5 Tips for Screen Printing on Fleece

From cozy apparel and outerwear to blankets and accessories, fleece has become a “must-have” staple. Its popularity began back in the late ‘70s when Malden Mills Industries (now Polartec), began experimenting with the outdoor potential of polyester. With wool dominating the market at the time, the company wanted to invent a synthetic alternative to combat some of the problems wool presented and gain a competitive advantage. Malden Mills ended up partnering with Patagonia and debuting the “Synchilla” fleece in the ‘80s, becoming the first company to spin plastic into yarn.

Now almost four decades later, fleece has manifested into a daily life essential with multiple variations of the fabric. As a popular request with custom apparel—especially during colder months—screen printing on fleece is an important technique to learn to set yourself apart from competitors.

We’ve listed five key tips for screen printing on fleece to help you get started:

Pre-shrink the Garment

When exposed to intense heat (like a flash cure unit), fleece has been known to shrink and cause problems with registration. If the material contracts during the curing time, it can throw off the whole design.

To combat some of the registration issues, many printers will add a flash cure station before the first color to ensure the garment shrinks before the ink has been applied. If you don’t have a flash cure unit, you can throw the garment in the dryer before screen printing to pre-shrink the garment.

Carefully Plan and Place the Artwork

Fleece is a thicker substrate to work with, often requiring a heavier ink deposit. Because of this, designs with intricate details are not recommended—to avoid the chance of clumping. When working with a client or creating custom apparel for your eCommerce shop, it’s best to stick to simple designs.

Beyond the style of the design, placement of the artwork is crucial. Sweatshirts and jackets often come with zippers, hoods, strings and/or pockets. For a flawless outcome, try to avoid printing over seams and zippers. Also, if the artwork is being placed on the back of a hoodie, you’ll want to move it a few inches below the neck so it remains visible when worn. Before accepting a project, be sure to discuss with the customer what is and isn’t possible on fleece.

Pick the Best Ink Choice for the Project

When beginning to work with fleece, two types of inks are suggested: plastisol and water-based. The ink you choose will depend on the desired outcome.

Plastisol ink is most commonly used on hoodies, is easier to manage, and produces bright images. For a quality print, it’s suggested to print two passes with a flash cure in-between.

Water-based ink is a bit harder to work with, but is more eco-friendly. It also has a softer hand, meaning the design feels like it’s a part of the fabric and is smooth to the touch.

Regardless of whether you decide on plastisol or water-based ink for the project, you’ll want to search for a low-bleed option to avoid dye migration.

Pro Tip: For vintage designs, use a water-based ink with cotton-poly blend fleeces. The ink will only adhere to the cotton, leaving a distressed look.

Use a Palette Adhesive

The dichotomy between fleece’s inner fuzzy material and smooth outer surface makes the fabric prone to shifting during the printing process. To ensure your design doesn’t become distorted or blurred, use a palette adhesive to tack down the substrate.

The last thing you want is for your hard work to be ruined because the garment moved when pressing the design!

Pro Tip: Web spray is an industry favorite made to hold down heavier material.

Adjust Your Off-Contact Distance

Whenever you work with a thicker material, you’ll need to adjust your off-contact distance—or the distance between the screen and the fabric. There needs to be enough room between the screen and the substrate to snap the screen off cleanly and create a crisp print.

As a general rule of thumb, the screen should be double your usual off-contact distance when working with hoodies and sweatshirts.

Always be sure to do a test run and make adjustments where necessary before screen printing an entire order. Remember, learning a new technique takes time and practice, so don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t turn out the first time!

Have you started screen printing on fleece? Let us know in the comments!

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