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 environmentally friendly and offer a soft, comfortable feel. However, they may not have the same durability as Plastisol inks.

Plastisol inks

Plastisol inks are the popular choice for screen printing, known for their ease of use and application. Being plastic-based, they create a durable and bold print that outlasts water-based inks.

Discharge inks

Discharge inks are ideal for dark fabrics as they remove the dark dye from the material, allowing the design to stand out by printing on top of the bleached area.

Speciality inks

As the name suggests, this ink can add texture and dimension to the print. One such example is puff ink, which contains a foam substance that expands and raises, creating a striking 3D effect.

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 The Main 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.

    Plastisol Ink Unveiled: The Ultimate Ink Choice

    Plastisol ink stands as the undisputed champion of screen printing inks, commanding widespread popularity in the retail industry with its vibrant color palette.

    As the name implies, these inks are composed of plastic, endowing them with unparalleled durability compared to their counterparts.

    Starting in liquid form, plastisol ink boasts a desirable viscosity, granting you the freedom to create virtually any print or design your heart desires.

    Once subjected to a heat source for curing, your worries about fading or peeling prints are effortlessly extinguished. No need to fret about specific washing instructions either; simply toss it in the washing machine and let it dry.

    In fact, plastisol ink prints often outlast the very fabric they adorn, demonstrating exceptional longevity that transcends the life of the garment itself.

    The versatility of plastisol ink knows no bounds. Mix and match colors to forge new shades or incorporate specialty additives like glitter and shimmer to achieve captivating effects.

    Dubbed as specialty inks, they unlock a realm of possibilities for intricate designs boasting a multitude of colors.

    With a thickness that leaves an indelible mark, plastisol ink ensures your colors remain vibrant and your design stays intact, impervious to fading or peeling concerns.

    Even on dark garments, plastisol ink triumphs, effortlessly making its mark while maintaining affordability when compared to other ink systems.

    Do exercise caution, though, for your print is thermoplastic in nature. Thus, direct ironing onto the print is ill-advised, as it may melt and distort.

    Mainly found in print shops and embraced by large manufacturers, plastisol ink thrives due to its user-friendly nature and unwavering flexibility.

    In summary, plastisol ink presents a stellar choice for those seeking the power to actualize their creative visions. However, if your aspirations don’t entail intricate or unique design details, alternative inks may suit your needs equally well.

    Advantages of Plastisol Ink:

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    2. Exceptional Durability: ██████████ (10)
    3. Easy Curing: ██████████ (8)
    4. Versatile Application: ██████████ (9)
    5. Reliable Performance: ██████████ (9)
    6. Ideal for Dark Garments: ██████████ (8)
    7. User-Friendly: ██████████ (7)
    8. Cost-Effective: ██████████ (8)

    Water-Based Ink: A Good Alternative?

    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 there are several benefit of using water-based inks that bring versatility, it’s important to note that they are not permanent. As you wash your garments, the print will wear off in time.

    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.

    Advantages of Water-based Ink:

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    2. Exceptional Durability: ████████ (7)
    3. Easy Curing: ████████ (7)
    4. Versatile Application: █████████ (8)
    5. Reliable Performance: ████████ (7)
    6. Ideal for Dark Garments: ████████ (6)
    7. User-Friendly: ████████ (6)
    8. Cost-Effective: ████████ (6)

    Discharge Inks: Unlocking Dark Garment Printing

    Discharge inks, classified as water-based inks, possess a unique formulation enriched with an activator, enabling seamless printing on dark garments.

    These inks offer a valuable advantage by allowing prints on darker fabrics without the need for additional layers of ink.

    The result? A stunning print that feels soft and natural, unburdened by excessive ink layers.

    Discharge ink’s activator serves a vital role by removing the fabric’s original color and replacing it with your desired print hue, eliminating the need for bleaching or numerous layers to achieve visibility.

    If you have reservations about achieving desired prints with water-based inks on dark fabrics, discharge inks emerge as the ideal choice.

    It’s important to note that discharge inks come at a higher price point. However, if you seek premium water-based ink alternatives and wish to avoid plastisol inks, discharge inks deliver unrivaled quality.

    Rest assured, discharge ink poses no harm to your fabric, despite its color-dissolving action, making it compatible with all screen printers.

    Prepare for vibrant, soft prints that grant you utmost comfort and confidence in your clothing choice.

    Advantages of Discharge Inks:

    1. Vibrant Colors: ██████████ (9)
    2. Exceptional Durability: █████████ (8)
    3. Easy Curing: ████████ (7)
    4. Versatile Application: █████████ (8)
    5. Reliable Performance: █████████ (8)
    6. Ideal for Dark Garments: █████████ (9)
    7. User-Friendly: ████████ (7)
    8. Cost-Effective: █████████ (8)

    Choosing the Right Ink: Factors to Consider

    Selecting the appropriate ink type for screen printing involves careful consideration of various factors. These include your fabric, desired print, color choices, desired effects, and more. In fact, you may even need to use different inks for each unique design.

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

    Let’s explore the key aspects to pay attention to when seeking the perfect ink type for your printing process.

    Material & Textile

    Different materials require specific ink considerations. Garments made of polyester and cotton, for example, behave differently when exposed to different types of screen printing ink. Using the wrong ink can result in dye migration, fading, or the print falling apart after just one wash. Take the time to understand the compatibility between the material and the ink type to avoid wasteful purchases.

    Each material also requires a specific curing process, with variations in the necessary time and conditions to achieve the desired results. Special fabrics like nylon may have specific requirements, so always research the treatment guidelines before starting the printing process.

    Color Characteristics

    Not every ink can reproduce the exact color you desire. Plastisol inks and water-based inks produce distinct color characteristics. For example, if you seek gold shimmer or a metallic effect, plastisol ink is the preferred choice, as water-based inks cannot replicate that effect.

    Similarly, some pastel and softer shades may be better achieved with acrylic inks rather than vibrant plastisol inks. Thorough research is essential to ensure the chosen ink can achieve your desired color outcome.

    Dark garments

    Screen printing on dark garments presents unique challenges and requires careful attention. Understanding which inks and colors work best for dark garments, as well as the necessary under base or preparation techniques, is crucial.

    Dark garments do not absorb inks well, and not every color will leave a visible mark. Ensure you investigate the appropriate inks and colors that can be successfully transferred to dark fabrics and follow the recommended techniques for a successful printing process.

    By considering these factors, you can make informed decisions when selecting screen printing inks, leading to optimal results for your designs and fabric choices.


    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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