The Inks We Use

Waterbased and discharge ink versus traditional plastisol ink

Since 2008, Vacord Screen Printing has been known for discharge screen printing. Founder of Vacord, Stuart, ordered a sample of Matsui brand discharge ink back then from his distributor and immediately fell in love with the ink. He had only been using waterbased inks, and was concerned with their limitations on dark shirts. But once he saw the potential of discharge ink, he explored it further and started writing about it on the Vacord blog, Discharge Nation. He's since written about it, wanting to share the knowledge with other printers (a rare act in the industry), and has done discharge test printing for Fruit of the Loom and other large companies.

    There are two main categories of screen printing ink:
  • Waterbased / Discharge ink
  • Traditional / Plastisol ink

Discharge ink is a type of waterbased ink. It works by removing the fabric's dye color and optionally replacing it with another color. Waterbased inks contain pigment held in a water based solution of varying viscosity, and can air dry. The discharge inks, however, require a lot of heat energy to activate. They go onto the garment almost clear looking at times, and then once passed through a conveyor belt oven, the chemicals activate and the "bleaching" effect takes place. It takes a lot of time and energy for a proper cure of a discharge print, so large, professional screen printing ovens are needed. Some regular waterbased inks can be wash-fast without curing with heat.

The example below is an Anvil 980 shirt in the Moss Green color. The shirt has been printed with bright clear discharge ink with a black trim. On the enlarged section, you can see how the discharge ink has removed the shirt's color to become nearly white, like the raw cotton's original color.

    The benefits and drawbacks of discharge and waterbased inks:

    • Super soft printing
    • The discharge/waterbased print is part of the fabric
    • Vibrant prints are possible
    • Great for cotton shirts
    • No heavy print on the shirt
    • Breathes well
    • Can be ironed
    • Quick production with multiple colors because it can be printed "wet on wet"
    • People notice the higher quality and softer touch
    • Ideal for higher-end printing

    • Not all shirt colors work well
    • Only works on cotton fibers, so blend shirts can be difficult
    • Inks can air dry, which can be difficult in production
    • Color matching on blend fabrics can be tricky

Note: Discharge inks can work on blend fabrics, but this printing is considered experimental and the customer has to be aware that the results may not be as perfect as 100% cotton

Traditional ink, or plastisol, is PVC-based ink (polyvinyl chloride) and is considered a solid ink. It can never dry on its own, and requires being cured with heat. It's a wonderful solution for cases where the garment can't be printed with discharge ink, such as blend shirts, hoodies, or athletic wear. Polyester cannot use discharge ink, so all Dri-Fit and 100% polyester athletic clothing requires plastisol printing for best results.

The two images below are good examples of using just one layer of plastisol ink on heather blends. This results in a soft print with a vintage look to it, and is something we specialize in. Click the images for a larger view.


    The benefits and drawbacks of traditional inks:

    • Can work on virtually any fabric
    • Neon effects, glow in the dark, and other speciality inks are plastisol inks
    • Allows true color matching, regardless of the fabric color or blend
    • Great for polo and athletic shirts

    • Can be heavier on the garment
    • May require a white underbase
    • Slower for manual production

Not sure what ink type your project needs? Have other questions, or want to discuss an order?