Water based ink vs. plastisol ink: which is better?


Water based ink and plastisol ink are the two most popular ink styles in the screen printing industry. Here is a breakdown of the essentials you need to know concerning which style is right for you.


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 fabric of the shirt and replaces the fabric color with the color of the ink, rather than having the ink sit on top of the shirt.

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

Brightness: The level of brightness 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 is going to come off very bright and vibrant. But if you’re to print on a cotton/polyester blend or tri-blend, it might come out a more toned down.

For more on fabric types, and how our inks react with them, download our t-shirt fabric guide.

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

Ease of Use: Water based ink is a higher quality ink that takes significant training to use. Since the inks react differently with each t-shirt, it takes a deep knowledge of ink and fabric types to get the right colors and opacities. 

Plastisol Ink

Plastisol ink is a plastic-based ink made for apparel. It is a cheaper ink that has long been the industry standard for screen printing despite its generally thick, heavy feeling print results.

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

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

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

Feel: Plastisol ink prints feel thick, heavy and do not allow any breathability.

Ease of Use: Plastisol inks were chemically formed to be easy to use for screen printers. They don’t dry up on the screens, nor do they require much knowledge of fabric types.

Which one is better?

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

If you’d like to learn more, or talk to a t-shirt expert, please reach out! Our team would love to talk to you.

Editor’s Note: This post had been updated for accuracy and freshness. You can find the original version here.


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