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If you're into screen printing, you know that achieving a vibrant, long-lasting design involves careful curing of the ink. There are two crucial steps in this process: Drying the ink then applying heat for a final cure. The drying process can take time, so what do you do if you're in a rush to finish a shirt?
You can actually go from screen printing a shirt to a cured, ready-to-go shirt in less than 5 minutes!
In this post, I’ll walk you through the process, offering tips for both air drying and using a heat gun for those last-minute projects.
Pro Tip: Download my free printable heat setting instructions here for quick reference:
NOTE: These steps have been tested for Speedball fabric ink. Other brands may have different curing times.
Step 1: Allowing the Ink to Dry
Before applying heat, it's essential to ensure the ink is thoroughly dry to allow the water content to evaporate. If time allows, opt for air drying.
When I am not in a hurry, here's my typical ink drying process:
- Lay out the printed fabric, ensuring it's spread out evenly. I recently found this nifty drying rack that I use instead of laying my shirts on the floor.
- Leave it to air dry for a minimum of 24 hours.
- Position the fabric near a fan or in a well-ventilated room.
Quick Fix for Last-Minute Projects: The Heat Gun Approach
For those tight deadlines, a heat gun can be a lifesaver. Follow these steps to speed up the drying process:
- Crank your heat gun up to its highest setting.
- Hold your heat gun about 4-6 inches away from your shirt.
- Move the heat gun around, evenly distributing heat for 1-2 minutes. Use caution here to prevent scorching – the fabric will burn if you leave your heat in one spot too long!
- Touch your ink to make sure it feels completely dry. If you have areas where your ink deposit was thick, you may need a little longer with the heat gun.
Step 2: Curing the Ink
Once the ink is completely dry, it's time to apply heat for the final cure. While the heat gun can technically cure the ink, it's hard to know if you evenly headed ever part of your design.
When I'm doing a quick project and drying with the heat gun, I still like to heat press it after just to be sure the ink has cured.
Keep in mind that each brand and type of screen printing ink may need to be cured differently.
For regular Speedball fabric ink, I have found these settings work best for me:
Using a Heat Press or Easy Press to Cure Speedball Fabric Ink:
- Set your heat press to 320 degrees.
- Press the fabric for 40 seconds, ensuring even pressure.
Pro Tip: Once your ink is dry, it is not necessary to use a protective barrier between the shirt and heat press. However, you can use a Teflon sheet or parchment paper if you would like. It works either way!
A Cricut EasyPress can also be used with the same settings.
Using an Iron or Cricut EasyPress Mini to Cure Speedball Fabric Ink:
For cotton or cotton-poly blend shirts, select the cotton setting on your iron or use the high setting on the Cricut EasyPress Mini.
Glide the iron over your entire design for 3-5 minutes, ensuring the ink receives enough heat for curing.
Investing in a Heat Press
While an iron works well, especially for beginners, serious screen printers should consider a heat press for efficiency.
- Ensures even and consistent heat application.
- It's faster – 40 seconds with a heat press vs. 3-5 minutes per shirt with an iron.
- Allows multitasking while shirts are on the press. I especially like the auto-open feature on my 15×15 heat press.
The Final Result: Durable, Vibrant Designs
With proper drying and curing, your fabric prints should stand the test of time. They won't fade, even after multiple washes. Rest assured, the ink on these shirts will last as long as the shirts themselves.
Pro Tip: If you are tackling a large batch of shirts, using a heat gun to dry each one can be time consuming. Plan ahead for these projects so you can allow the ink to air dry rather than using a heat gun to dry each one individually.
Watch My Process in Action
Remember, whether you have ample time for air drying or need to rely on a heat gun for a last-minute project, following these steps will lead to successful curing of your Speedball fabric ink. Happy printing!