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My DragonCon Costumes: Acid Dyes and Screen Printing

I really should give a bit of a summary on the costumes I finished for DragonCon, so I'll at least give it a start and will fill in more when I've got a bit more time.

This was sewn in 4 days. I'm normally so slow while sewing! Remind me never to do that again.

My fabric (the 90% nylon, 10% spandex heavyweight "jumbo spandex") was bought in white from Spandex World online.

Next - Acid Dyes for the Base

I dyed it with Jacquard Acid Dyes in a rubbermaid tub with hot water. I couldn't put it on the stove, so I used the hottest tap water I had, and added some boiling water from the kettle. The overall dye bath temperature was about 140-150F. The dye I used on ~ 5 yards of that fabric was ~3 tablespoons "Royal Blue", and about a teaspoon each of "Golden Yellow" and "Silver Grey". In addition to dyeing according to the Jacquard directions on the bottles, I also added several cups of kosher salt (whatever I had left in the house, it wasn't quite as much as I would have used if I was dyeing with a Fibre Reactive dye, but Acid Dyes often work well without salt). The water from my tap is soft.

This fabric takes acid dye extremely well. I was experimenting with dye colour combinations and in the end went with a more Royal Blue colour than the McCoy costume sample, which is more teal. I like the look it has on screen of being blue, rather than the real life darker, greener colour. I honestly just added the Silver Grey at the last minute because I was running out of Royal Blue and worried I didn't have enough to get a dark enough colour on the fabric. Remember also that once you print on it, the overall look of the fabric will be darker than what you have for the base.

So take home message on dyeing the base colour: use Acid Dyes, do a couple tests with small samples (like 6x6" inches) to get an idea of the dye proportions you're going to use on the final product, and the fabric is easy to work with.

Next - screen printing.

In any city of even just moderate size, you will find commercial screen printers. When I was looking into this option at the beginning, I originally decided not to go the screen printing route because:

1) the screens were too small to print an entire pattern piece (front, back, sleeve) and the printers thought they wouldn't be able to match up the repeating design, so you'd end up with a mis-aligned seam where screens met.

2) the printers tended to use inks which do not take well on stretchy fabrics like this.

However, what changed my mind was working with an artist who screen prints and who was enthusiastic about trying this. She used Acid Dyes for the screen printing - I didn't do this myself, but I know you would have to thicken the dye into a paste to use it with a screen, but this is a technique that I'm sure most screen printers know how to do. They would also have a good idea how to match up the dyes they use for the colour. We ran a couple tests to get a good result, but it wasn't difficult.

The design we used was just one screen with one colour of dye - the "delta" was left unprinted as the base colour, the dark "column" was solidly printed, and the medium "column" was a series of small printed lines. The design is provided as a jpg and put into the printers software to make the screen. The resolution and appearance of it, I think, are great:

Having just one screen and one colour to print makes this, technically, a very do-able project. This fabric is actually very good to work with - easy to print on and took the dye crisply and clearly. No problems really at all with that.

The screens we had were 15.5" wide by 35" long. Pattern pieces for the tunic were: front (about 24" wide by 30" long), back (same as front) and two sleeves (each about 20" wide by 30" long). So, we were able to print each piece from top to bottom without having to join screens, but not wide enough to go all the way across.

By using a tile-able image and since the joins are vertically along the columns, you are able to get a pretty good match up. One technical point is that it seemed to work better when printing each screen side by side (traditionally you print one, then skip a spot, then print the next, then go back and print into the space between).

It's not perfect though. On the pictures of the finished yardage, you can see the seams where the screens meet. I chose the best two seams to put on the front and back pieces. There are also some places where the dye took more strongly, etc. So there was some pattern piece placement I did to make them less noticeable. This picture below is one of the better joins:

Screen printers tend to charge you a flat rate to set up the screen, and then will charge you for either shop time to do the run, or for each press. I'm sure prices will vary, but when I was contacting commercial screen printers it was pretty reasonable - I was getting estimates around a couple hundred dollars at the very upper end (compared to 500-1000s for the one local place and another online printer who did dye sub).

Next - Pattern Piece Layout, Fabric Use

The minimum amount of fabric depends on the width of the fabric, which way the grain runs (the Jumbo Spandex from Spandex World runs from selvedge to selvedge - which is contrary to most store bought fabrics), the size of the screen used and the size of your pattern pieces, but I would plan to make a bit extra for testing and in case a seam looks rotten and can't be used.

I did math and sketched my layout before printing, etc. I set aside and used about 30" (just under 1 yard) for print tests.

If you were looking at plain yardage for a tunic like I describe above, the amount of fabric you'd need is at least 31" wide and 24" (front piece) + 24" (back piece) + 20" (sleeve one) + 20" (sleeve two) = 88" (just under 2.5 yards). This is assuming the pattern pieces are laid out in this orientation (which is the correct one to use when the grain runs from selvedge to selvedge like this fabric does):

The print sometimes went through to the other side, but mostly not, so I had more than enough fabric that was the base colour on the shiny side of the fabric to make the seam bindings from.

I used what was left to make a corset/bustier for myself (that took about 1 yard). I used almost all my fabric actually and the wastage didn't seem too different from usual sewing even if I was avoiding the occasional seam.


I personally think it's bad karma to make money off someone else's design, so I won't be taking orders for this, sorry. But you know what they say about teaching a man to fish...


Hey hon--I'm starting to get serious about making my female Science Division costume (I'm talking to my mom about it right now!) and I did have a question. About how much money did getting the fabric printing run you total? I know price quotes will vary from shop to shop, but I was just curious, to see if financially it's even feasible to start looking in to. If you don't feel comfortable posting the money amount here you could just send me a PM.

I've got a high-end wide-format ink-jet printer (max 42" wide, length infinite) at work but I highly doubt I could get permission to use it, even if I offered to pay for the cost of the ink. Just throwing that out there to cover all my bases.

Merry Christmas!
My goodness - I'm so sorry. Sometimes LJ stops sending me notifications, and it must have done this last Christmas. I happened to be reading this entry because someone just commented on it and I saw your comment here.

Did I send you a PM back then about the pricing? I have no idea. I'll send you one now, though I doubt it would still be of interest to you! But I feel guilty, so I will anyway :/

Did you get to try out the wide-format printer at work?
After looking through all your pages and staring at your costume samples, I have decided that they must have Digitally printed the fabric (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Direct_to_garment_printing). It's what most people are using these days (Goodbye screen printing) and it doesn't have the joining issue. The best bit is, it is actually quite affordable for the average person.

I'm really impressed by your final product. I'd like to hear some more on drafting the pattern. I've wasted do much cheap drafting fabric in my attempt to draft. Anyway, thanks so much for all this info. I'm feeling more confident about the fabric and the seam bindings... and now to draft the crew dress D-: I'd love to perfect a drawn pattern to make available to fans for free, but i hear fashion design is a long course.
From what I read about DTG printing it works best on either cotton-blends or, if using dye-sublimation, polyester-blends - neither of which were in the Star Trek Uniform shirt material.

Not to say that they couldn't use DTG on a nylon-lycra blend, since it's the nature of the ink/dye used that would important, not really the technology for putting it on the fabric, but it's one of things (plus the unevenness of the print on the costume cards) that make me wonder if they didn't use massive digital screens. The joining issue is only dependent on the size of the screen - some commercial printers have really big ones.

I totally want to start learning to print fabric! That's one of the great things this project has inspired me about :-)

_ladyvader_ has a made a very nice draft of the crew dress. You might want to check out her LJ for advice on that one. I thank goodness I didn't have to draft the dress.

For the crew shirt, I used a raglan-sleeved t-shirt that fit my model and copied it for a draft pattern. I extended the sleeves in straight lines and just drew in the neckline by eye. I used a cheap but stretchy knit for the muslin.

In fitting the muslin I made a couple adjustments to the raglan seams, mostly making them straighter (I referred to my Costumer Technician's Handbook, but other places would have alteration suggestions for that too). But that was it - I was lucky.

The hardest bit was sewing the neckline since I never sew with knits. I have tips on that here:

I hope this is helpful!

Wow, thanks for being so explicit, I would love to make a trek09 uniform for myself if I ever got as far north as dragoncon. Did you consider making your own frame and doing the screening yourself? It seems if you did that you could make the printed pieces any size you needed.
You're welcome!

Learning how to screen print is definitely on the To Do Sometime Soon list! That would be a lot of fun, I think.

Do you know what dye the screen printer used to make the dark stripe and the lines? I'm following your instructions exactly, and I want to get a result as close as yours as possible.

Many thanks~!! :)
"However, what changed my mind was working with an artist who screen prints and who was enthusiastic about trying this. She used Acid Dyes for the screen printing - I didn't do this myself, but I know you would have to thicken the dye into a paste to use it with a screen, but this is a technique that I'm sure most screen printers know how to do. They would also have a good idea how to match up the dyes they use for the colour. We ran a couple tests to get a good result, but it wasn't difficult."

I know it's kinda buried in there - but I didn't mix the dye the printer used for the dark lines. However, she used Acid Dyes instead of the more usual screenprinting inks. (ETA: Though I think you probably could get results with regular screen printing inks... in any case, since every fabric batch/printing situation/local water supply and so forth is going to be slightly different, it's always a matter of some trial and error, so test first.)

Good luck! :-)

Edited at 2013-02-19 04:46 pm (UTC)
Where did you go to get the fabric painted/ printed
"However, what changed my mind was working with an artist who screen prints and who was enthusiastic about trying this. "

I spoke to a local textile artist at the tech college near me.

ETA: Also, as I describe above, I dyed the base colour myself and designed the tile-able printing image (if you read the other posts you'll see more about that, and the other methods and places I looked into.)

Edited at 2013-02-19 04:39 pm (UTC)
Hello. I apologize if you've posted this elsewhere, but I am confused as to how you got the pattern on the fabric. I understand that you dyed the fabric blue first, and then took it to a screen printer, but what I don't understand is how you got the pattern. Did you just have the screen printer tile the delta pattern you had made for the iron-on attempt?
No problem!

You are right - I used the image that I'd made for the iron-on attempt (http://magpies-trek.livejournal.com/6448.html) to give to the printer.

The image I made and posted there is actually tile-able, but the printer modified it in her software before using it. I think it needed to be a vector (or something, this area is not one I know a lot about!) and I think she straightened it out too. She didn't ever send me the final file that she used.

ETA: I forgot (it's been so long now...) she also changed the background columns so that the one dark one was solid dark blue and the other column is the same dark blue but hashed (striped) so that only one colour needed to be printed. You can sorta see that here: http://magpies-trek.livejournal.com/8017.html

Edited at 2013-05-28 07:52 pm (UTC)