Screen Printing Ink
T-shirts Printing

Which Screen Printing Ink is the Best?

Comparing Water-based Ink vs Plastisol – Which is Better For Screen Printing

There are a variety of choices for printing custom designs these days, thanks to screen printing’s continuing popularity in the garment business. Plastisol inks, on the other hand, are made up of two distinct types of ink. Of course, the next question is: Which Screen Printing Ink is the Best? I’ll compare and contrast the two most popular sorts of inks in this essay to give you a decision.

Which Screen Printing Ink is Better, Water-based or Plastisol?

The answer to this question, like many things in this industry, is dependent on a number of factors. If you have light-colored cotton shirts and you’re printing a design with muted colors that has a lot of detail, water-based ink is likely your best option.

However, if you have dark-colored shirts and you’re screen printing a design with bright colors that isn’t too detailed, Plastisol ink would probably be better suited for your needs. But even with these specific examples in mind, there are still other factors to consider before making a decision.

We all want our ink to be soft, achieve accurate color matching, print with vibrancy while holding onto design details. Versatile enough for a variety of garments but also durable through years of wash and wear. All that AND being easy to use, cost-effective, and eco-friendly would be the dream!

Is there a single type of ink that can perform all of these tasks?  No. Is it too much to ask for?   Most likely. So, the fundamental question is not which screen printing ink is superior, but rather: Which one is best for which purpose? There are many variables to consider, and we’ve divided them down into the top four in this post.

Keep in mind that different sorts of screen printing customers will have different sets of concerns, as well as a distinct set if you’re a printer. Let’s go find out which screen printing ink is the best.

Water Based Screen Printing Ink

1. Water-based Ink Has a Softer Hand (usually) For Screen Prints

“Hand” in printing terms means the way a print feels, as well as its weight. The hand can be soft and light (which is preferable), or rough and heavy (not so desirable), or something else entirely. Water-based ink inks can create some of the softest custom T-shirt prints available, with hardly any hand– which is optimal.

Why does water-based ink have a softer hand?

The fundamental distinction between these inks is that they are produced in different ways. Plastisol, as the name implies, is a type of screen printing ink made out of plastic particles or polymers suspended in a plasticizer. It’s essentially a Liquid Plastic. When heated to a high temperature (or cured), it becomes a solidified mass of material. As a result, the print is composed of an uncured solidified layer of plastic that lies on top of the cloth.

Water-based ink is not completely free of plastic, but it is mostly water soluble and absorbs into the cloth. The water-based solvents evaporate after the ink cures, leaving behind only the colored binder compounds–less than Plastisol. Some water-based custom screen prints have such a lovely hand that they appear to be simply dyed fabric.

Discharge Ink

This type of screen printing ink, which is frequently used with water-based inks, leaves no residue behind—in fact, it removes something.

Discharge ink has a chemical (formaldehyde) that destroys the color of the clothes. It’s particularly beneficial for dark or colored clothing, but it can only be used on 100% cotton. Creating an (almost) white foundation when you “discharge” the dye from a garment is what you’re doing.

When you want to screen print on a black or other dark-colored garment, you’ll need to layer white ink first in order to make the colors more vibrant. Usually, this makes for a heavier print. Although there are ways to reduce the amount of ink used, truly soft prints are not common.

Bottom line: Water-based inks are able to deliver the softer and more lightweight touch between these two screen printing inks.

2. Plastisol Ink Has Better Color Vibrancy When Screen Printing

One area where Plastisol screen printing truly excels is in color vibrancy (brightness, saturation). Water-based inks can produce a vibrant print on lighter garment colors as well, but not to the same extent. If you need your colors to be rich and brilliant and stand out from the rest, go with Plastisol screen printing ink– it’s one of the reasons it remains the long-time industry standard.

The reason is the same as why it has a heavier hand: the layer of plasticized ink covering the garment’s color. When cured, plastisol is considered 100% solid, so every bit of it remains on the cloth. This blocks the dye and gives a mostly opaque underlying foundation for brightly colored inks— even bright neon colors and specialty inks like glow-in-the-dark and puff.

Water-based ink on dark clothes has less vibrancy than Plastisol inks do. This is due to the fact that this screen printing inks are more transparent than Plastisol, making it tough to build a bright white subbase. At best, discharge printing will produce an off-white under base. As a result, colors appear muted – although this effect is usually desired.

Plastisol Screen Printing Ink

3. Plastisol Ink Has Better Color Accuracy For Custom Screen Printing

The colors Printed with Plastisol screen printing inks are more vibrant, which makes it much easier to achieve an exact color match down to a specific Pantone shade. This is extremely important if you need your print colors to be consistent for branding purposes. With Plastisol printing, the shirt color or type of fabric doesn’t matter – if you need the color to be bright red 185 C, that’s exactly what you’ll get.

Although water-based inks have seen some improvements over the years, they cannot compare to Plastisol. Even with advances, water-based ink pigment isn’t as vibrant as Plastisol , which can account for a few shade differences. Plus, other factors such as color shifts due to dye migration or curing can affect the final screen print design – not to mention if Mercury is in retrograde.

Both Screen Printing Inks Are Extremely Durable

It’s difficult to choose a favorite among such a diverse field of expertise, but for you it’s between the two methods described above. Both screen printing inks have their own set of pros and cons that must be considered when deciding which is superior.

However, if a print is not dried properly, regardless of the type of screen printing ink used, it will have an effect on its longevity. Other factors, such as the quality of the ink and the fabric’s grade, also come into play. The biggest factor by far is garment treatment and maintenance: if you wash your clothes with hot water, strong detergent, and bleach every week, neither print will survive long term. If you put your garment in the dryer for too long it affects the print: fading, cracking will happen with time.

If you want to know more about the screen printing inks, contact Blue Sky T-Shirts Printing today as we are one of the best screen printers in Vancouver.