Screen Printing Inks for printing onto fabric
When it comes to screen printing inks, there is a large variety available.
I’ve always worked with water based inks and have much preferred them over plastisol inks.
But before I go into the pros and cons of both and elaborate on my personal preference to water based inks,
Types of Screen Printing Inks
I will first tell you about the different types of screen printing inks
that I’m familiar with and what I’ve learnt about each one:
Water based inks
Water based inks have a soft hand which means they are soft to the touch.
People sometimes think that because they are water based that they will not wash well,
but once cured properly they wash incredibly well.
No harsh chemicals are needed to clean water based inks off your screen , squeegee , mixing spoon or your hands.
You can use just plain water to clean these inks.
Any ink that is left on the side of the screen or on any other surface will air dry and not cause any problems later.
Have you ever opened your water based ink and smelt a sharp amonia smell ?
Want to know why..
Water based inks air dry and are printed using coarse mesh counts when printing onto fabric,
32T – 55T as they will dry blocking the finer mesh when being printed.
You get two kinds of water based inks, pigment mixed into a clear base or pigment mixed into an opaque base.
Clear based Ink
A clear based ink will be translucent.
It will sink into the fabric so that you cannot feel it on the garment. It works best on white fabric.
If you print on white the colors will be bright and vibrant, on other light colored fabric,
the inks will be affected by the background color of the fabric,
imagine the results of printing onto different colored paper
with an inkjet printer, the result will be similar.
Black will go onto most colors though as it is so dark, yellow will be affected more by the color of the fabric that it goes onto.
These inks are really great for printing onto kids clothing
and babywear as they are so soft to the touch and don’t have any harmful ingredients.
You can print clear based inks wet on wet, which means you don’t have to dry each colour before you print the next one.
Opaque based ink
You get opaque bases for water based inks and these are used for printing onto dark fabrics.
The base that the pigment is mixed into is a paste and will sit on top of the fabric.
You first print a layer of your ink, dry it with a flash drier, heat gun or hairdryer to speed up the drying process –
once this first layer is dry you do another print over the first dried layer and this will be more opaque
. Imagine painting a black wall with white paint,
the initial layer of paint looks pretty white but as it dries you see the black wall showing through,
once this layer dries, you add the second layer of white making the background disappear.
When printing more than one color with opaque water based inks,
you have to dry the first print completely before starting the next colour because the ink from the first print
will stick to the back of the second screen.
A heat gun or flash drier is good for drying ink layers quickly.
You also need a way of getting your screen registered or lined up so that when you put it down for the second print,
it is perfectly in line with the first print. You can make up some kind of a jig or use hinge clamps.
If you print a single layer of opaque ink you might be happy with the less opaque finish which will look like it is a vintage print.
Some opaque inks are better than others and will give a more opaque first print and some will have stretch.
If you ever open a tub of opaque water based ink and find mold, you can simply scoop away the parts with mold and still use the ink.
The mould eats the binding agent so don’t mix it into the ink.
Plastisol ink is composed of PVC particles suspended in a plasticizing emulsion.
they have a more plastic feel and sit on top of the fabric that they are printed.
Plastisol only dry at 160 degrees Celsius – they do not air dry –
this means that they can be printed through very fine mesh counts which means you can print very fine detail with them,
the ink won’t dry in the screens causing the screen mesh to block causing you to lose detail.
You can print a design, leave the ink on the screen and return the next day and continue printing.
Plastisol are film forming so you can print an under base of white
and then print your colors on top of that which can give you very bright neon colors on dark fabrics
Mesh counts used for plastisol inks can be 43T right up to 120T.
Screen printing inks cure.
Inks cure once they reach 160 degrees, so you can use a heat gun to make them dry and then cure them with a heat press.
There are great silicone and teflon sheets which you can use to make your prints get different effects.
Most print shops use a tunnel drier to cure plastisol inks.
If you use an iron directly onto the print, they will get smudged and messed up
this is why people put “Do not Iron on Print” stickers on their shirts.
use a heat press to cure the inks you have to use a silicon paper or teflon to cover the print.
Pros and Cons of Water based inks vs Plastisol Inks
Fine detail – easy to use – film forming – don’t air dry
not very eco friendly – have to be cleaned up with hazardous chemicals-
don’t air dry so any ink splat can potentially cause problems later –
they don’t have a soft hand (plastic feel as opposed to softer print finish)
Eco friendly – easy to clean up after – great for ethical sustainable type projects – soft hand – non hazardous – good for kids/baby clothing – easy to cure
Air dry so can block screens – not film forming
Metallic & Pearl Inks
The water based silvers and golds that I have worked with were Pearlescent based.
These are best to print with a 43T mesh. 55T will block quickly and not give the right effect.
The only real metallic ink that I worked with was a plastisol and this also only really gave the right effect when printed through a 43T.
I’m sure that you get more metallic water based inks but the Pearl bases have a good finish.
Discharge Inks (decolorant / dye remover)
I’ve worked very little with discharge inks.
They work by knocking the dye used on the fabric out and leaving the fabric it’s original undyed color.
You can mix water based inks into your discharge ink to achieve colors.
Once you print the discharge ink you dry it with a heat gun, flash drier or tunnel drier.
The heat activates the discharge and you can see the image appear
as though it is being bleached into the fabric (Jacquard is a non bleach product).
Discharge inks can give off a bad smell and vapors so you should wear a mask.
Jacquard have quite an eco friendly Decolorant.