Top quality, all over printed tights are usually created using a method involving heat transfer printing. A design is printed on a special type of paper such as Sublitex digital transfer paper. This is then transferred to plain 40 denier tights using a heat transfer press.
This is, of course, not the whole story. There are a lot of steps and factors to be taken into consideration before you can create your own printed tights. As with many techniques it is not as easy as it sounds. The old adage “if it was that easy everyone would be doing it” should be remembered.
You should understand the printing process, the machinery involved, paper types and hosiery materials before you even start to create your design. Don’t worry though, we will give you a run through of everything you need to know before you get your designing head on.
What Is The Difference Between Screen Printing and Heat Transfer Printing?
Often mistaken for the same process screen printing and heat transfer printing are very different to each other. Each have their own advantages, disadvantages and are not necessarily suitable for all printing jobs; knowing the difference will help with your decision making process.
As the name sounds screen printing uses actual screens in the process. If creating a design with only one colour it can be a relatively simple procedure, however the more colours you add the more complicated it becomes.
A stencil is created of the design (or part of the design if using more than one colour). This is then placed under a mesh screen and ink is then spread out over the screen. The fine mesh only allows the ink through in the areas the stencil permits.
If your design only has one colour then you are done for that design. For second, third, fourth etc. colours you need to repeat the process with stencils covering the area specifically for each colour. The colours then build up to the design required.
Heat Transfer Printing
Whereas screen printing involves printing the design directly onto the tights; heat transfer printing requires the use of a paper or film based transfer. The type of material being printed on and the design dictate the type of paper or film to be used. For example Decotrans Art is a film used for decorating PVC and leather, whilst digital transfer paper is used more for other fabrics including polyester and nylon.
The design is printed on the paper or film and then transferred to the garment (in our case tights) using a process involving heat and high pressure. Since no ink is involved the whole design can be applied at once with very little waste.
Pamela Mann only uses heat transfer printing with digital transfer paper for all of their hosiery!
What Machine Is Used?
A basic screen printing kit can be created in your back room using mesh, wood for a frame, a squeegee and piece of card or paper for your stencil. Heat printing, on the the other hand, require specialist machinery not readily available to the general public.
The machines used at Pamela Mann are large format clam variety and can produce temperatures of up to 260 degrees centigrade. They have an extra large heat plate (100cm by 50cm) which enables us to print on three pairs of tights at once and are digitally controlled.
These machines are hefty beasts weighing in at 145 kg and costing tens of thousands of pounds but are remarkably lightweight to use. Full control can be had over the machine with just your fingertips.
What Paper Is Used?
As previously mentioned, there are a number of paper types used in heat transfer, paper and foils being the main ones used.
The traditional transfer paper is being superseded with digital transfer paper which offers higher resolutions on a pure cellulose paper using a digital plotter. The paper itself is relatively lightweight (45g/m2), can be printed in huge volumes of 500m a roll and doesn’t use any water or solvents.
The main paper used at Pamela Mann is Sublitex Digital Transfer Paper.
What Tights Are Printed On?
It is possible to print on virtually any type of hosiery. Here at Pamela Mann we regularly print on tights, stockings and socks.
White is the best colour to use as this shows the colours of the print more clearly than on darker hosiery. There are occasions when darker tights can be used, however these are not the norm.
The weight of the hosiery is usually down to individual choice and warmth factor with the higher deniers being warmer. 40 denier is the usual weight used as this produces excellent results and can be worn all year round.
Pamela Mann’s usual choice are 40 denier velvet tights.
What Is The Process Of Printing On Tights?
With the growth of robots in manufacturing you would be excused for thinking tight printing was automated. The reality is that it is a heavily manual process. As you would expect production of the machinery, the paper and the original tights can be heavily automated. However the process of transferring the digital image to the piece of hosiery is completely manual. This gives a completely unique product each time.
The process for printing tights is quite straightforward.
- Stretch the tights over cardboard or metal flat legs, keeping the toes in line and ensuring there are no creases.
- Heat the machine to a specific temperature and adjust the pressure as needed.
- Lay a sheet of print paper; with the graphic side facing up, on the lower bed of the heat press.
- Place the tights (now on legs) on the print paper.
- Place a second piece of print paper (graphic side down) on top of the tights.
- Lower the top bed down and lock into place.
- The heat and pressure transfers the graphics to the tights.
- Tights are removed and allowed to cool.
Sounds simple doesn’t it? Well the principle is but the actual technique can produce a number of mistakes for the unwary.
Many first timers get frustrated at how the slightest error can produce an unwearable garment. A slight crease, barely noticeable before the process, can create a huge white line running down the leg. Is the pressure higher or lower than it should be? That will prevent the graphic transferring properly! If the temperature is too high the tights can be melted, which renders them perfect for the bin. If the temperature is too low the graphic doesn’t get transferred sufficiently, also making them perfect for the bin.
Can I Have My Own Design Printed On Tights?
Almost any design can be printed onto tights (subject to trademark and copyright laws), with a minimum quantity of 150 pairs being required. For retailers it is quite a low entry point to having your own, unique tights that won’t be available at any of your competitors.
Could I Have A Special Event Or Charity Printed On The Tights?
Tights make a fantastic change to the usual t-shirts marking special events and charities. Printed tights can leave a lasting impression on your visitors and sponsors. Being low cost, low volume items they won’t break the budget.
Is Creating The Design Difficult?
Occasionally clients will produce a fantastic looking design which looks perfect on paper. However, from our expertise we know it wouldn’t work on legs and that is where we are available to help. Our experts will guide you through the process. You may want to design it yourself, or they will produce designs for you.
If you want to create your own range of printed hosiery or are interested in becoming a Pamela Mann client then please get in touch.
If you want to try out, or view, our range of printed tights please visit our retail site. Here you will find over 400 styles on tights, stockings, socks and footless tights.
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