Why You Shouldn’t Use the Underbase as Your White


Having the underbase pull double duty and making it serve as the highlight white is probably my biggest pet peeve. For spot color jobs, it’s common practice, unfortunately. However, here are the reasons why you should never use the base as the white…with one exception.

It doesn’t really save you time

If the arguments I’ve heard in favor of the underbase as highlight white made sense, I would listen. But they don’t. The time saved by not having to burn another screen is offset by having to print/flash/print/flash during production.

Even if you were to walk away from a job thinking you’ve saved a ton of time, you’re handing over a subpar print. Is the tradeoff, even if statistically better on time, really worth it? If you want to be better than the guy down the street, it’s not.

Bulletproof hand

Using the base as the white requires too much ink to be put down. What you end up with is a shiny, bulletproof print. This is the hallmark of amateur printers.

The customer asked for it

If you worked at McDonalds and someone came in asking for a burger with a dog turd on it, would you serve it to them?

I completely understand that customers want to save money so they request this. However, I am of the opinion that the cost difference isn’t substantial enough to justify the decision.

In comparison, a better-looking product better serves both the customer and the printer.


If it were up to me, I wouldn’t call it “fibrillation”, considering the association with irregular heartbeats. But this is what I’ve heard many people call it when the fibers of the shirt stick up through the ink.

Here’s an article about fibrillation from International Coatings if you’re interested. It talks about a couple reasons for the phenomenon.

It touches briefly on one point without directly stating it so I’ll state it here. Fibrillation can be exaggerated by slamming down a ton of ink. This is exactly what many people do when trying to use the underbase as highlight white.

Bottom line: Using underbase as the highlight white might give you a heart attack…or a stroke…or something like that.

It’s a 1-color print

This is the only time it’s okay to do this. But, what mesh is best? 110 or 160? I’d go with 160 in this case.

For simulated process jobs

Trying to use the base as the white in simulated process jobs severely inhibits the separating process.

As a separator, it ties your hands with what you can and cannot do. Ultimately, it ends up hurting the print.

To avoid this, it would be best to consider dropping another color from the print to accommodate a highlight white. This, of course, requires some wrangling on your part with the client.

But, it’s worth noting that you’re the professional and your professional opinion is part of the service you provide. Your customer will appreciate you more if you give them options—clearly explained options.

In this case, printed samples work wonders.

Underbase as highlight white

The bottom line when it comes to using the underbase as white is that it hurts the quality of the final product.

I don’t know about you but I take a lot of pride in what I put my name on at the end of the day. If it can be avoided, I would take every step possible to set up a proper second white.

To me, quality should always be the goal.

There’s a good chance that the everyday Joe ordering shirts will notice the quality difference too…eventually. And when he does, he’ll naturally start looking for reasons. When this happens, I hope you told him his options and what the results will be for both.

Weigh in

So, how about it? Do you use the underbase as highlight white or do you do it the right way?

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