can be used to give your designs a little “extra” something, make them special, unique.

“Creativity is contagious. Pass it on.” – Albert Einstein

Ellen C. McGowan

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