Best Practices when Printing Multi-Color Posters with Water-Based Ink  |

Ever looked around at your walls and thought “This could use some pizzazz?” Screen printing professional Jamie is with you. The walls of her print studio were bland and boring. Why not print some posters to liven things up? Printing on posters takes a little bit of a different skill set than printing on t-shirts. You’ll need different squeegees, a different platen setup, and a unique curing method.


First off, Jamie gathers her supplies. It wouldn’t be poster printing without the posters! She chooses 120-pound white poster paper to print on. While black posters look incredible in any space, maintaining vibrancy and opacity is difficult, especially when printing with water-based inks. Instead, Jamie will print a black overprint across the artwork and cut the white border off. She chooses uncoated paper. Why? Coated paper’s glossy finish means that cured ink can be scraped off the poster. 

Speaking of artwork: Jamie’s chosen a three-color design. The print uses two colors of green, Light Speed and Terraform green, followed by the black overprint. When creating the artwork for this design, she added a 0.5 expansion on the Terraform (dark) green, and a one-point expansion on the black to trap in all the colors. 

Since the artwork will be printed on white paper, Jamie added cut lines to her screens. This way, she can know where to cut the poster to exclude all the white from the poster. The poster will be printed with water-based ink, because plastisol sits on top of the paper, while water-based ink melds into the paper much better. 

With art created, she burns all three screens with 230 mesh. She chooses large screens to give some extra room on either side of the design so the squeegee isn’t hitting the aluminum frame with every print. Now, it’s time to get the print space ready. 


a dark green swipe of ink across a screen with neon green emulsion


Jamie’s using a vacuum platen to print the posters. A regular platen with water-based pallet adhesive works, but the adhesive can cause the paper to rip when you pull it off the platen. The vacuum holds the paper down with suction and can be turned on and off at will with a foot pedal. Jamie creates a jig on the vacuum platen with tape so she’ll be able to place the paper in the same spot every time. 

Pro Tip: Don’t have a fancy foot pedal for your vacuum platen? Use a power strip or surge protector with an on/off switch. 

Alright, it’s ink time. When printing posters with water-based ink, it’s best to let the paper dry to the touch — usually around 24 hours — before printing the next color. If you’re pressed for time, or just plain impatient, adding Warp Drive to the ink will help it to cure quicker. She wanted more difference between the Light Speed Lime and Terraform Green. Adding a bit of Pitch Black ink helps to darken the Terraform Green and create more contrast. 

When printing posters, there isn’t much substrate for the ink to soak into. Because of that, you’ll need to use a harder durometer squeegee than you would when printing t-shirts. Jamie chooses an 80-durometer squeegee to sheer the ink rather than squish it into the poster paper. 

Jamie runs the blank posters through the conveyor dryer at a quick speed to pre-shrink the paper. This process will remove excess moisture from the paper, keeping the design true-to-size and aiding with quick ink curing. This is the same process you’d want to use when printing plastisol heat transfers.


Alright, let’s get this print registered and start printing!

hands line up a poster printed with 2 colors to a jig created on a vacuum platen


When deciding on a print order, the general rule of thumb is to print light colors to dark colors. This print is no different. Jamie prints the Light Speed Lime first. She sets the poster on a drying rack with a fan blowing across the paper to let it dry. After about 20 minutes, it’s ready for the next color. 

Once both green colors are printed, Jamie prints the black on top, trapping the colors and creating an amazing galaxy print. She prints more posters than she needs: making mistakes is part of the creative printing process. Having a few extra posters makes it easy to choose the best posters of the bunch. 

Now that the posters are printed, Jamie cuts the paper at the cut lines to ensure no white is showing through.

a tattooed hand holds a poster down while the other hand operates a paper cutter


The posters turned out amazing and will be the perfect complement to any art wall. Printing on white posters means you can use just about any color and keep the opacity high. To finish up, store the posters in a safe place and let Warp Drive work its magic for up to 48 hours. You’ll be ready to hang up hand-printed posters in no time.

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