Thinking of having a custom t-shirt or fabric screen printed with your custom design or logo?

Plastisol ink and water based ink are the two main types of ink that are used in textile screen printing. While both types of ink are effective, they have distinct differences and advantages depending on what your need is.


What is plastisol ink?

Plastisol ink is the most common type of screen printing ink and has been used in the promotional product and tee-shirt industries for quite a long time. Plastisol ink is a PVC and it contains no solvent. This thermoplastic ink is basically in solid form at room temperature and has to be heated to temperatures of between 300°F and 330°F before it turns to a fluid. At these temperatures, the ink can now be applied onto textile and once it cools down, it forms a layer on top of the textile.

Pick up a few of your t-shirts and feel the design surface. If it has rubbery or plastic feel then it’s likely plastisol.


What is discharge ink?

Discharge ink is a type of water based ink.

Water based ink is basically a dye that is mixed with water to make a fluid. In this case, water is the solvent used to make the ink. Unlike plastisol, discharge ink soaks into the fabric instead of sitting on top of the fabric. The end result is a natural and soft print that can’t be felt.

Water based ink is a broad term used for all types of water-solvent inks, while discharge ink is a special type of water based ink that has a discharge agent mixed into the ink that normally removes any dye on the fabric and replaces it with the colour of the image.


Advantages of plastisol ink

Plastisol ink is the most common type of ink used in screen printing for a number of reasons:

  • Easy to manage- Plastisol ink is easy to manage making it user-friendly. When printing, it can be left for a long time without clogging the mesh. The ink is ready to use right out of the container.
  • Durable and bright- Plastisol ink forms a thick layer on top of the fabric. This allows for easy colour variation, and application of any shade of colour. The end results are normally bright and durable colours that do not fade.
  • Can be applied equally to dark and light coloured fabrics- Plastisol sits on top of the fabric and so does not interfere with the fabric manufacturer’s dye or colour. This allows for easy colour variation.
  • Inexpensive- Plastisol ink is highly flexible and is meant to last a lifetime. The ink being a thermoplastic does not go bad even when the container has been left open after use.


Advantages of discharge ink

Water based discharge inks are unique and have advantages of their own. These advantages include:

  • Suitable for soft hand- Soft hand is where the print on the fabric cannot be felt when passing a hand over it. Unlike plastisol which sits on top of the fabric, discharge ink fuses with fabric and thus it cannot be felt over the fabric.
  • No cracking, no peeling- Discharge ink soaks directly into the fabric and dyes it and thus there is no possibility of it cracking or peeling off with time when wearing, washing or ironing. And the way the ink seeps into the fabric is perfect for a vintage look.
  • Eco-friendly- Discharge inks do not contain PVC and thus safe to use. They are also easily disposable.
  • Comfort and breathability- Discharge inks do not form a hard layer on the fabric and thus the printed garment is comfortable to wear.
  • Can be applied evenly over all areas and on a variety of fabrics- Discharge inks being able to fuse directly into the fabric, can be printed even on notoriously difficult areas and fabrics to print like towels.


Which is better plastisol or discharge ink?

While both methods of printing have their unique advantages, how do they compare when put head to head?

  • Durability- In terms of durability and general colour performance, plastisol tends to last longer since it does not fade over time. Plastisol ink, being a PVC, does not fade when exposed to natural agents such as sunlight and water. Discharge ink, on the other hand, fades out over time and the print loses the bright appealing colour.
  • Longevity- While discharge ink prints might fade in colour over time, they do not crack or peel. The greatest disadvantage of using plastisol is that the layer of print that forms above the fabric normally cracks and peels with time. The print can also come off when exposed to high temperatures such as when ironing. When a hot iron is passed over the print, it melts and comes or the colours are smeared over the fabric.
  • Comfort- While plastisol inks are easy to use, they form a thick layer on fabric that can render the garments uncomfortable. Discharge ink, on the other hand, fuses seamlessly onto fabric and thus very comfortable and breathable.
  • Colour – Water based inks work well for light colour fabrics or a vintage look but they don’t often give you the vibrant colours that plastisol ink can because it settles down into the fibers of the fabric.


Still can’t decide?  Both plastisol and discharge screen printing methods offer advantages and disadvantages, so the type of ink to use in screen printing will mainly depend on your need, and the garment to be printed on. Let us help you. Contact us to discuss!