(Some) Pros and Cons of Waterbased vs. Plastisol Printing
Although plastisol has been the industry standard for a long time, screen printers are turning more and more to water based inks to fulfill their customers’ requests. In this article, we’ll go through a few of the pros and cons of both plastisol and water based inks to help you decide what works best for your print jobs.
Water based inks were the first in the industry, coming about in the early 1900s. With the advent of plastisol, they lost their allure but are now becoming more popular again due to their soft hand and increasing printability.
Pros of Water Based Inks
- Becomes a part of the garment instead of sitting on top
- Easy to clean up – you can clean with water, so no solvents are needed.
- Discharge inks become a part of the garment, leaving no hand.
- High Solids Acrylics have a slight hand but great opacity.
- Higher mesh counts lead to lower ink usage.
- Perceived as a more environmentally friendly option, although that’s debatable.
Cons of Water Based Inks
- Requires use of a water-resistant emulsion
- Can dry in screen & clog the mesh.
- Requires longer cure times than plastisol
- Discharge ink requires a catalyst, shortening pot life.
If you are printing on light garments that don’t require an underbase, or if you’re printing a large design on a dark garment, water based inks are often the best choice. If you don’t need an underbase print, regular water based inks like those from CCI and Permaset have excellent open times, coverage, and hand. If you would need an underbase, CCI’s T-Charge or Rutland’s Discharge systems allow you to print full coverage without an underbase and leave the garment with a soft hand.
If the garment you are printing on is not discharge-compatible (like royal blues or any polyester garment), then a high-solids acrylic ink like Permaset SuperCover is a great option. SuperCover has a very high pigment load, which leads to excellent opacity, but can dry in your screen much faster than regular water based inks.
If you’re just starting out with screen printing, plastisol inks might be the best option for you. Because the ink never dries until it hits a curing temperature, you can print as quickly or as slowly as you need to to get the best results. Plastisol inks are by far the easiest type of ink to work with when printing textiles, which is why they are the industry standard. SPSI is proud to carry a few of the top name brands available in the market – Rutland, International Coatings, and QCM.
Pros of Plastisol Inks
- Easy to work with.
- The ink doesn’t dry until cured (generally 320 degrees F).
- You don’t need to worry about evaporating water before the ink as able to cure.
- Can use any type of emulsion.
- The ink is ready to use out of the container.
Cons of Plastisol
- Heavier hand than waterbased.
- Requires chemicals/solvents to clean the screen.
- You might need different inks for cotton & polyester garments.
Ultimately, the ink you use to print will be dictated by what you or your customers want. With experience you will learn what jobs would look particularly good with waterbased, which will look great with plastisol, and so on.
There are a lot of great articles on waterbased & plastisol printing. Here are a couple:
Water World: Tips for Printing with Water-Based Inks (Printwear Magazine)
Is Waterbase Ink More Eco-Friendly Than Plastisol? (International Coatings Blog)