The Ultimate Guide to Screen Printing on Polyester: Tips, Techniques, and Best Practices

Screen printing on polyester is a popular method for creating vibrant and long-lasting designs on this versatile fabric. Whether you’re a professional printer or a DIY enthusiast, understanding the intricacies of screen printing on polyester can help you achieve exceptional results. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the various aspects of screen printing on polyester, including the best techniques, tips for achieving optimal results, and the necessary equipment and materials. By the end, you’ll be equipped with the knowledge to create stunning and durable prints on polyester garments and accessories.

Section 1: Understanding Polyester Fabric

Properties of Polyester

Polyester is a synthetic fabric known for its durability and versatility. Understanding the properties of polyester is crucial for successful screen printing. Polyester fibers are strong, resistant to stretching and shrinking, and have excellent wrinkle resistance. They also have low moisture absorbency, which makes them ideal for sports and activewear. Additionally, polyester is known for its resistance to fading, ensuring that your screen prints maintain their vibrancy over time.

Types of Polyester Fabrics

There are various types of polyester fabrics commonly used for screen printing. Each type has its own characteristics and considerations.

1. 100% Polyester

Garments made from 100% polyester are popular for their moisture-wicking properties and durability. When screen printing on 100% polyester, it’s important to consider the fabric’s low moisture absorbency. This property affects the ink’s drying time, requiring adjustments to ensure proper curing and adhesion.

2. Polyester Blends

Polyester blends combine polyester with other fibers, such as cotton or rayon. These blends offer a balance between the benefits of polyester and the softness or breathability of other fibers. When screen printing on polyester blends, it’s essential to consider the compatibility of the ink with both polyester and the other fibers in the blend.

3. Performance Polyester

Performance polyester fabrics are specially designed for sports and activewear. They often feature moisture-wicking and antimicrobial properties. When screen printing on performance polyester, it’s crucial to select inks that can withstand high-performance activities and maintain their vibrancy and durability even after frequent washing and intense physical activities.

Section 2: Preparing the Artwork and Design

Colors and Design Considerations

When screen printing on polyester, selecting the right colors and design elements is crucial for achieving optimal results. Consider the following tips:

1. Color Selection

Choose colors that complement the polyester fabric and align with your design goals. Consider the fabric’s color and how it may interact with the chosen ink colors. Test prints and color swatches can help you ensure the desired color accuracy.

2. Vector-Based Designs

Creating vector-based designs ensures sharp and precise prints, especially for intricate and detailed artwork. Vector graphics are composed of mathematical equations, allowing them to be scaled to any size without losing quality. This scalability is particularly useful when printing on different sizes of polyester garments.

3. Optimizing the Artwork

Before printing, optimize your artwork for screen printing on polyester. Ensure that the design elements are properly aligned, and the registration is accurate for multi-color prints. Pay attention to the size and placement of the design on the garment, considering factors such as seams, collars, and hems.

Section 3: Choosing the Right Screen Printing Inks

Water-Based Inks

Water-based inks are a popular choice for screen printing on polyester due to their soft and breathable finish. They penetrate the fabric’s fibers, resulting in vibrant prints that maintain the fabric’s natural feel. Water-based inks are also eco-friendly and easy to clean up.

Plastisol Inks

Plastisol inks are another common choice for polyester screen printing. They are opaque, allowing for vibrant prints on both light and dark polyester fabrics. Plastisol inks sit on top of the fabric rather than penetrating the fibers, resulting in a slightly raised texture. They are known for their durability and ability to maintain color vibrancy over time.

Discharge Inks

Discharge inks are used to create soft, breathable, and lightweight prints on polyester. These inks work by removing the dye from the fabric, resulting in a print that feels almost as if it’s part of the fabric itself. Discharge inks are commonly used for achieving vintage or distressed effects on polyester garments.

Section 4: Preparing the Screen and Setting Up the Equipment

Coating the Screen with Emulsion

The first step in preparing the screen for polyester screen printing is coating it with emulsion. Emulsion is a light-sensitive liquid that, when properly applied and exposed to light, creates a stencil on the screen. Follow these steps:

1. Cleaning the Screen

Ensure that the screen is thoroughly cleaned and free from any dust, debris, or previous ink residue. Use screen cleaning solutions and a brush to remove any contaminants that might affect the emulsion’s adhesion.

2. Applying the Emulsion

Apply emulsion to the screen using a scoop coater, ensuring even and consistent coverage. Use a smooth and steady motion to coat both sides of the screen, ensuring that the emulsion reaches the mesh openings.

3. Drying the Emulsion

Allow the emulsion to dry in a controlled environment, such as a darkroom or drying cabinet. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the recommended drying time, as it may vary depending on the emulsion type and environmental conditions.

4. Exposing the Design

Place the prepared artwork on a transparency film or vellum. Position the film on the coated screen and secure it with tape or a vacuum exposure unit. Expose the screen to UV light, ensuring that the design is properly exposed and the emulsion hardens.

Section 5: Printing Techniques for Polyester Fabric


Under-basing is a technique used to achieve vibrant and opaque prints on dark-colored polyester garments. The under-base acts as a foundation layer that allows subsequent colors to adhere properly and maintain their vibrancy. Here’s how to under-base:

1. Print the Under-Base

Using a screen with a higher mesh count, print the under-base color onto the polyester fabric. Ensure that the under-base ink covers the desired areas evenly, providing a solid foundation for the subsequent colors.

2. Flash Curing the Under-Base

Flash curing is a process of partially drying the under-base ink before printing additional colors. Use a flash dryer or heat press to quickly dry the under-base, allowing it to become tacky without fully curing. This ensures that the subsequent colors won’t mix or bleed into the under-base layer.

3. Printing the Additional Colors

After flash curing the under-base, proceed to print the additional colors on top. The under-base provides a vibrant and opaque background for the subsequent colors, resulting in a vivid and professional-looking print.


Halftones are a technique used to create the illusion of shades and gradients using small dots of varying sizes. This technique is especially useful when screen printing photographs or intricate designs on polyester fabric. Follow these steps to achieve halftones:

1. Creating Halftone Separations

During the artwork preparation stage, convert grayscale images into halftone separations using specialized software or plugins. Adjust the dot size and frequency to achieve the desired level of detail and shading.

2. Exposing the Halftone Screens

Prepare separate screens for each halftone separation, ensuring that the dot pattern is accurately transferred onto the screen. Follow the exposure time and technique recommended by the emulsion manufacturer, as halftone screens require precise exposure.

3. Printing the Halftones

When printing halftones onto polyester fabric, use a screen with a high mesh count to ensure accurate dot reproduction. Adjust the ink viscosity and squeegee pressure to achieve proper ink transfer without smudging or blurring the halftone dots.

Special Effects Printing

To add unique touches and visual interest to your polyester prints, consider incorporating special effects techniques. These techniques can elevate your designs and make them stand out. Here are a few popular special effects printing techniques:

1. Foil Printing

Foil printing involves applying a layer of metallic or colored foil onto the printed design. The foil adheres to the ink, creating a shiny and reflective effect. Foil printing can be used to highlight specific elements or create an all-over metallic design.

2. Glow-in-the-Dark Printing

Glow-in-the-dark printing uses special inks that emit light in the dark after being exposed to light. This technique is perfect for creating eye-catching designs that come to life in lowlight or nighttime settings. It adds an element of fun and uniqueness to polyester prints, making them stand out.

3. Puff Printing

Puff printing involves using a special ink that expands when exposed to heat, creating a raised or three-dimensional effect. This technique adds texture and dimension to the printed design, giving it a tactile quality that enhances its visual appeal. Puff printing can be used to create bold and attention-grabbing designs on polyester fabric.

Section 6: Curing and Drying the Prints

Proper Curing Techniques

Properly curing the prints is essential for ensuring their longevity and durability. Curing involves applying heat to the printed design, allowing the ink to bond with the polyester fibers. Follow these guidelines for effective curing:

1. Temperature and Dwell Time

Refer to the ink manufacturer’s guidelines for the recommended curing temperature and dwell time. Polyester fabrics typically require higher curing temperatures compared to other materials. Use a heat press or conveyor dryer to ensure consistent and accurate temperature control.

2. Test Prints

Before proceeding with full production, conduct test prints to determine the optimal curing parameters for your specific ink and polyester fabric combination. Test prints help you identify the correct temperature and dwell time to achieve proper ink adhesion and durability.

3. Post-Curing

After curing, allow the prints to cool down before further handling or packaging. Post-curing ensures that the ink fully sets and adheres to the polyester fabric, reducing the risk of peeling or fading over time. Proper post-curing helps maintain the integrity of the prints, even after washing and regular wear.

Section 7: Troubleshooting Common Issues

Ink Bleeding

Ink bleeding occurs when the ink spreads beyond its intended boundaries, resulting in blurry or distorted prints. To minimize ink bleeding when screen printing on polyester, consider the following solutions:

1. Adjusting Ink Viscosity

If the ink is too thin, it may bleed more easily. Increase the ink viscosity by adding a thickening agent or reducing the solvent content. Thicker ink is less likely to spread, resulting in sharper and more defined prints.

2. Using Proper Screens

Choose screens with a higher mesh count for fine details and intricate designs. A higher mesh count helps contain the ink within the desired areas, reducing the chances of bleeding. Additionally, ensure that the screens are properly tensioned to provide a precise and controlled ink transfer.

3. Proper Squeegee Technique

Adjust the squeegee pressure and angle to achieve proper ink transfer without excessive force. Excessive pressure can cause the ink to spread beyond the intended boundaries, leading to bleeding. Experiment with different squeegee techniques to find the optimal pressure and angle for your specific printing setup.

Poor Adhesion

Poor adhesion occurs when the ink fails to bond properly with the polyester fabric, resulting in cracking, peeling, or flaking prints. To improve adhesion when screen printing on polyester, consider the following solutions:

1. Pre-Treating the Fabric

Some polyester fabrics may have a finish or coating that inhibits ink adhesion. Pre-treat the fabric by washing it with a mild detergent to remove any residues or finishes that may affect ink adhesion. Rinse the fabric thoroughly and allow it to dry before printing.

2. Using Adhesion Promoters

Adhesion promoters are chemicals that enhance the bond between the ink and the polyester fabric. They improve ink adhesion and durability, reducing the risk of peeling or flaking prints. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the proper application of adhesion promoters.

3. Proper Curing Techniques

Inadequate curing can also result in poor adhesion. Ensure that the prints are properly cured, following the recommended temperature and dwell time for the specific ink and polyester fabric combination. Proper curing helps the ink bond with the fabric, enhancing adhesion and durability.

Registration Problems

Registration refers to the alignment of different colors or design elements in multi-color prints. Registration problems can lead to misaligned or blurred prints. To improve registration when screen printing on polyester, consider the following solutions:

1. Accurate Screen Alignment

Ensure that the screens are properly aligned before printing. Use registration marks on the screens and the artwork to guide the alignment process. Check the alignment before each print run to ensure consistent registration throughout the production process.

2. Proper Screen Tension

Proper screen tension is crucial for maintaining accurate registration. Screens with low tension may warp or shift during the printing process, resulting in misaligned prints. Regularly check and adjust the screen tension as needed to ensure optimal registration.

3. Use Registration Aids

Registration aids, such as registration pins or tabs, can help ensure precise alignment of the screens during the printing process. These aids provide reference points that help maintain consistent registration, especially for multi-color prints or complex designs.

Section 8: Post-Printing Care and Maintenance

Washing and Drying

Proper care and maintenance of screen-printed polyester garments are essential for preserving their quality and longevity. Follow these guidelines for washing and drying:

1. Follow Care Instructions

Always follow the care instructions provided by the garment manufacturer. Pay attention to recommended washing temperatures, detergents, and drying methods. Following the care instructions ensures that the prints remain vibrant and intact over time.

2. Turn Garments Inside Out

To minimize friction and potential damage to the prints, turn the garments inside out before washing. This protects the printed surface from excessive rubbing against other garments or washing machine surfaces.

3. Use Gentle Cycle

When machine washing screen-printed polyester garments, choose a gentle cycle to reduce the likelihood of excessive agitation. Aggressive washing cycles can cause the prints to fade or peel prematurely. Use mild detergents specifically formulated for colored or delicate fabrics.

4. Air-Drying

Avoid using high heat when drying screen-printed polyester garments. Instead, opt for air-drying or use low-heat settings on the dryer. High temperatures can cause the prints to crack or fade. Ensure that the garments are fully dry before storing to prevent any moisture-related issues.

Section 9: Expanding Your Screen Printing Business to Polyester

Identifying Potential Customers

Expanding your screen printing business to include polyester printing opens up new opportunities. Consider targeting the following potential customers:

1. Sports Teams and Organizations

Sports teams, clubs, and organizations often require custom polyester uniforms, jerseys, and accessories. Reach out to local sports teams, schools, and community groups to offer your polyester printing services. Highlight the benefits of polyester, such as durability, moisture-wicking properties, and vibrant prints.

2. Fitness and Activewear Brands

Fitness and activewear brands are constantly looking for high-quality and visually striking prints on polyester fabric. Research local or online fitness apparel brands and present them with your portfolio and expertise in polyester screen printing. Emphasize the versatility and durability of polyester for their performance-focused garments.

3. Event Organizers

Event organizers often require custom polyester merchandise for concerts, festivals, and other large-scale events. Offer your services to create personalized t-shirts, bags, or accessories that promote the event or feature event-specific designs. Polyester’s ability to withstand multiple washes and retain vibrant colors makes it a suitable choice for event merchandise.

Expanding Product Offerings

To cater to different polyester applications, consider expanding your product offerings. This allows you to cater to a wider range of customers and diversify your revenue streams. Here are some ideas to expand your product offerings:

1. Custom Polyester Bags

Create custom polyester bags, such as tote bags or backpacks, featuring screen-printed designs. These bags are versatile and popular among various demographics. Target businesses, organizations, or individuals who may need promotional or personalized bags.

2. Polyester Accessories

Expand into printing polyester accessories like hats, headbands, or wristbands. These accessories provide opportunities for unique and eye-catching designs. Consider partnering with local fashion boutiques or sports retailers to offer customized polyester accessories.

3. Home Decor Items

Create printed polyester home decor items, such as pillowcases, tablecloths, or curtains. Polyester’s durability and resistance to fading make it suitable for these applications. Target interior designers, home decor stores, or individuals looking for custom home decor solutions.

Section 10: Exploring Alternative Methods and Techniques

Heat Transfer Printing

Heat transfer printing involves using heat to transfer a pre-printed design onto polyester fabric. This method allows for intricate and detailed designs, as well as full-color prints. Heat transfer printing is a versatile alternative to screen printing, especially for small or personalized orders.

Sublimation Printing

Sublimation printing is a process where heat and pressure are used to transfer dyes onto polyester fabric, resulting in vibrant and permanent prints. This method allows for full-color and photographic prints with excellent durability and colorfastness. Sublimation printing is popular for producing custom sportswear, team uniforms, and promotional items.

Direct-to-Garment (DTG) Printing

Direct-to-garment (DTG) printing is a digital printing technique that allows for high-resolution and full-color prints directly onto the polyester fabric. This method is ideal for complex and detailed designs, as it provides exceptional color accuracy and vibrancy. DTG printing is often used for small-batch or on-demand printing, as it offers quick turnaround times and minimal setup requirements.

The Future of Screen Printing on Polyester

As technology advances and new materials and techniques emerge, the future of screen printing on polyester holds exciting possibilities. Innovations in ink formulations, curing methods, and equipment are continually pushing the boundaries of what can be achieved with screen printing on polyester fabric. With a focus on sustainability, eco-friendly inks and processes are also gaining popularity, allowing for more environmentally conscious polyester printing.

As a screen printer, staying updated with the latest advancements and industry trends will help you stay ahead of the competition and continue to deliver exceptional prints on polyester. Embrace new technologies, experiment with innovative techniques, and adapt to the evolving needs and preferences of your customers to ensure your success in the dynamic world of screen printing on polyester.

In conclusion, screen printing on polyester offers numerous opportunities to create vibrant, durable, and visually striking designs on this versatile fabric. By understanding the properties of polyester, optimizing artwork and design, choosing the right inks, properly preparing screens and equipment, and mastering printing techniques, you can achieve exceptional results. Troubleshooting common issues, caring for and expanding your business to include polyester printing further enhance your capabilities and market reach. As you explore alternative methods and techniques, such as heat transfer, sublimation, and DTG printing, you open up new avenues for creativity and customization. Embrace the future of screen printing on polyester, and let your imagination and expertise shine through in every print.

Related video of The Ultimate Guide to Screen Printing on Polyester: Tips, Techniques, and Best Practices