Water-Based Ink vs. Plastisol Ink: Unraveling the Superior Choice

When it comes to screen printing, choosing the correct ink can make all the difference in the final product. At Print Renegades, we understand the significance of this decision, which is why we carry many different types of inks to accommodate many needs. The main focus is on the two most popular ink types; water-based and plastisol. Let's delve into the key factors that set these inks apart and help you with the tools to make an informed decision to assist you in your preferential inks best, what you are looking for, and the elements of each that will best set your print apart from the rest.

1. Feel and Comfort:

Water-Based Ink:

extreme close-up view of a water-based screen print
water-based ink on jersey knit fabric

One of the primary reasons many customers gravitate towards water-based ink is its unparalleled feel and comfort. Some water-based inks permeate the fabric, becoming one with the fibers and creating a soft, smooth finish. 

Water-based prints have a unique quality that sets them apart from plastisol ink. Unlike plastisol ink, which sits on top of the fabric, water-based prints blend seamlessly with the garment, creating a natural look. Additionally, the ink color becomes part of the shirt, resulting in a mixed or vintage appearance.

The result is a much softer and lightweight design when compared to plastisol. Water-based inks take on the fabric texture more naturally, making them ideal for apparel that demands maximum comfort with a more subdued graphic.

Plastisol Ink:

extreme close-up view of plastisol ink on fabric
plastisol ink on jersey knit fabric

While plastisol ink can also produce high-quality prints, its texture tends to be thicker and more rigid than water-based ink, yet it is much more vibrant and can appear glossy. 

The plastisol layer sits atop the fabric, creating a somewhat plastic-like feel with a super bright look. Also, plastisol has many additives that can be mixed with the ink to give it a different look and feel, including one that makes it feel more like water-based ink. This softer plastisol ink is usually the perfect medium between a softer-feeling ink and one that is still bright and colorful.

2. Durability:

Water-Based Ink:

normal wear on a water-based print over 50+ washes
Water-Based Print over 50+ Washes

Although the durability of water-based inks is often a concern for some, advancements in ink technology have significantly improved their longevity, making water-based inks permanent and able to withstand numerous washes without fading, cracking, or peeling when applied correctly and cured appropriately. Companies like Permaset have invested a lot into research and development to widen the applications their water-based inks can be used for.

These prints become a permanent fabric decoration, ensuring your designs last as long as the garment itself while aging appropriately along with it.

Plastisol Ink:

normal wear on a plastisol print over 100+ washes
Excessive wear on plastisol ink over 100+ washes

Plastisol ink is known for its exceptional durability, given its thicker feel as it sits on top of the fabric, more resistant to elements that may affect its look and feel. A thick, solid layer of plastisol is a signature of vintage tees that have stood the test of time. 

However, plastisol prints could show signs of wear over time when printed incorrectly or on specialty fabrics. When plastisol prints are printed and cured correctly with the appropriate additives (if necessary), they can maintain their vibrant appearance for a longer time, and their durability can even surpass the garment's lifespan.

3. Ease of Use and Printing Process:

Water-Based Ink:

Water-based ink used to give vintage appearance
Vintage look achieved with water-based ink

Printing with water-based ink may require a slightly different approach than plastisol ink, leading to a steeper learning curve for some printers. 

Water-based inks dry faster, which can be challenging during printing, especially for larger print runs. Although some retarders and lubricants can effectively slow the drying time, water-based inks are still much more difficult to control, print, and cure. These factors can make it a much more rigorous process overall, and it could be considered a “premium” option at some print shops.

Plastisol Ink:

plastisol ink on a dark shirt for vibrance
vibrant colors on dark shirt with plastisol ink

Plastisol ink is renowned for its user-friendly nature and forgiving characteristics. Since plastisol has to reach a specific temperature to cure completely, it allows printers to work comfortably even during extended print runs without having to worry about ink drying out during the print run. The amount of time an ink can remain exposed to air without drying is referred to as its “open time.”

The thick consistency of plastisol is more forgiving of slight misprints or misalignments than water-based inks. This makes it an ideal choice for high-volume production due to increased efficiency. It is also an excellent choice for those learning the craft of printing and hobbyists. The forgiving nature of the ink allows for more practice without having to stop to make as many corrections.  

4. Personal Preference:

Ultimately, the choice between water-based ink and plastisol ink often comes down to personal preference and the specific requirements of each project. Water-based ink enthusiasts praise its eco-friendly nature, soft feel, and potential for high-detail printing (although the same level of detail is usually equally achievable with plastisol). 

On the other hand, those who prefer the familiarity and durability of plastisol ink appreciate its ease of use and vibrant results. There is also something to be said for the aesthetic of a plastisol print. Streetwear enthusiasts often prefer to stick to plastisol's heavier print feel and texture.

At Print Renegades, we have perfected our skills in handling ink and printing, setting us apart from other shops. What sets us apart even further is that we don't charge extra for water-based inks, even though they can be more challenging to work with. 

Our team is skilled in using various ink types to assist you in selecting the most suitable option for your custom apparel projects. We prioritize transparency and won't push a specific ink type because it's easier to print with. Whichever ink you choose, rest assured that our service process guarantees exceptional results reflecting our commitment to quality, artistry, and environmental respect.

Whether you're drawn to the carefree softness of water-based ink or the tried-and-true sturdiness of plastisol ink (or any option in between), Print Renegades is here to bring your artistic vision to life with the perfect ink for your needs.

Print Renegades - Where Your Vision Meets Expertise

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