Starting a t-shirt line? Which screen printing ink should you go for?

So you’re in.

You decided to start a t-shirt brand and you want to cut out the middle man and get your hands dirty with screen printing. Great! Now you have to decide which inks you want to go for.

I’m sure you’ve read that the 3 most commonly used inks in the textile industry are water-based, plastisol and discharge ink. Knowing the properties and behavior of each type, plus understanding your brand image will help determine the ink you need.



waterbased ink sample

What is it: To put it simply, this ink type meshes with the t-shirt that results in a super soft feel once the ink is cured (evaporated). Water-based colors tend to blend with the color of the t-shirt (unless you print a white base) and will last quite a long time. I’ve had prints last longer than the actual garment itself.

When to use: Water based inks are great if you want to compete in the high street fashion scene. Hipsters and tech junkies alike will love the smooth and ‘worn-out’ look that has flooded retail stores in the past decade.  Notable brands:


plastisol ink sample

What is it: In contrast, plastisol contains well, plastic molecules that do not mesh with the fabric. Instead it sits on top of the garment much like another layer even after it’s cured. This cheaper (but not necessarily low in quality) ink will unfortunately crack and peel over time, but it’s guaranteed to make your design pop!

When to use: If you’re planning to play in the sports apparel market. As a billion dollar industry, having a successful sports apparel line can translate into a very lucrative venture. Also, if you work with this ink type you will do well with customers from bowling leagues, golf clubs or PTA Weekend Meet.


discharge ink sample

What is it: Discharge screen printing is skill-intensive and takes experience to master. Similar to water-based printing, this ink gives you the ‘soft-to-no-hand’ feel which is the result of using a bleaching agent. The agent strips the shirt of its dye and replaces it with the print color. Neat huh?

When to use: As with water-based inks, you will do well in the fashion scene with discharge printing. The return of ‘retro’ designs and over-sized prints are currently trending on college campuses throughout the world and I don’t see it vanishing soon.


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