707 Cesar Chavez Street
San Francisco, CA 94124

PIGMENTS AND DYES: Terms and Explanations

In order to design fabrics most effectively, and to understand the limitations of the screening process, it is very helpful to know a little about current printing ink technology.

Dyes will yield the softest hand (the "hand" is the feel of the fabric) and maintain the fabric's luster. The color goes through a chemical reaction and actually becomes part of the fabric. The process is very expensive and has difficult color control, yet it is suitable for fine silk scarves and other special projects. Most of this type of printing is done in Europe or the Orient.

Pigments are much more economical to use. Pigments are generally more lightfast, more colorfast, and give greater color control. Pigment technology has developed tremendously in the past 15 years. 85% of the textile printing in the US is pigment printing.

There are many different kinds of pigment printing. You may be familiar with the rubbery images printed on T-Shirts, which is a PLASTISOL ink. It is a very "high solid" pigment that is cured using heat. It is versatile for printing t-shirts, but it is not suitable for yardage printing. ZOO-INK uses no plastisol.

ZOO-INK uses all water based pigments (also known as "Inks"). We cure (to make washable) most of the colors with chemicals that are added to the ink before it is printed. There are three types of pigments in use.
1. Transparent
2. Opaque
3. Metallic

Transparent Pigments
These are "low solids" pigments; when the fabric is dry there is very little residue left in the fabric. They most closely simulate the look and feel of dye prints. They are very transparent, which means that a color printed on top of a colored ground will be affected by the color of the ground fabric. For example, a transparent yellow printed on a blue ground will appear green. This can be used to your advantage through the use of smart design. For another example, transparent red printed on a black fabric will appear... black. The transparent pigments have very limited use on dark grounds.

Opaque Pigments
These are "high solids" pigments; when the fabric is dry there is lots of residue left in the fabric. They cause the fabric to be stiffer than the transparent pigments. However, they can be used to print light colors on dark grounds. This quality will greatly expand the possibilities in the design of new products. Also, an opaque color printed on a light colored ground will appear to "float" over the ground fabric, for some very interesting effects. Opaque Pigments will soften when washed, and are not as harsh on the hand as a plastisol ink.

The absorption of the ground fabric can greatly affect the look of the print and the color value/hue.

Metallic Inks
These are actually a subset of the opaques, being high solids and relatively opaque. To achieve a metallic look, it is necessary that the Metallic pigment remains in the fabric after printing. Today's technology has given us metallics which are not metal at all. They are often made up of plastics, mica, and natural oxides. This gives greater chemical stability and eliminates tarnishing problems. There are true metal powders and inks available for special projects.

These three types of pigments can be mixed in any proportions to achieve desired effects. The hue (color) of metallics can be changed by mixing with transparent pigments. We also mix the transparents and opaques, often to achieve a semi-opaque look with a softer hand. Of course the proportions in the mixture is a delicate balance.

The staff at ZOO-INK is pleased to help you learn about these printing considerations so we may deliver to you the best products possible. We take pride in our work, and we expect our products and services to show it.