Easiway has been in the screen chemical business for over 30 years and we receive quite of few calls asking our opinion on plastisol versus water based inks. This may be because we don’t sell ink and people like the perspective of a supplier that is not trying to sell them a product that they are asking about. The answer to the question is almost like the questions, which is better PC versus Mac, or PhotoShop versus Corel Draw. In each case they both work fine and it might depend on your comfort level, budget or experience with these products. In the case of t-shirt inks it has several distinct considerations for your company.
1. If the customer has any voice in the decision, your selection might be simple. Water based inks can yield a very soft finish or ‘hand’ and if that is what your customer is looking for then the decision might be water based ink. The limitation for your customer with this choice is that garments are limited to lighter shades, since water based inks do not have high opacity characteristics that plastisols have and will not print brightly and opaque on dark garments.
2. Economy. Generally water based inks are cheaper than plastisol inks. Water based inks clean-up with water while plastisol inks will require a solvent cleaner or one of our PlastiSolv products. Water based inks however will require photo emulsions that are water resistant. These emulsions are very difficult to reclaim and will require much more effort and chemicals. Many water based printers simply do attempt to reclaim the screens. When costing water based versus plastisol inks the economy is not just the cost of the ink. Additional labor and/or chemicals need to be reviewed.
3. Curing. By definition water based inks have as much as 90% water in them and for proper curing and wash fastness these inks require high velocity air for proper curing. The water based ink cure is a two stage process of first requiring evaporation of water so that the binder (latex) can properly adhere pigments of the garment. Water based inks can ‘air dry’ over night but the latex will not properly ‘bind’ the pigments compromising wash fastness. Plastisols are 100% solids that require 325 degrees for proper cure and wash fastness. Simply, for production printing make sure you have the proper dryer for the ink you are using.
4. Marketing. Eco-friendly products and companies provide special marketing opportunities now. Water based inks like plastisol inks are now manufactured lead-free. However, plastisol inks have PVC and this might not be what your eco-friendly marketing needs. There are PVC-free plastisols being offered, but they will be higher priced and still might not have the eco-friendly reputation that you you need.
So like the endless conversations of PC versus Mac or PhotoShop versus Corel Draw there is no ‘perfect ink’ for all garments, customers or situations.
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