Water Based Ink vs. Plastisol: What's the Difference?
Tips & Tricks
min read

Water Based Ink vs. Plastisol: What's the Difference?

Learn the differences between the two standard inks used in the screen printing industry.

You're about to have some super sick apparel screen printed, so you have to ask yourself: which ink do you choose? 

You may have heard that there are multiple kinds of inks to choose from when it comes to screen printing. Water-based and plastisol inks are the two popular print styles in the industry.  Don’t worry. We’re here to help you understand that both inks have advantages and disadvantages and things that differ. 

Real Thread has been screen printing using water-based inks since 2009. So we have a preferred method, but we understand that you may need to use a specific type of ink for a specific project. 

Alright, let’s dive in! *cue a quiet woo-hoo in the background*

Critical Differences Between Water-Based and Plastisol Inks

Here is a breakdown of the fundamental differences between the two. 

Water-based ink is, you guessed it, made with water—good 'ol H2O. 

Plastisol ink is made with plastic. Who would've thought? 

It seems simple, but things are more complex than that when you dive down and learn about them. They impact your screen prints differently. By the end of this article, we'll have described the two ink styles, and you'll have a clearer understanding of the differences between the two and know some advantages and disadvantages of each. 

What is Water-based and discharge ink?

Water-based ink is a high-end ink commonly used in retail printing. In essence, water-based ink dyes the shirt's fabric and replaces the fabric color with the color of the ink rather than having the ink sit on top of the shirt.  It's a mixture of water with dye or pigment. Water is the primary solvent to keep the pigment or dye in a liquid form. 

For the print to cure, the water has to evaporate entirely. The ink sinks into the fabric, becoming part of the garment itself.

Longevity: Water-based prints last as long as the garment does, with no signs of cracking or peeling over time.

Brightness: The brightness level of a water-based print can range from very bright to somewhat faded, depending on the fabric of the shirt it's printed on. For example, on a 100% cotton t-shirt, your print will come off very bright and vibrant. But if you're to print on a cotton/polyester blend or tri-blend t-shirt, it might come out more toned down.

Feel: Water-based ink will leave your shirt with an incredibly soft and much more breathable print than any other ink type. Since the ink dyes the shirt's fabric, you cannot even feel the ink on the t-shirt.

Advantages of water-based inks

Disadvantages of water-based inks

Plastisol Ink

This is a plastic-based ink made for apparel. It is a cheaper ink that has long been the industry standard for screen printing. 

Plastisol ink lays directly on top of the t-shirt fabric, covering the top with a layer of ink.

Plastisol is the standard, less-expensive ink for screen printing. It is made with plastic (polyvinyl chloride, better known as PVC.)

Plastisol has to reach 350°F for curing. This type of ink sits on top of the shirt; it doesn't soak in.

Longevity: Plastisol ink prints do eventually break down. After a handful of washes, plastisol prints tend to crack, peel, or flake off.

Brightness: Since the ink sits on top of the shirt, plastisol ink always produces a bright print.

Feel: Plastisol ink prints feel thick and heavy and allow less breathability than a print with water-based ink.

Advantages of plastisol inks

Disadvantages of plastisol inks

The Real Thread preference: Water-Based Ink

We don’t use plastisol inks. We choose to print solely with water-based and discharge inks for a reason. The print is softer, more breathable, and more durable than its competitor, yielding a better overall t-shirt that people are going to love wearing again and again.

Which ink is suitable for you?

Now you've learned about the differences between the two popular ink styles, water-based and Plastisol, and how they affect screen printing. We also let you know some of the advantages and disadvantages of both ink types. 

For information on fabric types and how our inks react with them, download our T-Shirt Fabric Guide. 

If you'd like to learn more or talk to one of our printing pros, please reach out!  

We gotcha covered, champ. Later. *tips custom-embroidered baseball cap out of respect*

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