Tonal Printing: Everything You Need to Know
Tips & Tricks
min read

Tonal Printing: Everything You Need to Know

Learn about tonal printing, a unique water-based print method that will make your tees stand out.

Tonal printing is a reasonably "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 tonal printing and when it's best to use it and check out some examples to see if tonal printing is needed for your next t-shirt project.

T-shirts have been around for a long time, and it's easy to think there are few innovations or new ideas in the t-shirt world. 

However, that is far from true, and we're here to keep you up to speed on all the latest products in the t-shirt world.

We’ve been in the custom apparel printing business since 2009, and we’re the industry leader in water-based screen printing. Sounds cool, huh? It IS cool; being eco-friendly is pretty dang awesome.

Anyway, we’ll dig into the tonal printing details now.

What is Tonal Printing?

Tonal printing is a screen printing process in which we use water-based ink to create a print slightly lighter or 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

As we said, tonal printing will 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 a worn-in, vintage-feeling t-shirt. Since the print is so subtle, it'll look like your favorite worn-in tee immediately.

There are other ways to achieve a  vintage-style 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.

What’s the Best Shirt For Tonal Prints?

The rules are straightforward: tonal dark works best when printing on a lighter-colored t-shirt, while tonal light works best when printing on a darker-colored t-shirt. 

So, if you're printing on a black or charcoal t-shirt, tonal dark won't show up much, but tonal light will give your t-shirt a pleasant, lighter grey color like the image below.

If your shirt is a simple color, like red, either option will work. The image below is an example of a t-shirt that effectively uses tonal light and dark.

Best Fabric to Use?

This water-based t-shirt printing method works well on any t-shirt fabric. As a t-shirt printing company, let us be your educators.

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 recommend checking out the Next Level Apparel 6210 Premium CVC Short Sleeve Crew or the Bella + Canvas 3413 Unisex Triblend Tee.

If you want your shirt to look sharp and less faded, we recommend printing on 100% cotton. The result will be a fresh, monochromatic look that you will love. Try the American Apparel 2001 Fine Jersey Crewneck T-Shirt or Bella + Canvas 3001 Unisex Jersey Short Sleeve Tee for an incredible 100% cotton option.

Want to try this water-based t-shirt printing method on your next t-shirt project? Reach out –– our team would love to help you get started.

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