What Exactly is Tonal Screen Printing and Embroidery?

Be subtle to stand out. 

In a world where everyone is trying to do the most, we invite you to do less with tonal screen printing and embroidery. Tonal screen printing and embroidery offer a subtle yet impactful look to any design.

Tonal screen printing gives your shirts an effortlessly cool look that is perfect if you want to achieve a vintage or lived-in feel.. Alternatively, tonal embroidery offers a simple, clean aesthetic. This is perfect for professional designs or when you want to keep things a bit more low-key.

Ok, but what exactly is tonal screen printing and embroidery? As always, we’ve got you covered. Keep reading for all of the what’s, how’s, and why you should consider using these techniques for your next project.

tonal screen printing hoodie

What is tonal design?

Let’s talk tone. No, we aren’t referring to the sarcastic tone your sister constantly used with your parents. Tone in art and design refers to the measurement of relative darkness or lightness. Playing with tone in screen printing and embroidery simply means using inks or thread that are a little lighter or darker than the color of the fabric that the design is being applied to.

What colors work for tonal screen printing?

Tonal printing works on both light and dark fabrics. For light fabric, a sheer layer of darker ink is used. This creates a design that is a few shades darker than the fabric. For dark fabric, a sheer layer of lighter ink is used to make the design appear a few shades lighter than the fabric.

What about colors that fall somewhere in the middle? Like cherry red or cobalt blue? In this case, you can use either technique or a combination of both.

Regardless of which method is used, the concept uses sheer layers of water-based inks to allow the original color of the shirt to shine through. The opacity of the design can be adjusted by the amount of ink used.

black shirts

Black is the new black.

The one time you don’t want your blacks to match. Tonal screen printing is one way to achieve a black-on-black design. By using the light tonal technique with a light grey ink, we can achieve the look of a black design on a black shirt.

What fabric is best for tonal screen printing?

Tonal screen printing will work on a wide variety of fabrics, but the end result will vary. If you want to lean into the vintage feel that tonal printing provides then we recommend using a polyester/cotton blend or triblend for a more weathered, distressed outcome. However, if you love the monochromatic look of tonal screen printing but you are looking for crisp, clean lines you should go for shirts that are 100% cotton.

embroidery thread

How does tonal embroidery work?

Thread is matched to the fabric and the design is subtle but visible thanks to the texture of the embroidery. If you need a little more definition but still want the monochromatic look, thread a couple of shades lighter or darker can be used. This technique is very popular for company hats and uniforms or for those looking for a clean, subtle look.

Interested in using this technique for your next order? Contact a Daymaker today to get it started! Looking for more? Check out our last blog on the Trending Styles for Fall.