Screen Printing Bella Canvas Tees – Why So Challenging?

Bella Canvas Tees


It’s the shirt everyone wants.  So comfortable and fashionable.  But it comes with its own set of issues when screen printing.  We’re talking about screen printing on Bella Canvas tees.  So why are they so difficult to print on?  Well there are a number of issues.  So let’s dive in.

Thin, silky material

This is the first one, namely the flowy fabric series.  The fabric itself is a super light 4.0 oz fabric made of 65% polyester, 35% viscose or some variation similar to this.  The black heather is a rayon/ poly blend.  So we already have issues with different blends which may require different inks in the middle of the print run.  The triblend fabrics are also very popular and made of Cotton/Poly/Rayon in most cases.  These are super light weight as well coming in at 3.8 oz per yard.  The other two main fabrics for the Bella brand are 100% cotton at 4.2 oz and the 50/50 poly/cotton blend, also at 4.2 oz.

So what are the challenges with lightweight materials?  First the shirts burn easily when flashing.  Flashing is drying the inks in sequence as the print goes around the printing press.  On almost every color of shirt a base layer of white ink must be printed (kind of like a primer coat) before the top colors are printed.  This makes for a vibrant print.  The bulbs in most modern automated printing presses can reach 1200 degrees in a couple of seconds.  Great care and experience are needed when printing these fabrics to prevent melting the shirts.

T Shirt Design

Art selection is another big challenge with most of the Bella shirts.  When screen printing on the flowy or triblend fabric large designs add a lot of extra weight to the shirt and the comfort of the ultra thin material is lost.  Better choices are monotone designs, one color distressed designs or simple text/logos.  Big, thick, blocky designs are discouraged.

Whats all the Fuzz about?

Fibrillation is another challenge with the Bella series of shirts.  This is most noticable in the cotton fabrics.  Fibrillation is when the fibers of the shirt want to raise up to the surface of the ink layer when printing.  Bella promotes soft combed and ringspun cotton which is very soft and comfortable but not necessarily as smooth as regular combed cotton.  Take a look at the images.  The pink shirt is a Bella cotton shirt.  The green and blue shirts are regular cotton from Gildan and Hanes which make for a smoother print surface.

Dye Migration

Dye migration is alive and well in the screen printing industry.  We don’t mean that is is something that people want (like a craft brew).  It’s a real issue and Bella shirts are not exempt from it.  In recent years a few brands have introduced cationic dyeing to some of their products, which prevents the mygration issue, but this process is still in it’s infancy.  So what is dye migration?  You can read more about it here.  But the short answer is when a poly or poly blend shirt is heated, the dye in the shirt releases from the fabric and turns into a gas.  The gas wants to move and if the ink structure isn’t capable of blocking the dye structure the dye migrates into the ink layer causing the ink to change colors.  The release of the dye happens with every poly or poly blend shirt except for the cationic type of dye process.  Weather or not the ink changes colors is a battle of ink vs dye.  There are some really good inks available and really good processes but how thick of an ink layer do you want on a 4 oz shirt?

Stay Shirt, Stay

And our biggest challenge is keeping the shirts glued to the pallets when printing.  Wait, what?  The shirts are glued down when printing?  Yes they are.  There are two types of glue typically used when printing shirts, an aerosol spray tack and a roll on type of water based glue.  In most instances the aerosol tack is more than adequate.  In some cases the more aggressive water based glue is plenty.  With the flowy series of shirts the fabric has almost a Teflon feel to it and it just simply doesn’t want to stay glued down to the pallets.  Often times water based tack with a top layer of spray tack is what it takes to keep the shirts from moving.

If you desire the fashion forward Bella brand of tees make sure you find a print partner that is experienced with all the challenges of these fabrics. We recommend you try the 3001 Cotton Tee or 3413 TriBlend for men, and the 8800 Flowy Tank or the 6004 Cotton Tee for Ladies.  And here is a Bella Canvas Fabric Guide.



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