The Different Types of Screen Printing Inks & How to Choose the Right One for Your Project


Screen printing is one of the most popular techniques for creating unique designs and patterns using ink pigment on your garments.

This technique provides various design options. It allows customization of garments and other accessories.

Key Takeaways

Water-based inks

Water-based inks are more friendly to the environment. They have a soft feel to the touch making them more comfortable to wear. Generally the design doesn’t last as long as Plastisol inks.

Plastisol inks

This is the most commonly used ink for screen printing. They are plastic based and therefore easy to use and apply. They produce a strong and thick print that last longer than their water-based counterpart.

Discharge inks

These inks are specifically used on dark fabrics. The ink removes the dark dye from the fabric and then prints on top of the bleached area to allow the design to pop!

Speciality inks

As the name suggests, this ink can add texture and dimension to the print. For example, puff ink contains a foam substance that expands and raises up to give a 3D look.

Always sample test

Before printing any large batch, always test your chosen ink on a sample fabric. This ensures getting the desired results before wasting an entire batch.

If you want to start screen printing but don’t know what ink types would work best, this article is for you.

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    What Are Main Screen Printing Ink Types?

    Screen printing mostly requires Plastisol and water-based ink. These are the two main types of ink used, although there are others.

    They tend to give the best results on a range of garments and complicated design styles.

    The guys at Ohio Ink Supply breaking down the different types of screen printing inks.

    There are also discharge inks that can help you get a fantastic print. These work on tough and dark garments.

    However, there are pros and cons to these types of inks. Which to choose depends on your designs, garments, and preferences.

    No matter which you choose. Follow the guidelines and dedicate time and energy to screen printing. Do this, and you will get excellent print results everyone will envy you for.

    What Is Plastisol Ink?

    Plastisol ink is the most popular type of screen printing ink. It’s used in the retail industry, and it allows you to work with dozens of colors.

    As the name suggests, these inks are made from plastic. This makes them more durable than other ink types.

    They are made from plastic in liquid form to give it viscosity. This allows you to create any type of print and design you want.

    Just like most printing inks, they need to be cured using a heat source. Once cured, you don’t have to worry about your print fading or peeling.

    You don’t have to wash it at a specific temperature or wash it alone to protect the print. Just put it in your washing machine and dry it.

    Plastisol ink prints can last longer than the T-shirt itself. So it’s likely the apparel will wear off before the print detail.

    Plastisol ink offers endless options. You can mix different colors to create new ones. You can even add special additives for special effects like glitter or shimmer.

    They are also called specialty inks. This is because you can create pretty much anything with them. It is the perfect solution for more complicated designs with multiple colors.

    The ink dries on thick. With the added density, you won’t need to worry about color fading or design peeling.

    They also work well on dark substrate garments. And they are way more affordable than other ink systems.

    Note your print is made from thermoplastic. Therefore, you shouldn’t iron your garments directly on the print. It will melt and shrivel up.

    It is mainly used in print shops and among large manufacturers. This is because it is easy to work with and provides flexibility.

    Overall, it is a good ink that allows you to create what you want. But if you don’t want unique or complicated design details, other inks might work well.

    What Is Water-Based Ink?

    Water-based inks are another option for screen printing. They started gaining popularity a few years back.

    These inks use different ingredients. They are water-based. This means the garment will absorb the ink to create the print in the areas you want the design.

    A lot of people prefer water-based inks because the created design looks a lot more natural. This is because they become a part of the garment and not just a print placed on the top of the shirt.

    However, water-based inks lack durability. They require a lot of care and attention. They are hard to cure, and need care when printing with them.

    A too-humid and arid workspace environment can be equally bad for your water-based ink design. Neither of these conditions will allow it to dry well. You will then have to wait for days before you can wear the garment.

    The print is soft to the touch. Therefore wearing garments printed by them are more comfortable than plastisol inks. They are used on products designed for comfort, like sweaters or hoodies.

    Also called acrylic screen printing inks. They are found everywhere, but are pretty expensive. So, if you plan on screen printing a lot, this option isn’t the most cost-effective.

    Water-based inks are free from harmful chemicals and won’t cause allergies or rashes. As a result, people with sensitive skin should wear garments designed with this ink.

    While you get versatility with water-based inks, you can’t expect them to last forever. As you wash your garments, the print will start to wear off.

    These inks are used more frequently because they don’t damage the environment. But that is also the reason why they are less durable than other inks.

    Overall, water-based inks are becoming a more popular in the screen printing industry. But they still have a lot of disadvantages that don’t make them the best option for retailers. However, if used for just for DIY projects, you will love them.

    What Are Discharge Inks?

    Discharge inks are also water-based inks. But they come with a unique formula enriched with an activator. This allows you to print on dark garments without issue.

    These inks are useful. They allow you to add the print on a darker garment without adding more layers of ink.

    Your garment will have a fantastic print that will feel soft and natural. This is because it won’t have too many additional layers.

    Discharge ink has an activator that will remove the color of the fabric and replace it with the color you want to print with.

    Bleaching to achieve the desired design is not required. And you won’t need to add dozen of layers to make your print visible.

    If you are screen printing on darker fabrics with water-based inks and are not sure if you will be able to achieve the desired print, then discharge inks are the right option for you.

    They are also on the pricier side. But if you want to avoid plastisol inks and find high-quality water-based ink, this is the best choice for you.

    Discharge ink won’t harm your fabric even though it will dissolve the color, and all screen printers will work fine with it.

    Your print will be vibrant and soft, and you will feel comfortable in your clothing.

    How To Choose The Right Screen Printing Ink?

    The type of ink you choose depends on your fabric, your print, the colors you will use, the effect you want to achieve, and many more things, which means that you may even need to use different inks for each one of your designs.

    wooden self containing variations of blue water-based sublimation inks in workshop.
    Choosing the correct ink type for screen printing depends on several factors!

    These are some things you need to pay attention to when looking for the perfect ink type for your printing process.


    When screen printing on garments, you need to be aware that each one is entirely different, and what one may be able to deal with, the other won’t, and it will fall apart.

    Polyester and cotton are not the same material and won’t act the same when exposed to different types of screen printing ink, so you need to find the matching ink for every material you plan to work with.

    If you don’t use ink made tfor polyester, you may have to deal with dye migration, or your print will fade and fall apart after just one wash.

    For that reason, always check out how you should handle the material before you purchase plastisol inks or water-based inks because you don’t want to waste money on something that will be of no use.

    Every material is cured differently and needs a different amount of time to get the right look, so this is also one of the reasons why you need to pay close attention to which ink you are using.

    There are also fabrics like nylon that can be screen printed only in special conditions and with specific inks, so always check out how the garment should be treated before you start the process.


    Not every ink can provide you with the color you want, and if you are specific with your design and won’t settle for anything else, then you need to see what ink can produce that color.

    Plastisol inks and water-based inks produce completely different colors, and you won’t be able to get the same design and color with both of them.

    For that reason, if you want your design to have gold shimmer or a metallic sign, you will need to use plastisol ink because water-based inks will never be able to give that effect.

    The same also goes for some pastel and softer shades because plastisol inks are very vibrant and can’t make the print and the color look that natural and soft.

    Acrylic inks are better for some colors, while plastisol inks are better for others, so check which one of these inks can help you get the color you like.

    Plastisol ones have a high opacity while water-based ones don’t, so the choice of the ink will change the whole process and the look of your design drastically, so always do deep research before you opt for one of them.

    Dark garments

    Screen printing on dark garments can be pretty challenging, and this type of screen printing tends to take up most of your time.

    However, this is never a challenge when you learn what inks work the best with them and what type of under base or preparation you should do before you start printing on a dark garment.

    Most beginners are not aware that dark garments don’t absorb inks well and that not every color will leave its mark on the T-shirt or pants they want to personalize.

    If you want to customize a darker garment, always check out what inks and colors can be transferred to them and how you can do it because this is not an easy process or something that can be done with any ink and color.


    As you can see, screen printing with plastisol, water-based inks, or discharge inks is pretty much the same, but these inks will not work perfectly with all of your garments and designs.

    For that reason, always pay attention to these things and check everything twice before you start a screen printing process because you only want the best results.

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