Water-Based Ink or Plastisol Ink: Which Screen Printing Ink is Best for You?

You’re looking to customize shirts for your business, church, or family outing. So far so good, until you hit a bump in the road: it’s time to pick which ink to use. Do you need water-based ink or plastisol ink for your custom tees? If this is your first-time ordering tees, you might feel confused or baffled as to what is the difference. Let’s take a deeper dive between the two most popular inks and learn which one is best for you.

What is Plastisol Ink?

Plastisol ink has been around since the 70’s. It’s a plastic ink that lays directly on top of the fabric. To get all technical, it is made from plasticizers and PVC resin. In order to properly cure plastisol ink, temperatures must reach at least 300 – 330 º F. When you see a custom design screen printed on top of a shirt, it is most likely done by this method. Plastisol ink is also known as the “traditional” ink.

What is Water Based Ink?

Water based ink — as the name implies — is made with water. It works by dyeing the shirt itself instead of depositing ink on top of the shirt. The ink prints by replacing the original color of the shirt and depositing the new ink in its place. Water-based inks change the fabric of the shirt, where plastisol dyes on top.

So, let’s explore different reasons to understand when to use each one. 

Water-Based Ink vs Plastisol

Color Vibrancy

When it comes to the vibrancy of your shirt, both water-based and plastisol print differently. With plastisol, the ink sits on top of the shirt leaving a brighter outcome. Water-based printing has a variety of different shades since it dyes the fabric itself. Depending on the garment it is being printed on, the outcome can range from bright colors to a faded, toned down version. 

Winner: If you want your shirt colors to really pop, go with plastisol. 

Breathability & Soft to The Touch 

Because of the way water-based ink is printed, you can’t even feel the dye on the shirt. With plastisol, the dye is noticeably there – adding a small layer. Plastisol ink feels much thicker than water-based ink in comparison, and does not allow for as much breathability.  

Winner:  Water-based ink will leave your shirt feeling unbelievably soft. If breathability is important to your design (such as tees on a hot summer’s day) you’ll want to go with water-based ink.

Longevity

Ah, the age-old question – which one lasts longer? If you are picking a shirt design for tees you intend to use for a long time, you’re probably thinking: “Well, which one is more durable?” 

Well, the good news is the answer is both! Both inks are extremely durable due to the way they are cured.

Your shirt fabric will absorb the water-based inks, whereas plastisol is permanently bonded to the surface of your shirt. So, in theory both designs will last as long as your shirt does! Here at Uth Stuph, we only use t-shirts made of quality materials that ensure longevity for your tees.

Winner: We’re calling this one a tie! Both water-based ink and traditional ink will last you as long as your shirt. 

Matching Exact Colors 

If having an exact color match is important to you (for example – if you’re ordering shirts for your school’s sports team or if branding consistency for your business is crucial), plastisol ink has better color accuracy. With water-based inks, results may vary due to many different factors, such as the color of your shirt, press conditions, dye migration, and anything else that may cause color shifts. Because plastisol ink bonds to the top of your shirt, as we learned earlier, their colors are more dependable and exact. 

Winner: For an exact match of your company’s colors, go with plastisol.

Cheapest Option

If staying under budget is a concern for you, money matters. Although we work with you to find the best deals available, plastisol is usually cheaper. Due to the high yield the ink gives, you get more “bang for your buck.” Because plastisol also can be used on more materials than water-based ink, you have more options of shirt blends that you can choose from that will work within your budget.   

Winner: Plastisol is a smoking deal to take advantage of. 

Quickest Turn Around Time

Due to the multitude of difficulties that arise with water-based printing, it does not have the quick turn-around time traditional ink does. For the most part, water-based inks are harder to work with. Plastisol ink is pretty straightforward (you literally take it from the bucket, to the screen, and then on the shirt!)

Winner: Plastisol races to the finish line!

Versatility

If you are looking to customize more than just t-shirts, plastisol ink has greater versatility. Plastisol offers a greater flexibility that water-based inks cannot give. You can practically print plastisol on anything (…ahem…not that you should). 

Water-based inks tend to perform better on fabrics that are 100% cotton. You can run into complications if you use water-based inks on blended fabrics, since the ink will absorb differently on the synthetic parts than it will on the cotton areas. 

Winner: Plastisol wins this round for more flexibility

Luckily, it doesn’t matter which screen-printing method you pick. Whether it’s plastisol ink or water-based ink, Uth Stuph has got you covered! If you need help deciding which one is best for you, give us a call at 407-581-1240, or get a quote now. We’d love to show you how simple it is to get awesome custom shirts made.

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