High Density Ink – The definitive print guide for clothing design

High density ink the definitive designers guide apparel creation

Seeing a High Density print for the first time, my initial thoughts were, “that’s amazing! how’d they do that? When and how can I try this?” The 3D text protruding from the t-shirt graphic engaged my creative curiosity and so I delved into the wonderful world of High Density Inks!

High Density Ink 3d print clothing

High Density, how’d they do that?

High Density prints are achieved by stacking layer upon layer of ink to raise the print above the fabric by up to 3 mm (1/8 inch). Special “thick” emulsion (the substance applied to a silkscreen to block out areas of a screen where you do not want ink printed, i.e everywhere except the design) is used on the silk screen to aid in laying down a thick layer of ink. The ink is then heated until it is touch dried, and then printed again. The process is repeated until the desired print height is met.

Artwork suitable for the High Density printing process should not contain line widths of less than 3 points. Stacking ink is like building a wall, if the walls are too thin they will simply fall over (or smudge!).

High Density Ink screen print effect

Creative uses of High Density Ink in apparel design

Over the years we have seen some great uses of high density ink. High density prints are pretty impressive on their own but here are a few out-of-the-box, creative ways to use them.

Black on Black: A black High Density Print on a black garment, sounds pointless doesn’t it! You would think that the design would be basically invisible on the garment, but you will be amazed by how well it stands out. Obviously the print is raised, so it catches light differently, the ink also has a slight shine to it which is different from the matte look of garment fabric. Don’t stop at black, try white on white, red on red…you get the idea.

Metallic Ink Topper: Recently we were shown a High Density print where Metallic ink was printed as a topper on the High Density Print. Red high density ink was used beneath the silver metallic ink topper and needless to say, the results look epic! You can see a sample of the print effect here.

High Density Ink metallic topper

Advantages of High Density Inks:

  • Smooth, crisp, raised prints.
  • Controlled height and width (as opposed to puff inks that expand on all sides)

Disadvantages of High Density Inks:

  • Can not be used for halftone images or graphics with fine detail. Line width should be no smaller than 2pts
  • Can not be combined with foil due to the heat required to achieve the foil application
  • Can not be applied on seams or collars
  • Limit one High Density ink per garment graphic
  • Labour intensive so expect to pay more

High Density Ink print fleece clothing

What are the benefits of using high density ink over puff ink?

The greatest benefits to high density ink over puff ink is the controlled stacking (height creation) and smooth crisp edges of the print. Puff ink expands on all sides when heated, the size of expansion is determined by the amount of puff additive mixed into the ink, also the more puff additive the more opaque the puff ink gets. Since high density ink is “stacked” to achieve its height, there is no sideways expansion, this creates crisp edges and a smooth flat top to the print.

Learn more about Puff Inks in apparel design in our Definitive designers guide to Puff Ink.

Art Requirements:

  • Halftone: 25 lpi
  • Line Weight: 3pt minimum
  • Max Art Size: Check with print shop what the maximum art size is as this changes from factory to factory. As a rough guide, an A3 page size would equate to a large chest print for a men’s garment.
  • Image File Types: Most print shops will accept .psd, .tif, .jpg, .gif and .png.
  • Vector Art File Types: Vector PDF, EPS, AI or CDR Files. (Vector Art is HIGHLY recommended as the artwork can be easily scaled up and down without loss of quality)


Recommended Garment/Fabric:

Weight: 2.25 oz min – 10 oz max


Puff Ink Garment Care Instructions:

When caring for garments printed with High Density inks we recommend the below wash instructions:

gold foil garment care instructions

  1. Turn the shirt inside-out.
  2. Use a delicate wash cycle with cold water and a mild detergent.
  3. Do not tumble dry.
  4. Do not dry clean.
  5. Do not iron on print.