Clear Transparency Printing: Acetate & Polyester Films

Erica Gabriel

Publication date: 07/05/2023

Prints on clear transparency film have many uses, ranging from business presentations to specialty artwork – any application that requires a completely transparent media is perfect for printing on clear transparent film. Clear transparencies are also often used for creating screens used for screen printing.  Today most clear transparency printing occurs on polyester films.

Types of Transparent Film


Before the current widespread use of large format inkjet printing, the vast majority of ‘clear transparent film’ used was made of acetate; a high quality film made of cellulose acetate which is biodegradable and recyclable.  True acetate prints were primarily made in photo labs using traditional photo developing methods of light exposure.  Acetate prints were expensive and time consuming to make.  Nowadays many people still use the term “acetate” to describe any kind of plastic film or sheet, especially clear films; although this term is no longer accurate as true acetate printing has been replaced by polyester films used in large format inkjet printers with solvent inks.

Acetate film revolutionized the photography and film industries. Its transparency, lightness, and cost-effectiveness made it a popular choice for printing films, slides, and negatives. Acetate film provided good image quality and was compatible with various printing techniques. However, over time, its limitations became evident. Acetate was prone to shrinkage, yellowing, and degradation, leading to the loss of valuable archival materials. These issues prompted researchers and manufacturers to seek alternative materials that could address these shortcomings.

Polyester Film

By far the most common type of clear transparent film in use today is polymer polyethylene terephthalate (also known as PET).  Polyester films are the perfect multi-purpose plastic film because of it’s strength, chemical resistance, stability and heat tolerance. While many people may ask “can we get an acetate print”, what they really will be getting (and never know the difference) is a polyester film print. This is very similar to the common confusion between “Duratrans” and “backlit film” – duratrans was the old photographic media used before large format inkjet printing replaced it with backlit film.  The same is true for acetate being replaced by polyester films.

It offers exceptional clarity, allowing for the reproduction of intricate details and vibrant colors. Polyester film is resistant to tearing, making it suitable for multiple uses, including presentations, art projects, and architectural overlays. It can be printed using inkjet, laser, or offset printing methods. However, due to its non-porous nature, it is essential to choose inks specifically formulated for polyester film printing to ensure proper adhesion and prevent smudging.  Solvent based inks are typically used for printing on polyester films as the ink bonds directly to the film and won’t wipe off like an aqueous type ink could.

The transition from acetate to polyester film marked a significant advancement in film printing technology. Polyester film’s superior stability, durability, and archival properties have made it the preferred choice for a wide range of applications, from photography to motion pictures. While acetate film played a crucial role in the past, the limitations it presented led to the development of more reliable and long-lasting materials. As technology continues to evolve, polyester film stands as a testament to the pursuit of innovation in preserving visual history and ensuring that future generations can enjoy the legacy of film in its truest form.

Believe it or not, even Mylar is a common polyester film, although it’s the brand name trademarked by Dupont for their specific range of polyester films marketing by them.

Vinyl Film

Vinyl film, another notable material in the realm of film printing, has left a lasting impact on the industry. Unlike acetate or polyester film, vinyl film is characterized by its exceptional flexibility and durability. Its unique properties have made it a preferred choice for specialized applications such as large-format printing, signage, and outdoor advertising. Vinyl film is known for its vibrant colors, weather resistance, and the ability to adhere to various surfaces. Its versatility and affordability have made it a popular option for creating eye-catching visuals that withstand the elements, making vinyl film a valuable addition to the ever-expanding repertoire of film printing materials.

Vinyl film is an economical choice that can be manufactured as either rigid or flexible sheets.  Made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), vinyl formulations are often used for decals, signage and even credit cards.  It’s a great choice for die-cutting, welding, gluing and folding.

Uses in Screen Printing

Screen printing is a popular technique used to transfer designs onto various surfaces, ranging from textiles and ceramics to glass and metal. Clear transparency film plays a crucial role in this process, acting as a stencil or mask that allows ink to pass through onto the desired substrate. This article explores the applications and advantages of using clear transparency film in screen printing, highlighting its versatility, ease of use, and ability to produce high-quality prints.

Clear polyester based filmt has found an important place in screen printing due to its clarity and ability to hold fine details. Clear transparency film is available in various sizes and thicknesses, offering flexibility for different screen printing projects.

Creating Artwork and Stencils

One of the primary uses of clear transparency film in screen printing is to create the artwork and stencils that serve as the basis for printing designs. Artists and designers can create their designs digitally or by hand, and then print them onto the transparency film using inkjet or laser printers. The film acts as a carrier for the design and ensures that it remains sharp and accurate.

Once the design is printed on the transparency film, it is placed on top of a screen coated with a light-sensitive emulsion. The film is then exposed to light, hardening the emulsion around the design area. The unexposed emulsion is washed away, leaving behind a stencil with open areas corresponding to the design. This stencil is what allows ink to pass through and onto the substrate during the printing process.

Printing with Clarity and Precision

Clear transparency film is valued for its ability to produce high-resolution prints with excellent clarity and precision. The film’s transparency allows screen printers to align and register multiple colors accurately, ensuring that each layer of ink aligns perfectly with the design. This precise registration is vital in achieving crisp and vibrant prints, especially in multi-color designs.

Moreover, the smooth surface of clear transparency film facilitates the smooth flow of ink during the printing process. It prevents smudging or bleeding, ensuring clean and well-defined edges for the printed elements. This level of precision is crucial for achieving intricate details and maintaining the integrity of the original design.

Versatile and Cost Effective

Clear transparency film offers versatility in screen printing, accommodating a wide range of substrates and ink types. It is suitable for printing on fabrics, paper, plastic, glass, and even metal surfaces. Whether it’s T-shirts, posters, signage, or promotional materials, clear transparency film adapts to various applications.

In addition to its versatility, clear transparency film is also cost-effective. It is readily available and relatively affordable compared to other stencil-making materials. Artists and small businesses can create high-quality prints without investing in specialized equipment or costly materials. This accessibility has contributed to the popularity of clear transparency film among screen printers.

Clear transparency film plays a vital role in the world of screen printing, serving as a reliable and versatile stencil-making medium. From its ability to hold intricate details to its cost-effectiveness, clear transparency film empowers artists and screen printers to bring their designs to life with exceptional clarity and accuracy. Its continued use in the industry underscores its importance and value as a key component in the screen printing process.

Printing on Clear Transparency Film

Clear transparency film is one of Posterprintshop’s most popular medias and one of our specialties. Customers use our polyester based clear film for art projects and screen printing. You can get a full description of our film, along with sample pictures and uses, and real reviews from customers on our Clear Transparency Film product page.


Clear transparency film opens up a world of possibilities for artists, educators, and professionals seeking to create visually captivating presentations or artworks.

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