Subtle Print With a Big Impact: Achieving a Successful Tone-on-Tone Screen Print

Emma Hewitt
March 26, 2024

If you’re looking for a unique, new approach to your screen printed designs, give tonal screen printing a try! It’s a barely-there print method that brings a touch of luxury to any art. Read on to get the full picture!

What is tone-on-tone screen printing?

Tone-on-tone screen printing, also known as tonal screen printing, is a seemingly simple technique that brings depth to clothing by playing with different shades of the same color. Unlike regular screen printing, which often has stark contrasts between ink and fabric, tone-on-tone printing creates a subtle yet eye-catching effect.This monochromatic design method uses inks that closely match the garment’s color, making the design blend seamlessly with the fabric while still being noticeable up close or when the light hits the print just right. By choosing an ink color that's slightly lighter or darker than the fabric, we can create a gentle gradient that adds dimension and style to the printed design.

What are the benefits of tone-on-tone screen printing?

One of the best things about tone-on-tone screen printing is its versatility. You can use it on all sorts of fabrics, whether they're light or dark. Whether you're working with a white t-shirt or a navy sweatshirt, tone-on-tone printing gives you a subtle way to spruce up the look without going overboard. A popular way to utilize tonal screen printing is by using black-on-black screen printing. The result you get from printing black ink on black hoodie or tee can be a luxurious, high-end print that will elevate your brand or merchandise.

Black on Black Water Based

Black on Black Plastisol

Plus, tone-on-tone screen printing works great for all kinds of designs. From intricate patterns to simple logos, this method lets you add detail and style while keeping everything looking cohesive and classy. It's perfect whether you're going for a vintage vibe or a modern look.

And not only does tone-on-tone printing look cool, but it's also practical. Since the ink matches the fabric so closely, your designs will last much longer and appear to stay more consistent, wash after wash, without fading.

What ink types work for tone-on-tone screen printing?

The most popular printing method for tonal screen printing is using water based ink. Water based ink allows us to give light coverage and the most subtle result for a tone-on-tone print since the ink absorbs into the fabric. Rather than laying the ink on top of the fabric, the end product of a water based tonal print gives the appearance of the monochromatic design being a part of the fabric itself.

Plastisol ink is still a great option for tonal printing, as water based ink does still have its limitations on what fabric content and garment types it can be used on. Plastisol, depending on the print technique, can be equally as soft as water based. At Extreme Screen Prints, we print all of our plastisol work with a soft, smooth hand. However, the finished look of plastisol will differ from water based in that it will be more visibly separate from the fabric, which can be an interesting and desirable outcome depending on what your vision is for your finished product. 

Additionally, one-hit plastisol is a method where only one thin layer of ink is printed on the garment, resulting in a translucent appearance. This look is similar to water based but has more of a texture to the final print as plastisol doesn’t absorb into fabric in the same way that water based ink does.

Overall, tone-on-tone screen printing is a fun and versatile way to jazz up your clothes. Whether you're making custom gear for your business, an event, or just for fun, this technique lets you add a touch of class and intrigue to an otherwise simple design. Let us at Extreme® take your prints to the next level with a tonal screen print. Contact us today to see how we can help!

Emma Hewitt
Last Updated:
March 26, 2024