Let’s get straight to the point – there are only 3 types of inks we use in screen printing, and they are:
Also known as the “traditional” way of screen printing, Plastisol used to be the only ink type professional printers would use back in the 80s. To the touch, this ink feels plasticky (hence the name) and looks glossy as its a thick layer of ink that stays on the garment instead of blending with the fibers. For those born in the early 70s, I’m sure you’ve owned a t-shirt or two (remember that old ninja turtle sweatshirt?) that has been printed using plastisol – and remember how mom always told you never to iron on the graphic? – yeah, plastisol melts.
As an ink to work with, this will never dry out. This means you can leave it on your screen after a job, shower, meet up with some friends, have 10 rounds of beer, shoot pool, try to get lucky, have a hang over for the next 15 hours, come back to your screen and start squeegeeing where you left off. Because of the oil base in plastisol, the ink only starts to cure under high temperature. Keep in mind that when working with plastisol, you are going to need a heating element that can produce enough heat to properly cure the ink.
Unlike other ink types, Plastisol works well with any material – 100% cotton, tri-blends, rayon, synthetic, etc. Most t-shirt printers are moving away from this as current demands and fashion trends are focusing on smooth and lighter prints. But if you wanted to print curtains or bags, plastisol is great! Done correctly, plastisol won’t crack, peel or fade for well over 10 years. Plus, if you wanted to make your prints softer, there are additives you can mix with, or you could simply lay down less ink. As for the costs, check around your local supplies shop – word is out that plastisol is actually cheaper than other ink types as demand has dropped.
As opposed to oil, waterbased inks are increasing in demand, primarily because of its eco-friendly-ness with mother nature. As hipsters and fashionistas are well in support for going green, you can find most t-shirts these days to be printed with waterbased inks. There are a few major ink companies that have gone completely green and have produced some impressive innovative ink tech. They are however, charging more for their eco-inks, but if you have a conscience and you’re trying to minimize carbon footprint, go waterbased.
Working with these inks differ in the sense that they do dry up quicker than plastisol. In fact, when I work with waterbased inks I rarely leave my screen sitting for more than 3 minutes. Even in a humid environment, the ink dries up between the mesh so fast that it can really screw up production. Having said that, I do however, enjoy the results more so compared to plastisol. Colors don’t pop and aren’t as vibrant, but I usually give an extra pass on the screen to solve this issue.
As the most technical of the 2 inks above, printing discharge can produce some pretty impressive results. Similar to waterbased printing, discharge gives you that ‘no-hand’ feel to the touch. Popular back in the 80s as an alternative to using plastisol inks, most t-shirt boutiques now are adopting this method again and are putting out ‘retro’ designs that you currently see as the trend.
Discharge inks contain a bleaching agent. When you lay down the ink onto the garment, the agent removes the shirt’s dye (bringing it back to the garment’s original color), and replaces it with the color that you want – red, blue, green, etc. When this happens, imagine stripping one layer of ink and replacing it with another – and that’s how you achieve a ‘no hand’ feel. I’ve included a video below to illustrate what you’ve just read.
The downside of this method is the difficulty in achieving exact colors, plus, discharge only works on certain types of garments.