The Differences Between Printing with Plastisol vs. Water-based Ink

What are the differences between plastisol and water-based ink?” – is a question we often receive. So, let’s finally address it and lift the curtains on them.

And before we elaborate on the differences, we need to note that the two inks are very alike in terms of performance – both being capable of the same amount of detail. 

The distinction lies in their origin, methodology of applying, and finished look.

Source: Screen Print Direct

Plastisol ink

Plastisol ink is practically liquid plastic. It is made from two main ingredients – PVC resin and plasticizer, plus the different color pigments added once the plastisol base is formulated. 

The ink is a popular choice because it is the easiest to use. It doesn’t evaporate, and it will not dry or cure at room temperature, which makes the printing process a lot easier.

When applied to a garment and exposed to heat, the ink first liquifies then slowly starts to harden until it reaches a gel consistency. After that, for it to fully cure, it must go through a conveyor dryer, where any remaining liquid solidifies into a concrete print. This can happen instantaneously or gradually, depending on how much heat is applied. 

Usually, standard plastisol dries at 320º F (160º C), but there are low-cure inks, which need less heat – 280º F (138º C). Of course, various other factors can also change the curing time, for example, the layer of inks applied and the material of the garment.

The end product is rich in color, with high opacity and a glossy finish. Plastisol’s formula is dense, and when finally dried, it covers the garment well, rising above a little, giving an additional dimension to the print.

Source: Screen Print Direct

Water-based ink

There are a few different varieties of water-based ink, but essentially they are all based on the same principle – water used as a solvent base to carry pigments. 

Plastic is nowhere to be found in the water-based formula, and that is why it is becoming a preferred choice among many printing companies. However, there are disadvantages – the water in the ink makes even the thinnest layer cure slower than even the thickest layer of plastisol. It needs an average temperature of 320º F (160º C) to start drying, and because of the water base, which is partly absorbed into the fabric, the final print is with a soft hand and tends to fade faster.

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Nonetheless, for the ones who seek this effect, water-based ink is a perfect solution.

The question of sustainability

Speaking of sustainability, water-based ink is without doubt more eco-friendly than plastisol ink. It is free of chemicals and solvents, and it is the safest option for all printers, consumers, and the environment. 

Source: NRDC

But what must be pointed out is that plastisol ink’s bad reputation is not entirely deserved. True, it contains plastic, but it is, in fact, easily recyclable. Moreover, it is low maintenance, it does not release harmful chemicals in contact with water, and its manufacturing process does not need, as commonly misinterpreted, that much energy. 

In addition, printers are already working towards replacing the PVC compound in the ink, so a more sustainable alternative to it can soon be available.

Which ink should you use?

The answer is that it all depends on your needs.

Plastisol ink would be perfect if you opt for:

  • a brighter print and better color accuracy
  • higher durability
  • better pricing

Water-based ink would be the choice for you if you’re looking for:

  • softer and breathable print
  • subtle colors
  • environment-friendly alternative 

Handled and applied correctly, both can print wonders on the fabric!

If you would like to see some more samples, give us a call, we will be happy to share our portfolio.

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