Water Based Screen Printing

Waterbased ink (water based screen printing) is a type of screen printing in which the pigment (color) is held in a thick liquid that is based on water, instead of a plastic based liquid like traditional, or plastisol, ink. It works great on white and lighter color shirts, but because it is not opaque, it does not work well on darker garments. For those dark shirts and hoodies, discharge ink should be used, which is a version of waterbased ink that removes the shirt’s color and replaces it. Discharge only works on cotton, but waterbased ink can be used on 50/50 blends as well as 100% synthetic fiber garments.

Waterbased ink used to be lower quality, and only apt for hobbyists, but improvements in the inks have made it appropriate for commercial production. Many customers now seek out waterbased screen printing for soft and vibrant results. It can be trickier than traditional ink, because it will air-dry, and that includes drying in the screens if one moves too slowly while printing or walks away from the press during a production run. But with diligence and effort, one can become a great waterbased printer.

Positives of Water Based Screen Printing

  • Super soft prints
  • Vibrant colors
  • Can be used to print high detail and halftone prints
  • Pretty eco-friendly
  • Pantone color matching is possible, and inks come in a ton of different colors
  • Won’t fade, crack or peel
  • Ink settles into fabric and is not a heavy layer on top
  • Black waterbased ink is very soft and works on almost all colors
Water based screen printing design of an octopus

Negatives of Water Based Screen Printing

  • Doesn’t work on darker garments (but discharge ink does)
  • Difficult to use on tote bags
  • Can dry and clog screens during production if left for a long time
  • BestĀ for white and lighter color shirts

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