Screen Printing Inks. What’s the difference?

There are countless brands of screen printing inks available on the market today. The most common types of screen printing inks available are Plastisol, Water Based, Discharge, & Specialty Inks. Most inks fall within these categories. Here are a few key differences in the inks, hopefully this helps differentiate between them…

Plastisol Ink

Plastisol inks are the most common screen printing inks found in the garment printing industry. Just like the name implies, plastisol inks are plastic based. The majority screen printed tees you will find in your favorite retail store are probably printed using plastisol inks. Although there are additives that can make the ink softer, plastisol screen printing inks will typically have a raised hand feel. This is because plastisol screen printing inks sit on top of the fibers of the garment rather than absorbing into it like water based inks. Plastisol ink is a very versatile and wash-fast ink. Once properly heat cured, designs printed using plastisol screen printing inks will typically outlast the garment.

Water Based Ink

You probably already guessed the difference between water based screen printing inks and plastisol. Water based inks produce a much softer hand feel than plastisol, and if applied properly will last just as long as plastisol inks. Water based printing is well suited for darker inks on lighter garments, however, vintage affects can be produced by printing on darker and heathered garments.

Discharge Ink

Discharge ink can actually be plastisol or water based, most commonly, water based. Discharge ink reacts with the garment fabric & dye using a chemical discharge process. Ink is printed on the tee and ran through a conveyor dryer. During the heating process, the chemicals in the discharge ink react with the garment dye to fully replace the shirt color. This produces a very soft hand feel and is great for getting vibrant color results on darker garments. The discharge process works best with 100% cotton or natural fiber garments. Results are possible with blends, but not nearly as predictable as with cotton garments.

Specialty Inks

Neons, Glitters, Shimmers, Foil, Reflective, you name it, there’s an ink for it. Both plastisol & water based systems have full arrays of specialty inks to add some character to any design. Want your artwork to look raised and puffy? There’s a puff ink for that too.


Hopefully this helped shed some light on the differences between the various screen printing inks. Here at Cedar City House Of Print, we pair the ink with the garment and design to achieve the best possible print quality, appearance, and durability.

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