Shiny things are cool. And though I love my shiny things, I never really thought to print in metallic before. One day a regular client of ours texted me a photo of a singer on stage wearing a tee with an extremely shiny silver image on it. I couldn’t really tell what the image was, but based on the blurry quality it was clear that the photographer was having a very shiny time. Our client asked if we could do something like that.
My first thought was Hell yes, go to a show and get sweaty drunk? Then I realized he meant the shiny shirt.
Of course I said “Yes,” even though we had never done it, but that’s kind of our motto around here. Say yes and figure that shit out later. It’s worked so far.
I did some research and it turns out there a few ways to achieve a metallic look on apparel. One is with foil, one is a metallic ink and another option is heat pressed vinyl. There’s also welding a piece of metal to a t-shirt, but I don’t really think that will catch on. So I’ll talk more about the first three.
Applying foil to a t-shirt is a two-step process and it’s actually pretty cool. First, a layer of adhesive is screen printed onto the tee with whatever design is needed. After it’s cured, a section of thin foil material is heat pressed on top. When it’s pulled away, the foil in the glue-printed areas sticks and the rest is discarded, leaving the design in shiny, pretty foil.
After trying a sample in silver, I thought it looked amazing. Well, amazing in that it definitely achieved the shiny look I had seen in my client’s band photo (which was blurry if you remember). It shined. It was silver.
It has a very vintage look to it. It’s not perfect and flat like a solid color print, there are teeny tiny gaps in places. This could be due to the black heather material I printed/pressed it on.
I sent a sample off to our client, which they loved. A few months later, they made an order with foil, although they went with gold rather than silver. After pressing some trial shirts, I decided to get in touch with them to make sure it was the look they were going for. It turns out that even though they liked the silver, they wanted something with a more consistent, flat (yet still shiny) look (more on what we did later).
Bottom line: Foil can be a super cool look, but it will be on the vintage-y side, more like gold leaf than chrome bumper.
You can also use a metallic gold ink. There are a lot of choicesa nd not all get the same effect. The first one I tried was super dull. Like an aging heavy metal band from 1989, it looked a bit tired and washed up. It should not wear spandex.
Another gold was much shinier and had more of the metallic look, but still wasn’t exactly what our client was going for.
Bringing Back Vinyl
Let’s get this out of the way. I’m not a huge fan of putting vinyl on tees. I admit that it can have a very clean look, and my obsessive-compulsive need for clean lines gets a lot of satisfaction in pressing vinyl. I will always prefer putting ink on shirts over vinyl. Ink wears better over time and it just feels better on the shirt.
That said, putting vinyl on jackets and other items that aren’t going to go through the washer every week is something I can get behind. Which is how we came to use gold vinyl on our client’s tees.
They decided to get some promo bomber jackets for their team (and these bombers are the bomb, bee tee dubs). The black ones would get gold crowns and lettering and the look worked so well I sent them another sample on a tee. Winner winner, vinyl dinner (um, gross). Yup. I did it, I put vinyl on tees. I lived. They loved it.
The look is super shiny, metallic and consistent. Our client is happy, so that’s a shiny happy win.
Foil me once, shame on you…
I haven’t given up on the foil. First, I really love the vintage look. It’s not right for everyone or every design, but I know there are people who will think it’s the very thing they want. I’ve also read about some tricks to filling in those tiny gaps by mixing the glue with colored ink. I will have to go back to the lab and see what happens.
Until next time, shine on, you crazy diamond.