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screen printing on soft vintage sweatshirts

We are finally getting some fall weather here in Texas so it’s time to break out the sweatshirts (my favorite time of year). I’d be happy wearing a hoodie and jeans year round. Unfortunately, it’s only cold for a few months here so I have to enjoy it while it lasts.

Choosing the Right Sweatshirt

I mentioned on Instagram last week that I was trying on different sweatshirts. Well, I fell in love with a couple brands that I’m excited to share with you. Many of you mentioned that you love Alternative sweatshirts and I know why! They are soooo soft. I might not take it off all season, it’s that comfortable. So, if you are a fan of the plush, soft, cozy style sweatshirts, Alternative is the brand for you! They have crew sweatshirts, hoodies, and zipper jackets.

My next favorite is ComfortWash by Hanes. You know I love my ComfortWash t-shirts – I have a closet full of them to prove it! I was excited to try out their sweatshirts (crew and hoodie). If you are a fan of the ComfortWash style t-shirts, you are going to want to try on these sweatshirts. They are soft on the inside but not quite as plush as the Alternative – perfect for fall days! They remind me of a vintage fit – one that has been washed a million times, like my favorite sweatshirt from high school that I still have in my closet.

It turns out, my favorite styles are the most challenging to screen print on – go figure! Vintage and soft-style sweatshirts have a tendency to fibrillate. This means that when you put down a coat of ink and lift the screen, it will look like the design is faded or you may notice little fibers sticking out of the ink.

Have no fear, I’m not giving up on my favorite style sweatshirts that easily! You know I’m always up for a screen printing challenge. I found that a balance of using the right amount of ink and a few little tricks, you can achieve great looking screen printed sweatshirts. Here’s how to address the challenges of screen printing on soft-style sweatshirts:

Screen Printing on Soft-Style Alternative Sweatshirts

The overall process of screen printing on sweatshirts is the same as t-shirts (start here if you are new to screen printing with craft vinyl). You can put your screen directly on the sweatshirt and screen print on a sturdy table, without any fancy equipment. Or, if you are an avid screen printer, like me, use your 1-color screen printing press (this comes in really handy with white ink).

Challenge 1: Working Around Hoods or Zippers

It is important that you have a nice flat surface for your squeegee to deposit an even amount of ink over your design. Thick seams, hoods and zippers can pose a challenge when screen printing sweatshirts. You can easily work around these obstacles with a little planning.

screen printing zipper hoodie how to

Solution
Before I attach my vinyl to the screen, I test the placement of the screen on my sweatshirt. For hoodies, I want to make sure the frame of the screen hits below the hood (because it’s bulky). Because of this placement, I could tell that I needed to place my design towards the top of the screen rather than right in the middle. For zipper jackets, you can adjust the frame to avoid contact with the zipper altogether OR you can use a smaller squeegee to work around the zipper. My zipper was under the screen, but didn’t pose a problem for a smaller size squeegee.

Challenge 2: Avoiding Fibrillation

Screen printing white inks in dark fabrics has always been a challenge. It’s one of the reasons I added a 1-color screen printing press to my craft room. The tips I have shared previously – screen printing white ink on dark fabrics – come in handy here too. But, there’s an added challenge. After one coat of white ink, the ink looked faded and had some longer fibers sticking out of the ink. This is called fibrillation and it’s a common issue with softer, higher quality shirts and sweatshirts, like Alternative.

fibrillation screen printing soft sweatshirt

Solution 1: Tame the fibers with water
Before putting down any ink, use a spray bottle to lightly wet the sweatshirt. Then rub the shirt in the same direction that you will be pulling your squeegee. This will help settle down the fibers before you squeegee the ink over the surface.

Solution 2: Use 3 thin layers of ink, drying between
The print – dry – print – dry – print – dry technique (you’ve seen me do this on t-shirts before) can help tame these fibers as well. Light coats of ink, followed by a quick dry with the heat gun, helps seal the fibers into the ink. The first coat will set a base layer of ink. The second coat will help trap the fibers. The third coat gives it the finishing touch – a solid coat of ink.

Solution 3: Use black or dark color inks
I compared the Speedball White Opaque Ink and Speedball Black Fabric Ink (both water-based inks) on the same Alternative sweatshirt. I had less fibrillation when using black inks. With two coats of ink, the black ink went on so much smoother and covered the fibers completely. If you don’t have a screen printing press (or you are trying sweatshirts for the first time), I recommend starting with black ink.

screen printing hoodies cricut diy

Screen Printing on Vintage-Style ComfortWash Sweatshirts

​ComfortWash sweatshirts are 80% cotton, 20% polyester (compared to Alternative’s 46% cotton, 50% polyester, 4% rayon). The different makeup of these sweatshirts means different screen printing results.

screen printing vintage comfortwash

Because the ComfortWash style fits like a sweatshirt that has been washed a million times, I wanted the ink to have a vintage look. I used Speedball white fabric ink (not the opaque). It went on great, despite the thicker consistency – no noticeable fibrillation here! After several washes, I expect this ink to crack for a distressed/aged look.

screen printing college sweatshirt hoodie

For a more traditional screen print, I also tested black ink on this grey ComfortWash hoodie. I noticed that the ink doesn’t absorb quite as much as it does on cotton/poly blend t-shirts. This means you don’t need quite as much ink as you would expect. With 2 good squeegees of ink, you should see great coverage! If you add too much ink, you will likely get some bleeding. Just like with t-shirts, it’s a matter of finding that balance of the perfect amount of ink.

Watch the Process

Of course, no tutorial would be complete without a look at the process in action.

Bonus Tip #1: Using Your Screen Printing Press with Sweatshirts

The super soft inside of these sweatshirts can cause it not to stick to your press pallet quite as well as a thin t-shirt does. Before you get started, a fresh coat of Super Tack is a good idea. Then, use a little more caution as you print. The plush inside has a tendency to allow the sweatshirt to shift. This can mess up your alignment (we don’t want that!). I tried not to touch the sweatshirt during the process and had no issues with shifting.

Be ready to clean your press and add more Super Tack after you finish a round of sweatshirts. So many fibers come off in the process of adding/removing sweatshirts from your press. Your pallet will lose all of it’s grip by the end!

Bonus Tip #2: Use a larger frame

Just out of personal preference, I decided that I wanted some of these sweatshirt designs to be larger than I normally print on t-shirts.  I used my Speedball 16×20 inch Screen Printing Frame allowing me to go a full 10″ wide on the 2 red hoodies.

SUPPLIES USED IN THIS TUTORIAL

how to screen print sweatshirts alternative

I hope this information gives you the confidence to try screen printing on sweatshirts. If you have any questions or tips of your own to share, comment below!