Screen Printing Ink Types


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

This technique provides you with various design options and allows you to customize your T-shirts, pants, and accessories however you want.

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

    What Are Main Screen Printing Ink Types?

    Screen printing works mostly with Plastisol and Water-based inks. These are the two main types of ink used, although there are others.

    Screen printers can use multiple inks. But these two tend to give the best results with all types of garments and design styles.

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

    Compared to regular inks, plastisol and water-based inks can work with many more garments and create even the most complicated designs without problems.

    There are also discharge inks that can help you get a fantastic print, even on the toughest and darkest garments you have ever worked with.

    However, all of these types of inks have pros and cons. Which one you choose depends on your designs, garments, and preferences.

    No matter which one of them you choose, as long as you follow the guidelines and dedicate time and energy to screen printing, you will be able to get excellent results and prints everyone will envy you for.

    What Is Plastisol Ink?

    Plastisol ink is the most popular type of screen printing ink. It is known for its wide use in the retail industry, and it allows you to work with dozens of colors.

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

    It is made from plastic in liquid form. This allows you to create any type of print and design you want quickly.

    All plastisol prints can be treated easily and don’t require any special care, which is very important if you are doing it as a DIY project.

    Just like most printing inks, it needs to be cured at a specific temperature to last. Once it is cured, you don’t have to worry about your print fading or peeling off.

    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 more than the T-shirt itself. So it’s likely your garments will wear off after a few years, but the print will stay the same.

    Plastisol ink offers endless options because you can mix different colors, create new ones, and even add special effects like glitter or shimmer.

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

    No matter what color or effect you add to your print, it will be thick. You don’t need to worry about the color fading or the design peeling.

    It also looks great on dark garments, and way more affordable than other screen printing ink options.

    However, it would help to note your print is made from thermoplastic. 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 great ink that will allow you to create whatever you want. But if you don’t want unique or complicated designs, 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 water as their main base. This means the garment will absorb it completely so it could create the print or the design you want.

    A lot of people prefer water-based inks because the designs created with them look a lot more natural since they are a part of the garment, not just a print placed on the top of the shirt.

    However, these screen printing inks require a lot of care and attention. They are very hard to cure and you need to be careful when printing with them.

    A too-humid and too-arid 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.

    Since the print will be very soft, it is much more comfortable to wear garments designed with water-based ink than plastisol ones.

    T-shirts and other clothing created with these inks have soft hand prints, and they are mostly used on pieces that are made to be simple and comfortable, like sweaters or hoodies.

    These are also called acrylic screen printing inks, and although they can be found everywhere, they are pretty expensive, so if you plan on screen printing several garments, it probably won’t be the most cost-effective option.

    However, it would be best if you kept in mind that water-based inks are free from harmful chemicals and won’t cause you allergies or rashes, so people with sensitive skin should probably wear garments designed with this ink.

    While you can get amazing prints with water-based inks, you can’t expect them to last forever, because as you wash the shirt or a sweater, the garment and the print will start to wear off.

    These inks are being 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 choice in the screen printing industry, but they still have a lot of bad sides that don’t make them the best option for retailers, but if you are using them just for DIY projects, you will probably love them.

    What Are Discharge Inks?

    Discharge inks are also water-based inks, but they come with a unique formula enriched with an activator that will allow you to print on dark garments without any obstacles.

    These inks are very useful because they allow you to add the print on a darker garment and make it visible without adding more layers of ink.

    Your garment will have a fantastic print that will feel soft and natural 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.

    You won’t need to do any bleaching to achieve the desired design, 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 at all costs 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 pleasant in your T-shirt or sweater.

    How To Choose The Right Screen Printing Ink?

    Even when you know everything about screen printing inks, and you already have experience with this, it can be hard to realize what type of ink will work best for you.

    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.

    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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