Tonal Screen Printing, AKA ‘Tone on Tone’

Tonal Screen Printing, AKA ‘Tone on Tone’

Yo, it’s Cory here at Floodway an I’m here to talk about one of my favourite effects, tonal prints, or tone on tone. Tonal prints are super soft, easy to print to keep your costs low, and they look outstanding, definitely one of my favourite special effects. I’m gunna show and explain bit of how these prints are done to help put this option on the radar for your next design. And give some tips about both designing for this process and a bit on the actual printing of it for our screen print pals.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YKxG2HBgxrg

Okay so we’ve been meaning to print some shirts and I was talking to Jeff about a huge stack of mixed colours that we were going to slap our logo onto for shop tees and giveaways and whatnot. We were discussing what would work across all the colours and we came up with these tonal prints or ‘tone on tone’ effect that we’ve been doing for a while. It’s soft, relatively easy to print, and we’ve been meaning to figure out an easier way to show it to clients because sometimes pictures and words don’t cut it. So, that’s it, I pulled out the camera and started documenting a bit. yaknow, got the film out, whip up the ink and and got them on press. And since this was all coming together I pulled out the camera to talk about why we love this effect, and to give some design tips, and some advice on printing it for our screenprint pals.    

Tone-on-Tone look its best on blended or heather tees, but still outstanding across a wide variety of solid garment colours.

So, what is tonal ink? The main difference from a typical opaque ink is that it’s translucent, like really translucent. That means it’s going to show the garment colour through the ink a lot more which adds to this effect. So in our case the ink is pretty much 99% a soft clear base, and 1% whatever ink you want to tint the base. For our shop tees I’m doing a two colour print with this tonal effect which is kinda fancy, but keeping it super simple with black and white so that it’ll work across this stack of different coloured garments.

The reason I’m explaining the ink mix is because it’s important to know that it can be tinted any colour, not just lighter or darker. And can be more, or less translucent. So there are definitely a couple extra tweaks to this print style that you can discuss with your printer and not everyone does it the same way as a standard, so its worth asking about seeing. A custom effect like this is really tricky to show accurately in a digital mock-up so I always suggest working with a shop that is easy to discuss these things with and not blow off your questions. As a client you want to have a ton of confidence when you hit that approval button so the time you’ve taken today even to learn about the process will put you kilometres ahead.    

For the designers; in the case of a mockup you can just toss your design down to like 30% opacity and that’d give a pretty good idea of how it would look, which I know isn’t much advice so here’s what I gotta say about designing for screen printing. when the final process is taken into considering when choosing or making the design, things can really come together into a screaming product. So for an ink like this with a bit of a vintage look, it’ll often get’s paired up with blended shirts, and so a big bold design is going to look best. Smaller details are going to be much harder to spot especially if you’re using only one ink for the design.    

 

Tone on Tone prints, sometimes known at Tonal prints. Seen here in a lighter tone, and darker tone on various colour garments.

For the printers; sorry y’all I’m really not trying to be the tutorial guy, especially not the ‘learn it on camera’ guy so let me keep it short and sweet here and tell ya where we’re at after a bunch of testing and printing these over the years. These plastisol inks are a bit on the thinner side with it mostly being base, and since we’re going for a more vintage finish anyway we are not going to putting down a ton of ink. So higher mesh screens are great here, but we still use a softer triple-duro squeegee on these to help make sure the thinner ink makes it into the knit of the tee without having to add pressure to compensate. So the higher mesh screens keeps a thin layer of ink, and the softer squeegee helps keep enough of it moving through the stencil that it has good coverage. That keeps the print feeling softer and I’m pretty sure it’s because it’s not clogging up the weave from too much pressure and lets the tee flow better.    

So that’s pretty much it. It’s typically a softer and thinner print, but also less opaque, so a bolder design is suggested. Don’t be shy with details, but keep in mind that there’s some garment and ink combos won’t have a ton of contrast. Other than that, I hope this helps someone considering using this effect for their next design or learning how to print it in their shop. It’s a pretty simple ink mix to keep in stock, so we don’t charge any extra for it. A huge part of why I’m making this video is just to put it on your radar so that we can print more of it. I love the way it looks and it seems pretty trend right now.