Everything You Need to Know About Tonal Printing

Tonal printing is a fairly new screen printing method and a term we’ve coined in the screen printing industry. It’s an outside of the box print style with a unique look that demands your attention.

Get a quick rundown of what tonal printing is, when it’s best to use, and check out some examples so you can see if tonal printing is what you need for your next t-shirt project.

What is Tonal Printing?

Tonal printing is a screen printing process in which we use water-based ink to create a print that is either a little bit lighter or a little bit darker than the color of the shirt we’re printing on. The inks are referred to as Tonal Light and Tonal Dark, respectively.

When to Use Tonal Printing

Like we said, tonal printing is going to give you a subtle print that is either a little bit lighter or a little bit darker than the color of the t-shirt. This is great when designing for a worn in, vintage feeling t-shirt. Since the print is so subtle, it’ll immediately have the look of your favorite worn-in tee.

There are other ways to achieve a vintage looking print, like printing on a blended fabric or using a texture over your design, but tonal printing will result in a print that’s a little bit edgier, with a look unique to itself.

Best T-Shirt to Print On

For the most part, the rules are pretty straightforward: tonal dark works best when printing on a lighter colored t-shirt, while tonal light works best printing on a darker colored t-shirt. 

So if you’re printing on a black or charcoal t-shirt, tonal dark isn’t going to show up much at all, but tonal light will give your t-shirt a nice, lighter grey color like the image below.

If you’re shirt is a pretty neutral color, like a red, either option will work for you. The image below is an example of a t-shirt that used both tonal light and tonal dark effectively.

Best Fabric to Use

Tonal printing works well on any t-shirt fabric. If you’re looking for a particularly old-school, faded look, you’ll get your best results on a polyester/cotton blend or a tri-blend. We’d recommend checking out the Next Level 6210 or the Canvas 3413.

If you want your shirt to look sharp and less faded, we’d recommend printing on 100% cotton. The end result will be a fresh, monochromatic look that you’re bound to love. Try the American Apparel 2001 or Canvas 3001 for a great 100% cotton tee.

Want to give tonal printing a try on your next t-shirt project? Let us know –– our team would love to help you get started.

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