Hybrid Printing - What is it?

Stephanie Shea
December 10, 2019

Hybrid Printing

1. What is it?

2. Why is it revolutionary?  What makes it special?

3. What are its strengths and limitations?

4. What designs and products does it fit for?

What is it?

Hybrid Printing is a stunning development to screen printing t-shirts.  Digital Printing has now been merged with Screen printing for an evolution of this art form that will transform expectations.  Screen printing a full color design onto a t-shirt used to require a lot of compromises, and a lot of genuine artistry.  Constrained by the amount of colors; designs would be run through a gauntlet of mechanical and artistic limitations before coming out the other side as the best possible facsimile of the original.  It’s has always been a fascinating blend of art and science with many variables affecting the nuances of the design, never quite getting exactly what we wanted.  We take a LOT of pride in the techniques we’ve developed to get artwork as close to the original as mechanically possible.  Hybrid printing skips right over the drama and delivers a full color image printed in perfect color registration, bright and opaque.  It really does respect your art.  

Why is it revolutionary?

As someone who grew up in this industry, it’s exciting (and a bit nostalgic) to see the evolution of t-shirt printing.  As an early adopter of Hybrid printing, we are back into the development space.  45 years of knowledge is incredibly powerful, and it’s been amazing to see the ways our traditional wisdom has been challenged and expanded.  Hybrid is basically a screenprint sandwich (yum!).  Though there are different approaches to this formula, at Ampro we screenprint an Underbase/Tie coat, Digitally print the image onto the Tie Coat and then print a Top coat to seal the digital inks.  This allows us to achieve the durability and breathability of a screenprint, but with digital color range and resolution!  As our dads’ would say, “It’s high def!”

That is a really big deal.  Really.  Big.  Deal.  Without being able to use my hands to emphasize how cool that is, I’m reduced to repeating myself.

What are its strengths and limitations?

Regular digital printing is limited in the ways they can achieve dimension in design.  Screen printing is much better at rendering a dimensional print because screenprinting inks are viscous, thick, and full of pigment.  The pigment particles in our screenprinting inks only have to be small enough to pass through commonly used silks which are effectively like screen doors compared to the pigment size of a digital print head.  Check out how thick the flakes of crystallina are (the clear ink with glitter in it):  

Since digital printing inks are made to be layered to achieve colors, they are very translucent by virtue.  Screenprinting inks can be made intentionally translucent or opaque, which makes them flexible.  We can make inks “stand up” on the shirt so they are visible without an underbase, or we can make them fade in.  Rich purples, blues and neon inks tend to be thin- great for blending and layering but slightly annoying when you want them to run from an area with heavy underbase to an area with little to no underbase.  That’s the one area where Hybrid can present some challenges.  We fade our inks on and off the underbase gradually to create smoky fades, flames, light bursts and feathered edges.  Alternatively, because Hybrid digital colors are thin and print in tiny dots with perfect color registration, they are more nimble than regular plastisol ink.  That’s why I would compare Hybrid printing to a high-resolution LED TV.  Screenprinting requires constant adjustment to the print registration (registration is how the colors line up to each other) whereas Hybrid printing is done through a giant rolling multi-head printer.  The colors are always 100% aligned with each other creating a clarity of detail that is impossible to achieve using 10-16 individual silkscreens.

Traditionally when we translate a picture into a print, we’re limited by how many colors our machines are able to print (16) and balancing that with which colors we want to blend together versus which colors should be vibrant and crisp.  Hybrid printing does not have the limitation of 16 colors, so we’re able to render photographs with extremely rich detail.  Hybrid resolution allows for important details like facial contouring, catchlights in eyes, nuanced shadowing which set prints apart from their silkscreen predecessors.  That is by far the most important differentiator- the resolution and color gamut of digital printing.  In some cases, though, the resolution and ink viscosity can present challenges.  If the design has delicate fades and ombres using the shirt ground, digital printing requires strategy.  We occasionally drop in an extra screen with a spot color to boost and blend.

What products are recommended for Hybrid printing?

Hybrid printing is one of the few digital print technologies that works well on many different fabric types from Nike Dri-FIT t-shirts to Adidas triblends.  Since we are sandwiching the digital inks between two layers of regular ink, we’re able to protect the ink from dyestuffs released by the polyester and rayon fibers in the washer and dryer.  Hybrid machines cannot print over seams, kangaroo pouches, pockets or anything else slightly raised off the shirt.  The print head has sensors to protect it, so any minor wrinkle or bump will stop it from approaching the shirt.  

Recommended:  Cotton t-shirts, blended t-shirts including triblends, performance t-shirts.

Avoid:  Hoodies, sleeves, pockets, seams (armhole or collar).

Questions about Hybrid printing?  Feel free to email info@amprogo.com for more information!

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