In the print world, screen printing is one of the most common methods used in personalised merchandise production, and with good reason. At ICON, it’s often our main method of printing for time sensitive, high-quality and long-lasting personalised t-shirts, whilst allowing for expert levels of detail and a wide variety of customisation. However, this holy grail method of printing has been labelled unsustainable in the past and is largely a result of the dyes involved in the process. Let’s break it down.
Screen printing comprises of using the technique of creating a picture or pattern by forcing ink or metal on to a surface through a screen of fine material. The cost of using this printing technique is based off the artwork involved; the level of details, the range of colour, as each colour requires a separate screen, adding to the additional cost, and the volume of the order. Each of these factors combined then impacts the type of ink and dyeing process that can be used.
Want to dive deeper? Read our expert’s ultimate guide to screen printing here.
What inks are used to fulfil an order is ultimately based on the suitability of the dye for the merchandise order requested. Screen printing works ideally for larger orders that encompass artwork with spot colours, as opposed to photographs or full colour prints with gradients, and are most commonly made using plastisol ink. Although widely applied when screen printing and renown for it’s durability and cost-effective nature, the main component in plastisol ink is made with PVC and is essentially liquid plastic, making it difficult to recycle, break-down after the product lifecycle, and overall is harmful to the environment.
The more sustainable solution? Water-based inks.
Water-based inks use water as the main solvent in carrying pigment, which allows for the inks to be sharp and vibrant, making it much easier to extract, produce and better for the environment. With water-based screen printing, the inks used are thinner and more transparent than other types of printing dyes and, in comparison to plastisol ink, water-based dyes penetrate deeper into fabric, resulting a softer and more breathable print, not crumbling when the t-shirts are scrunched up. According to Bristow (2021) making use of water-based inks and organic cotton for your apparel allow for deeper absorption into the fabric, increasing wearability and product longevity, driving further within the eco-friendly nature of the dye.
While water-based inks are the more sustainable screen-printing option, it has its limitations.
Cottons only: The problem with water-based screen printing is that you cannot print on 100% polyester. This is because when water hits polyester, it creates a film on top of the fabric that keeps the ink from seeping in. Instead, here at ICON, we use 100% organically sourced cotton for your garments. For more options, check out our catalogue of apparel here.
Know your dyes: There are all sorts of water-based inks, from high solids water-based inks, which are excellent for stretchy fabrics, to discharge inks, which works through a bleaching process where the colour of the ink replaces the shirt’s colour. Look for dyes that are made from natural, sustainable materials and these dyes work just as effectively as synthetic dyes, but are much better for our planet.
At ICON, we pride ourselves as pioneers in sustainable screen-printing industry. Want to find out more? Click here to get an instant quote or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and someone from our team will get in touch.