How to Choose the Right Ink for Your Screen Print Project: Plastisol vs. Water-Based Ink

Posted by Ellie Batchiyska on

In screen printing, the two most common types of ink used are plastisol and water-based ink. Each ink has its own unique properties that make them better suited for certain projects. Plus, some screen printers have distinct preferences for one ink over the other. So, is there one type of ink that’s better, and what types of projects are they best for? Continue reading below as we lay out the differences in these inks and how you can choose the right one for your needs. 


What is Plastisol Ink?

Plastisol ink is a thick PVC-based ink that requires heat to cure. You can think of it like a liquid plastic, meaning it sits on top of the fabric you’re printing on rather than absorbing into it. This type of ink is widely used because it is easy to handle, forgives mistakes, and results in long-lasting designs that won’t crack, fade, or peel.


What is Plastisol Ink Best For?

Plastisol inks are best used for designs that use bright colors, and it is suitable for many types of fabrics like cotton and polyester. Given the vibrant and opaque designs you can create with plastisol ink, it’s often a good choice if you’re printing on darker-colored items. Plus, many beginner screen printers find that plastisol ink is easier to work with and more forgiving. 


If you’re using plastisol ink, use our Camie 480 Screen Opener to wipe away inks and clean your screens after use easily. Whether you’re going to store your screens or use them again with a different color, this screen opener will instantly clean plugged screens to reduce downtime and help speed up your production.


What is Water-Based Ink?

Water-based ink is made with water as the primary solvent and pigments or dyes to create the desired color. It has a thinner consistency than plastisol inks and absorbs into the fibers of the fabric rather than sitting on top of it. Designs made with water-based inks will leave a thin, smooth, flexible layer on the item. This type of ink is seen as the more eco-friendly option since it doesn’t contain chemicals or plastics.


What is Water-Based Ink Best For?

Water-based ink gives off a softer look compared to the vibrancy of plastisol inks. But, printing with water-based ink is seen as more advanced than using plastisol inks. It evaporates quickly since it’s made primarily from water, and isn’t as forgiving with mistakes since it absorbs directly into the fabric upon contact. 


As we mentioned above, water-based inks are a great choice if you’re looking for sustainability. Plus, it can be a good option if you’re printing on light-colored or thin fabrics since it doesn’t leave as heavy of a deposit as plastisol. 


If you’re using water-based ink, you’ll need our AlbaChem Screen Opener to quickly clean your screens and restore them for future use. This foaming cleanser works fast to clean away dried-on water-based ink from your screens but doesn’t leave a film or oily residue behind. 


Wrapping up Our Comparison of Water-Based Ink vs. Plastisol Ink

Neither of these inks is necessarily better than the other. Choosing between the two will largely come down to your own preferences as a screen printer, in addition to what your clients are looking for with their design. Both plastisol and water-based inks can be used to create eye-catching and long-lasting prints, so make sure you consider the above points to choose the right one for your next project.

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