Printing on Safety Workwear

Learn some basic tips for printing high-visibility safety workwear. 

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In today’s safety-minded workforce, high-visibility clothing is highly sought after. Standard high-visibility yellow and orange work shirts are mostly cotton or polyester. You’ll note that most workwear in the marketplace-and other garments for that matter-are made of polyester.

Most of these shirts or sweats can be printed in the same way as cotton; however, you do need to account for bleed on polyester. The big issue with safety garments is when reflective ink needs to be added. Most of the straight-line reflective areas on these garments consist of reflective tape applied during the manufacturing process. These tapes meet the safety specifications for reflectivity set up by the government. However, more and more printers are getting requests from customers-especially EMTs, police, or firefighters-for a reflective print, such as a logo or other marking. While these designs can be printed using a reflective screen-printing ink, the designs will not meet the government specifications for reflectivity like the tapes do.

All reflective inks work in a similar fashion. A reflective bead is mixed into a base, and when printed, the base will soak into the garment and leave the bead partially exposed to light, reflecting light back to the source. Depending on how much bead is exposed and the orientation of the bead, the reflectivity can change. For this reason, it won’t pass reflectivity tests set up by the government. This is also why screen-printed reflective ink is considered a visibility enhancement.

Most reflective inks are either water-based or plastisol-based products. Many use a coupler to ensure that the bead is locked into the ink film when fully cured and will not release from the garment during normal wash cycles. When printing reflective ink, remember that less is more. One flood stroke and one print stroke using the mesh counts recommended by the manufacturer will give you the brightest and most durable print.

John Levocz

John Levocz is North East regional sales manager for International Coatings. He has over 35 years of screen printing experience and is a regular contributor to International Coatings' blogs. For more information, visit and read the company's blog at

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