Screen Print 101: Choosing The Right Ink

Ink can make or break a screen printing project. From plastisol to water-based, various inks perform differently over time under the pressures of heat and multiple washes. To complicate things further, various fabrics require specific inks to be used to ensure longevity or a particular design effect.

Knowing which one to choose for your screen print takes some research and practice. In fact, inks used for screen printing are not always interchangeable. In other words, an ink that works for one fabric may not work for another. In general, the ink used for screen printing is often more viscous than regular ink used in pens or on newspapers. Screen printing inks have a variety of other properties to meet the different demands and expectations of the screen printing process. The most common inks used in screen printing are oil-based Plastisol ink, water-based, discharge, and expanding ink, among others.

People concerned with the toxicity of various inks may also choose more eco-friendly ink for screen printing, free of PVC and Phthalates.

Here are five tips for choosing the right ink for your project:

Durable and Versatile Designs: Plastisol Inks

In the United States, plastisol ink is most commonly used in screen printing due to its tendency to sit on the screen for longer periods of time. Plastisol ink, prized for its workability, is very flexible, withstands washes well, and is versatile. It also creates the brightest possible print for your design. Plastisol is a mixture of PVC particles and plasticizer, allowing it to be heat cured and remain relatively porous. This last factor permits the ink to better penetrate the substrate. You can also add various additives to plastisol to make it do different things; however, plastisol’s texture can vary greatly and it sits heavily on the fabric, creating a “puffed” or 3D look.

For Soft Vintage Finishes: Water-Based Inks

As the name implies, water-based ink has a water base rather than a PVC one, like Plastisol. Water-based ink also lacks plasticizers; unlike Plastisol, which gives it a translucence and lower opacity than premium standard or Plastisol inks. This means that less ink needs to be used on light fabrics; however, on darker fabrics, water-based inks may need an underbase to prevent the t-shirt’s darker color from affecting the ink brightness.

Water-based inks are also a softer hand, meaning they are much softer to touch than thicker Plastisol inks. While water-based inks still work on a wide variety of fabrics, you’ll have to avoid nylon and pure polyester fabrics, which prevent proper adhesion.

Long-Lasting Prints on Light Colors: Discharge Inks

Discharge is similar to water-based ink but has an additive, Zinc Formaldehyde Sulfoxylate (ZFS), which removes the dye used by the manufacturer. Discharge ink comes in three forms: clear, pigmented, and white. Clear discharge inks only remove dye from fabric, leaving either the color of the garment after interacting with ZFS or only removing the fabric’s dye. White discharge ink removes dye from the fabric and replaces it with pigment. Since discharge ink is also water-based, it may absorb deeply into the fabric providing a long lasting print. However, discharge inks can cause many color issues. It should never be used with t-shirts that are Kelly Green, Royal Blue, Cobalt, Turquoise, Teal, Lapis, or Purple because otherwise, the ink will cause the shirt color and ink to bleed together.

For Multiple Types of Projects: Premium Standard Inks

Premium standard blends multiple ink types. It often has a discharge ink underbase, as well a blended topcoat, which has Plastisol additives.  The topcoat is made of plastisol with additives in order to soften the ink and remove unwanted shine. As a result, though not eco-friendly, the ink can be used in a variety of projects. Like discharge inks, Premium standard can’t be used on the same colors as above.

For a Quick-Drying Bright Finish: Fashion Soft Inks

Fashion soft is a softened plastisol, but the key component is the discharge underbase. This simultaneously allows the same softness as water-based inks while boasting the same brightness that plastisol offers. Though as soft as water-based inks, fashion soft ink is not eco-friendly. Fashion soft inks also dry very quickly, requiring you to work very quickly to create your screen print.

Choosing the right kind of ink for your project is a crucial part of the screen printing process. Make sure to experiment with inks before mass-producing your work to make sure you are satisfied with the final product.

Consider these insights on inks used in screen printing from Clothing Shop Online!

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