Stepping Slowly Into Water Based Printing  |

Starting water based printing isn’t as hard as you think. Yes, really.

“I’ve been printing with water based inks since 2008 and have helped hundreds of printers successfully transition. If you step into it the right way, water based screen printing can actually be easier and save you more time and money than printing plastisol. It can even create a better t-shirt and a happier customer!” –TJ Stepper, 26 year veteran screen printer.

The key is stepping in slowly, one foot at a time.

1. Dip Your Toes In:

Start by printing single-color or multi-color designs on light colored garments using only dark colored water based inks.

Stepping slowly into water based printing by printing on light garments is actually fairly easy. You don’t have to change much, from the process you use to print plastisol ink. Because the ink is thinner, you should use a higher mesh and try to print wet on wet instead of flashing between colors. Printing with water based ink actually makes this kind of printing easier because the ink is thinner and settles into the garment more than plastisol. This prevents the ink from picking up on the back of the screen as much as you get with plastisol. Thinner ink means that you can move the squeegee faster as well, which speeds up your printing process and tires you out much slower. The end result is effective production and a shirt that looks and feels great.

What You Need:

  • A set of basic water based ink colors. The Green Galaxy™ line has many to choose from to get started.
  • Water resistant emulsion or emulsion hardener. Baselayr Complete is our top recommendation. This is key to making sure that your screen does not break down during water based printing.
  • A forced air dryer, that can handle water based curing or a low cure additive like Green Galaxy™ Warp Drive. If you don’t have access to a forced air dryer, Green Galaxy™ Warp Drive will allow you to cure your prints at an efficiently at a lower temperature.
  • At least one high mesh screen.

2. Step Your Foot In:

After mastering water based printing on light garments, we recommend experimenting with water based simulated process prints on dark garments.

Using water based inks in simulated process printing will allow you to step into more complex designs without recreating the thick shields of plastisol ink that can be found buried in the bottom of your t-shirt drawers. This is because simulated process printing typically uses higher mesh screens, more detail and wet on wet printing, for an overall thinner layer of ink. Water based inks are optimized for these factors. The main difference between traditional plastisol and water based simulated process printing is that you may have to adjust some of the under base and highlight options to compensate for the more transparent inks.

We typically lay down a 70 percent halftone under base first and flash, then print the highlight white and flash, and finally, the colors. Or we add a flash at the end, before the highlight white, to really boost the vibrancy. The halftone under base helps the ink to bite into the fabric for a smoother application of the top layers because water based is thinner it does not stick as well to a solid white under base as plastisol does. The additional flashes also keep the print from getting muddy.

What You Need:

3. Jump In With Both Feet:

Finally, take the plunge into using water based inks for vector style printing with bold block colors, and layers that are more complex. Printing on garments that are not 100 percent cotton.

Vector printing is more complex with water based ink. You have to be very particular with your squeegee pressure and angle, making sure to lay the ink on top of the base vs driving it in which will thin out the ink. You also need to flash between almost every color to avoid pickup. The print still feels amazing, but it takes longer to accomplish. You can get around this by using more opaque base/HSA water based ink.

What You Need:

Just dipping your toes into the realm of water based printing? Perhaps you’re looking for more information on its pros and cons? Unique benefits and limitations? Requirements and rewards?….Or maybe simply, how to print with water based ink?

Download our FREE eBook: A Beginner’s Guide To Water Based Printing

How To Print With Water Based Ink


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