Water Based Ink: Types, Advantages And Disadvantages

Which kinds of inks are water-based, and why? Any ink in which water is the primary component is said to be “water-based ink.”

Unlike plastisol ink, traditional water-based and discharge inks do not pool on the surface of the shirt. Instead, the shirt’s fibers are changed. The result is a print that lasts long and is just as comfortable as the garment. While this is true for many water-based inks, acrylic inks are an exception.

There are a few more types of water-based inks and all of them are very popular as they are very effective as screen printing ink. Though water-based ink pigments take a long time it has a lot of benefits like being environmentally friendly and long-lasting.

In this article, we will discuss types of water-based inks, their benefits, and drawbacks, and some tips regarding water-based inks.

Let’s dive into the process.

Types Of Water-Based Inks

Here is a list of the various kinds of water-based inks available.

1. Common ink made from water

Water-based ink, which has a fluid nature, distorts the fabric of the garment. It’s quite comfortable to hold in one’s hands. The high water content of the ink necessitates that it be kept wet throughout the screen printing process.

2. The ink that is discharged from a printer

A fluid is yet more viscous than water-based ink. Powerful tools like discharge printing inks. Their activator bleaches out the shirt’s current colors. Using discharge printing inks as a foundational layer allows for consistent printing of bright colors, especially on darker fabrics.

3. Ink made of acrylic

This water-based ink has the body of plastisol ink because acrylic particles have been added to it. It does not change the fabric in any way. As an alternative to plastisol, acrylic inks are water-based yet nonetheless achieve similar results. It can be used with less care on the screen than other water-based inks.

The rise of digital hybrid printing has increased the demand for acrylic inks (also known as “the giant new machines that cost as much as a small house”). Many digital presses, in fact, print over an existing screen-printed layer, necessitating yet another layer of material.

Pros Of Using Water-Based Ink For Screen Printing

1. Better for the environment than plastic inks

Most plastisol inks today are phthalate-free, but that doesn’t make them the most eco-friendly choice. For the production of plastisol ink, PVC resin and plasticizer are combined. We won’t get into the chemistry, but you probably already know that plastics in general are bad for the planet. Water-based inks are more environmentally friendly because they don’t include any PVC and, well, they’re based on water. They’re as ecologically conscious as it gets in the garments industry.

2. Gives soft hand feeling

This is only a technical term for describing the print’s texture. What this implies is that the print is really gentle on the soft hand. Once water-based ink is washed out of a shirt, the print is barely perceptible. If you’re tired of attempting to mimic your mechanic’s loudness while ordering shirts with a gentle print, consider this word instead.

3. Stronger Focus On Details

Water-based inks can hold considerably finer details than plastisol inks do since they color the fabric rather than sitting on top of it. There is a marked improvement in both the level of detail and the crispness of print edges. If you’re the kind to drool over the tiniest of design details on a tee, then water-based inks are for you. Even if you’re in the “Nah, that’s weird” camp, you can take comfort.

4. Fourthly, the print will last longer

Prints made with water are infinitely more long-lasting than those made with plastisol. You probably have a worn-out shirt lying around that has been through countless washes and now has a cracked and faded appearance. That is, alas, the way plastisol inks are designed to work. To counteract this, you should use correct washing care and have your items printed, cured, etc. by a professional printer. 

Water-based inks have superior durability, but plastisol inks will never catch up. Because these inks are dyes, the print becomes an integral part of the clothing. The print will last as long as the cloth does.

5. It’s a no-cost upgrade

That’s not a misprint. Any order can be upgraded for free to use water-based ink. Remember that these inks can be picky about the materials they’re used on. If the garment you desire doesn’t work well with water-based inks, we’ll let you know, and you may also arrange an ink test on any clothing style you like.

In addition to potentially qualifying for a free upgrade, printing with water-based inks can occasionally prevent you from having to pay for additional color in your silk screen. If you’ve ever made or ordered tees before, you know that a white under the foundation is necessary for printing plastisol onto dark garments.

You may learn more about sub-bases and why they are important here if you are unfamiliar with them. For the sake of brevity, if you’re looking to print on dark clothing without breaking the bank, water-based inks are your best bet.

Water-Based Ink’s Drawbacks

Compared to plastisol, curing water-based ink is a lot more of a hassle. A printing firm that wants to use water-based ink must have a way to evaporate the water before printing. Dryers for water-based printing are often more substantial than those required for plastisol printing. For the printing process to succeed with plastisol inks, the ink films need to be heated to cure temperature for only a fraction of a second.

In order to completely dry out water-based ink, it is necessary to bring it up to a certain temperature and keep it there until the water evaporates. Water-based inks that air dry are available, but their low output is mainly limited to hobby printing because of their demand for curing time and space.

If you add a catalyst to your water-based ink, the curing process will speed up even if not all of the water is evaporated in the drier, which is useful for many applications. One drawback of using a catalyst is that it reduces the pot life of water-based ink, meaning that it must be used up before it spoils.

The typical pot life for catalyzed water-based ink is between four and twelve hours. In order to avoid ink drying on the screen while using water-based inks, special precautions must be followed. Water-based ink can clog the mesh and destroy the screen if it’s kept there for too long.

If you’re a professional printer who uses water-based ink, you know that you can’t let a screen rest for too long between prints, or the ink will dry and ruin your next print. While this problem is less prevalent with today’s water-based inks, it is still something to be wary of. It is also necessary to remove the ink and wipe the screen when a water-based print job is expected to take more than a day. On the following workday, the ink is replaced in the screen and production resumes.

Also, when compared to plastisol, water-based ink is much more aggressive towards the emulsion used to make the screen stencil, which might lead to some unwanted results. For printing with water, you’ll need the special water-resistant emulsions that all emulsion producers now produce. Water-based ink will melt standard emulsion and ruin the stencil in a matter of minutes if you use it with water-based ink. Water-based printing often has a shorter screen life than plastisol printing, and that’s with the right emulsion.

A List Of Must-Dos And Must-Not

The name gives away the nature of water-based ink: rather than PVC or plasticizer, water works as the principal solvent for carrying pigment, therefore there is always the risk of it evaporating if screens are left idle during manufacturing. However, this in no way makes them more complicated. Water-based inks cannot be handled in the same manner as plastisol inks.

To prevent water from seeping through your screens, do cover them with an emulsion that can withstand moisture. The failure of newly produced screens shortly after printing has begun on the press is one of the most aggravating aspects of screen printing. Using a water-resistant emulsion and fine-tuning your exposure durations in advance will prevent this from happening when printing with water-based inks.

Don’t… stop printing without flooding your screens first!

It’s a basic step that’s easy to overlook. Take care to leave your screens inundated with ink so that the image area is always covered, even if you need to step away for a moment. Remove any dust or debris from the picture area with a damp cloth while production is halted for an extended period of time. Avoiding future issues caused by clogged screens by preventing ink from getting on them is a top priority.

Do… maintain proper ink control.

When using water-based inks, the results can be spectacular if care is taken with the ink management process. Screens should be topped off regularly and seldom, and inks should be kept at a viscosity close to that of freshly mixed ink. High-quality, consistent printing with less waste will result from this.

Don’t… ignore the need for temperature control.

In addition to the ink management discussed earlier, heat management is crucial for producing flawless print runs. Beginning your production run with warm pallets is the first step. Consistently maintaining your pallets at 70 degrees Celsius (158 degrees Fahrenheit) is highly recommended. Ink performance, flash times, and screen life can all be improved in this way. However, the opposite effect can occur if your pallets get too hot, leading to clogged screens.

Do… use the appropriate water-based ink for the task at hand.

Artwork in vector versus raster formats. Differentiating between light and dark clothing. Cotton vs. polyester. The choice of which water-based ink to employ for a given print run is highly context-dependent. Large sections of vector or blocky artwork, as well as those set against dark backgrounds, benefit greatly from high solids. Printing in half-tones or on a white background is best accomplished with low-solids inks.

Final Words

It’s a terrific feeling when you’ve mastered the use of water-based inks and can crank out batch after batch of ultra-soft-handle clothing that your consumers love. Use the metallics, pearls, two-tones, and countless other water-based special effects that aren’t achievable with plastisol inks.

Water Based Ink


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