When ordering screen printed clothing, most people give a lot of thought into what types of garments they want, what design they want on it and where they want the design placed but many people don't give a second thought to what type of ink they want used on their merchandise. Considering that the ink is what is used to lay down their design, and advertise their brand, it would make sense to know which inks would be preferred for your job.
Things To Consider
What type of hand will the ink have? (“Hand” is what the ink feels like when you run your fingers across the shirt and feel the design. We've all felt those shirts where you cannot feel the design on the shirt at all and other where it feels like the design can stop a bullet.)
Do you want to use ink that is environmentally friendly?
How detailed is your design? Is your design a simple logo type graphic or is there a lot of detail/shading?
How expressive do you want your design to look? Do you want a more vintage style look or something with bright expressive colors?
What color shirt will your design be printed on?
Types of Inks
There are three types of inks used by screen printers: Plastisol, Water Based and Discharge ink. There are pros and cons for each to take into consideration when placing an order for screen printed items.
Plastisol ink is a PVC (polyvinyl chloride) based system which doesn’t use a water solvent. It’s a thermoplastic ink, meaning it has to be heated to a high enough temperature to cause the molecules of PVC resin and plasticizer to solidify (cure). Plastisol is, historically, the go-to ink when it comes to printing high detail or bright colored designs on merchandise, however, waterbased inks have also become quite popular.
Advantages To Plastisol Ink
Plastisol can best be described as a user-friendly ink because it is very easy to manage.
It is ready to use right out of the container more than 90% of the time. It comes in formulations that can be printed on light and dark fabrics. And, in most municipalities, the disposal of waste plastisol is a very simple process. Ink left at the end of the job can be returned to its container for reuse without any adverse affects. This last practice is a great benefit in reducing waste product.
With good plastisol ink management, waste can be reduced to a very small percentage. Plastisol product that is unusable is not considered hazardous waste in most municipalities as long as it is solidified (cured).
Plastisol is extremely versatile in that most printers never have to amend the ink. They are able to use it direct from the container without ever adjusting the viscosity or the strength.
Plastisol comes in strengths from transparent to very opaque and most printers will have the various versions available to use, depending upon the type and color of fabric they are printing on.
Plastisol can be used through all ranges of screen mesh counts. It works very well on light and dark fabrics and is key in designs that have halftones and gradients
Since Plastisol is a thermoplastic, it will remelt if it comes in contact with anything hot enough. Obviously, being in the sun during summertime won't melt the ink but something with a high degree and concentrated heat source will. For that reason, plastisol prints cannot be ironed. If an iron touches a print, it will smear the ink and, most likely, ruin your iron.
Plastisol ink also creates an ink film that can be felt with the hand. The higher the opacity of the ink, the greater the “hand”.
Since Plastisol contains resins and plasticizers, it requires a temperature of 320-350 to cure (or harden/dry) the ink. If that temperature is not met (and not maintained for the proper length of time), the ink will be 'under cured' and wash away when washed. On the other hand, if plastisol is over-cured, (or left too long under the curing heat), it can crack or peel over time.
Water Based Ink
Water-based inks are defined as those that utilize water as the main solvent. Water-based ink uses either dyes or pigments in a suspension with water as a solvent. It has a much thinner viscosity than standard plastisol ink. This enables the ink to absorb into the fibers of the fabric and essentially re-dye them.
Advantages to Water-based Ink
Water-based inks are a good choice when a soft hand is desirable. A soft hand is the condition where the ink film cannot easily be felt with the hand when passed across the surface of the fabric. This effect is often used as an argument for why water-based is preferable to plastisol as plastisol has more of a hand than water-based.
Water-based ink also is a good choice where ink penetration is desirable, such as in towel printing. Towels have a high nap fabric that must be printed in a manner where the ink penetrates or wicks through to the base fabric for adequate coverage. It's also become popular with t-shirts and other garments where people are looking for an extremely soft hand or vintage look.
Since water-base inks are free of plastics, it is also eco-friendly.
They will also never crack or peel because they are now a part of the fabric, not layered on top like plastisol inks, however, if not properly cured it can wash out
Disadvantages of Water-based Ink
When printed on darker colors the results will be muted or not seen at all. Discharge inks can help with that (on cotton items), however, it will not reach the same brilliance that it would on a very light colored shirt or if printed with plastisol. Water-based inks work best on white fabric.
Halftones and gradients are difficult to achieve.
As mentioned before, if water-based inks are not properly cured, it will wash out.
When printing on darker colored material, water based inks require the additional use of discharge ink or it would soak into the already dyed fibers of the cloth and not be able to be seen. This means an added cost to you.
Water-based is best when printing on material that is 100% cotton because it reacts and adheres much better to cotton than a material like polyester. Water-based ink tries to change the cotton fibers to a new color. Cotton absorbs that ink, whereas synthetic materials (like polyester) can't really absorb anything.
Discharge ink is also a water based ink but it has an activator added to it to release the dye in the shirt. This activator, or discharging agent, brings the shirt back to its natural bone color.
Advantages to Discharge Ink
Like water-based ink, discharge ink leaves virtually no hand on the surface of the shirt.
It can be used along with other water-based colors to allow multi-colored printing on darker shirts. When used on a dark colored shirt, with no color added, it provides a great vintage look to the design.
It is considered an eco-friendly product since it contains no plastic products.
Since discharge inks remove the color from the fabric of the material, there is no concern about it fading or washing out.
Disadvantages to Discharge Ink
Colors on a dark shirt that was discharged will not be as vibrant as the raw color of cotton is natural-not white. For example, if you add yellow water-based ink to the discharge, and print on a black shirt, the color may end up yellow with a greenish hue to it. However, different fabrics play a role in how well the discharge will take.
Discharge ink can be very expensive-which means that cost gets passed to you.
By taking this information into consideration when planning your next screen print purchase, it should help you make the proper determination into which ink would work best for your project.
As always, when in doubt, don't hesitate to ask your printer which ink system he/she thinks would work best for what you have in mind.
About Fire Pigs Designs
Fire Pigs Designs was established in 2015 and is owned/operated by a Marine Corps veteran and former law enforcement officer. Fire Pigs Designs is committed to providing affordable, quality merchandise and fast, friendly customer service and support.
You can contact Fire Pigs Designs at firstname.lastname@example.org