Using Water-Based Ink for Your Custom Shirts: Pros and Cons

Water-Based Prints on a blue background

If you’ve ever ordered custom t-shirts for your youth group or summer retreat, you may have heard the phrase “water-based ink” or “water-based print.” While the practice of using water-based inks has been rising in popularity, most customers aren’t familiar with how it differs from traditional plastisol printing or what it is that makes water-based prints so special. 

What Is Water-Based Printing?

Simply put, water-based printing is the process of using ink based in water instead of plastisol (surprise, surprise). Unlike plastic-based inks, which are applied on top of the garment, water-based ink soaks into the fabric itself, dyeing it the desired color. The result is a print so soft that you can hardly feel its presence on the shirt.

Perks of Water-Based Printing

The incredibly soft feel of water-based printing isn’t the only benefit of choosing this type of ink for your group’s custom shirts. Because the ink dyes the actual garment rather than sitting on top of it, the design will avoid the cracks and flakes that plague many plastisol-based prints once they’ve been worn and washed. 

Using water-based ink can even expand the horizons of what’s possible with your artwork. For example, because the ink dyes the fabric of the shirt, this method of printing lends well to vintage designs. Additionally, since many water-based jobs don’t require an “under-base” layer of ink, this helps to retain fine details in your design.  

Another perk of water-based printing is that it is much more eco-friendly than the plastisol alternative. Water-based inks lack PVC resin and plastic inherent in traditional plastisol inks, making water-based inks the most environmentally-responsible materials for screen printing.

A water-based ink print on two different garments for comparison.
Some garments and colors tend to respond better to water-based inks while others prove to be less predictable.

Cons to Water-Based Printing: 

While water-based printing has many benefits, there are still valid reasons to use plastisol inks on your shirts. Plastisol tends to portray a design much more boldly and vibrantly than water-based ink can. Additionally, plastisol yields the intended print color with more accuracy on different garments. Because they interact with the color of the fabric itself, For this reason, it’s important to consider the overall look and feel you hope to achieve with your t-shirt design. Don’t worry, if this seems a little overwhelming, our experienced team will guide you through the entire process to ensure your group loves your shirts for years to come

Whether you think that it’s time to give water-based printing a try or you’d like to stick with good ole fashioned plastisol, we’re excited to help you design custom shirts that are perfect for your group’s needs. To get started with a new project, feel give us a call at 1-800-242-9166 or click here to get a quote. We look forward to the privilege of serving you!