Lets face it, ink is an incredibly important component to any screen printing shop. Without it, the whole process of screen printing wouldn't exist and these big machines would be nothing more than large pieces of metallic art taking up space in your warehouse. Ink is a necessity and because of its importance it's available in many different formulations, types, and compositions.
The most common type of ink used in the screen printing industry is plastisol. It's relatively inexpensive compared to other inks as well as being easier to use when printing. A positive side to using plastisol ink is that it won't dry on your screen. In fact unused, clean ink can be scraped back into the bucket and reused the next time it's needed. That's a money saver for most shops as less ink will go to waste. Plastisol ink also has other advantages such as better color accuracy, it's much easier to match to Pantone colors. This type of ink is also the most resistant to fading. Basically it's the most user-friendly ink because it's so easy to manage.
How Plastisol Works
Unlike other inks, plastisol contains no solvents, it's a PVC based formula, it's basically a thermoplastic. Normally for ink to dry it requires the evaporation of solvents using either air or heat. Plastisol ink uses a plasticizer that when heated to a required temperature will bind with PVC resin causing it to harden or cure. This chemical reaction allows the ink to stay wet even when left uncovered. It also allows for the ink to be printed wet on wet in most cases, saving you time.
Disadvantages of Plastisol
The more opaque the plastisol ink is, more likely it is to create a thick or heavy film on the surface of the shirt called “hand”. This is a film that is felt by moving your hand across surface of the shirt. A thicker hand is unattractive to consumers. This type of ink is also susceptible to high heat which could cause the ink to melt and become smudged. Because of the nature of the ink, it isn't suitable for printing vintage or worn looking designs. Being a plastic-based ink by nature there is also a proper process set by your municipality to dispose of waste materials.
Water-based inks are not only a good alternative to plastisol inks but they serve their own unique purpose as well. Water-based inks are great for jobs where you might require a high end vintage look with a soft feel. As mentioned earlier, plastisol isn't a great choice for these jobs. Another quality of water-based ink systems is that they seep into the fabric of the material being printed on instead of hardening over the top. This has a semi-transparent look to it which is great for that worn in print look.
Disadvantages of Water-based Ink
Some of the strengths of water-based inks can also be it's weaknesses. This type of ink is more expensive to buy than plastisol and it's usually tougher to use. It's definitely slightly less user-friendly. Because the ink seeps into the fabric it's more semi-transparent which makes it very hard to print on dark garments. For that same reason, layering also becomes an issue.
How Anatol Presses Handle Water-Based and Plastisol Inks
One of the biggest disadvantages of water-based inks is that it dries very quickly. This means that your screen can get clogged up with dried ink causing you to print a bad design. The issue for printers here is they must be constantly aware of how long the ink sits on the screens between prints. Our automatic screen printing presses have a smart setting that will tell the press what type of ink you are using currently. You can cycle between plastisol ink and water-based and the squeegee/flood bar will behave appropriately to keep the ink fresh and free from drying on your screens.