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Guerilla Graffix wins with switch to water-based inks

Apparel printer creates new service line while delivering for marathon


The Challenge

For Guerilla Graffix, a 57,000-piece order hardly turns heads. Unless, of course, the job involves a potentially disruptive change to the company’s printing process.

The Rockford, Ill.-based contract apparel printer works with a number of notable athletic and consumer brands. It produces items for college bowl games and rock concerts, routinely shipping to some of the world’s largest retailers. Plant capacity is some 45,000 printed impressions per day.

So the order for 57,000 items from a well-known, branded apparel manufacturer for an upcoming Chicago marathon wasn’t unusual. Guerilla Graffix had been working hard to cultivate the customer, so a strong performance on this order was important for future business.

If only it were that simple.

The order specified non-PVC decoration. But Guerilla Graffix specializes in inks made with plastisol, a heat-sensitive PVC resin and the most common solution for custom printing on apparel. The company’s high-volume production lines were set up for plastisol, and its people were trained to work with it.

Non-PVC decoration is usually done with high solids, water-based ink. While the printing process for both types of ink is similar, the way each must be mixed and stored is very different – as is the care of the print screens. Making the change for a large job like this was potentially disruptive and carried some risk.

There was a second, more technical concern: 50,000 units of the order were to be printed on the kind of polyester wicking fabrics that are so popular among athletes today. While water-based ink works well on cotton, it tends to draw the dyes out of polyester fabric and into the wet imprint. This results in poor color reproduction.

Dan Smithline, vice president of Guerilla Graffix, needed to convert the company’s print processes from plastisol to water-based inks with the least amount of disruption to production volume, and without increasing downtime.

The Solution

Smithline brought in PolyOne to help identify ways to handle the switch. Smithline’s staff worked closely with PolyOne to define print parameters and develop training on mixing, ink storage and care of the screens to assure the high-volume printing went smoothly.

For printing the cotton garments – one-eighth of the total order – Guerilla Graffix selected Wilflex™ Oasis Hydrate – a high solids, water-based ink that PolyOne customized to meet specifications of the order while maintaining production efficiencies.

For the much larger run of polyester shirts, Guerilla Graffix decided to test PolyOne’s Wilflex™ Oasis Black Magic – an innovative ink formulated to block dye migration from polyester fabric.

Trials of the new products and processes went smoothly, as did the subsequent production run.

The Impact

With the switch to water-based inks, Guerilla Graffix found a solution that allowed it to meet the requirements of a large, high-visibility order. The new printing process yielded a number of important benefits for the company:

  • Increased production: Printing with the Wilflex inks resulted in faster production times than typically experienced with plastisol-based inks
  • Reduced downtime: The company also experienced less downtime with the water-based inks
  • Expanded offering: Guerilla Graffix now promotes PVC-free printing among its differentiating capabilities

Producing high-quality results for the marathon also positioned the company to win more business with the major brand that had placed the order.

“Support was key to the success of this initiative,” Smithline says. “When the word ‘water-based’ is used, the majority of printers shy away. It was easier than we originally thought.

“Some of the printing techniques were different from the water-based products we tried before,” he adds, “but PolyOne’s training and support helped us run the product efficiently, and satisfy our customer.”

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