Time to think about ink

Screen printing is one of the most popular print processes in the world. If you’re familiar with the process and want to learn more, we’ll walk you through the difference between two common inks: water-based and plastisol inks.

Water-Based Inks

Water-based inks are, as you’d expect, made with water. Unlike plastisol inks, water-based inks don’t contain plastics or PVC. This means they’re eco-friendly and work a bit differently than other inks.

Rather than sitting atop the garment, water-based inks seep into the fabric, dying the garment directly. This leaves minimal ‘feel-to-touch’, or in other words, when you touch the print it will feel like it’s almost part of the garment. Commonly used for retail printing, water-based inks can achieve a nice vintage feel. They’re great for printing onto white and light garments, however they don’t have as accurate an outcome when printing on dark colours—colours tend to mute.

Plastisol Inks

In contrast, plastisol inks are made from plastics. Plastisol inks are the most commonly used, well-praised for great colour consistency and PANTONE accuracy. The inks are also easy to work with as they don’t dry out, allowing them to stay fluid and flow well through the screen.

Plastisol ink works well on both light and dark garments and achieves halftones and gradients well. These inks are not as soft as water-based, so there is a feel-to-hand when you touch the “thicker” print. Although, sometimes this can be a positive based on personal taste.

How we do things

At ICON Printing, our go-to is plastisol inks as they achieve great colour quality and ease-of-use. If you’re interested, we can use water-based inks for white and very light garments or discharge inks for darker garments. Discharge printing applies water-based inks to dark garments, through a process of ‘removing’ the pigment of the garment and thus, replacing it with your artwork’s dye.

While these inks do provide a much softer print than our standard plastisol inks, whether or not we can use them depends on the garment and artwork. There is a higher cost for water-based printing compared to a plastisol print.

Want to learn more about the t-shirt printing process?

If you’ve found this guide useful and want to learn more about the t-shirt printing process and how to get the most out a printing job, have a read through some of our expert guides, covering everything from screen-printing to branding, from in-depth features to quick tips and tricks. Here’s a selection of some our favourites: