November 28, 2023

Choosing the best inks for your shirt printing

Understanding the differences between water based and plastisol screenprinting inks, and why this is important to your brand, your merch and the environment.

When it comes to printing merchandise, there’s a fair amount to consider. As well as needing to select merch which represents your brand, you also need to think about how you’re going to apply your logo. That means thinking about both printing methods and the inks for your designs themselves.

There’s a pretty good chance that you’ve already settled on screen printing for application. You wouldn’t be alone. This is, by far, the most common option, and for a good reason. Screen printing is efficient, easy, and cheap. It involves classically applying inks directly to your garments to achieve desired results. But, you now have to decide whether you want that screen printing process to use water based or plastisol ink. And, you’re at a loss as to which would best serve your merch.

Both options have their benefits, and can work incredibly well in the right situations. Making this choice comes down to what you want from your printing. To help you decide that, here’s a look at the pros and cons of both Water based and Plastisol inks.

Advantages & Disadvantages of Water-Based Ink

Water based inks give a nice vintage t-shirt printing look.


  • An excellent choice when “soft hands” are wanted
  • Has the advantage of being great for roll-to-roll yardage printing
  • An excellent choice for towel printing


  • Much more challenging to cure compared to plastisol
  • Dryers for water-based ink are usually more significant than the ones needed for plastisol
  • Can air dry, but only for craft printing
  • Better care must be taken to prevent the ink from drying in the screen
  • Any ink left in open mesh – even for short periods – can clog the mesh and ruin the screen
  • Any ink that is water-based and takes more than a day to apply must be removed, and the screen cleaned to stop drying. Ink is added the next day instead to continue the job.
  • Much more aggressive compared to plastisol toward the emulsion used to create the stencil

Advantages & Disadvantages of Plastisol Ink

Do you think plastisol ink really effects the environment?

Let’s first check out the advantages of choosing plastisol ink:


  • It’s a user-friendly ink, and it’s called such because of how easy it is to manage.
  • It can be left on the screen for longer because it doesn’t clog the mesh.
  • Ready to use straight from the container 90% of the time
  • You can print it wet-on-wet, increasing your production speed
  • Can be used for both dark and light fabrics
  • Easy to dispose of
  • Versatile – printers never have to amend it
  • Comes in a variety of strengths


  • It’s a thermoplastic, so will remelt if it comes into contact with hot things
  • Cannot be ironed
  • Creates a film of ink that you can feel
  • Unusable plastisol is only hazardous in liquid form
Plastisol inks offer more of a variety of specialty inks with bolder colors on dark garments, but are not environmentally friendly.

Which One Should You Choose?

This is really a judgement call – there is no clear winner. The ink that you use depends on what you need for your merchandise. Water-based is always best for those businesses who want to send the message that they are environmentally-friendly. If your merchandise is dark (think black T-shirts) plastisol could be the way to go.

No matter which one you choose, we have your best interests at heart to ensure that your merchandise looks fantastic with your prints on it. There’s no need to worry about making the wrong decision, not with our help!

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