Print shops all over the world debate whether water-based ink or plastisol ink is the better option. There are advantages and drawbacks to both types of ink. The ink you choose to print with depends on your shop setup and goals for your prints. Let’s talk about the advantages of printing with plastisol ink.
Photo by Golden Press Studio
PLASTISOL INK IS MORE OPAQUE
Plastisol ink is a more opaque ink than water-based ink. Though some water-based inks, like high solids acrylic (HSA) water-based inks, are catching up, plastisol is still the more opaque of the two. Because it’s opaque, it covers the shirt better than water-based ink will.
You can still achieve a vibrant, opaque print with water-based ink, but you’ll need to work harder at it. With plastisol ink, you can create a bright print with just a couple of strokes.
While having an opaque ink is desirable, it often means the ink can be on the thick side. Plastisol ink performs best at around 75-80℉. If your shop is a little colder, your ink won’t be up to temperature right out of the bucket. All you need to do is give it a stir with either a spatula or a mixing drill bit. This will modulate the ink, mixing everything together and warming the ink up so you can print with ease. If needed, add a curable reducer when the ink is a production temperature (75-80℉) to get the ink flowing more easily. Add as little as possible, though, or you can potentially ruin the ink.
Some plastisol inks are thicker than others. FN-INK™ is creamier right out of the bucket because it is a short-bodied ink. Short-bodied inks are formulated to be ready for use. They don’t need to be modulated as much in order to print well.
PLASTISOL INK WON’T DRY IN YOUR SCREEN
Plastisol ink is user-friendly because it doesn’t dry out. Due to its chemistry, it stays wet and fluid until it’s either gelled or cured. What does that mean for you? You can set up a print job, take lunch (or a nap), and come back to print later without worrying about the ink drying on your screen. If you like to live on the edge, you can even leave plastisol ink on your screen all weekend. It won’t dry on the screen unless it’s exposed to heat, like from a flash dryer, heat press, or conveyor dryer.
Photo by Press or Dye
If you’re printing with water-based ink, on the other hand, you’ll need to clean your screen out whenever you step away for an extended period of time. Depending on the conditions of your shop and the climate of where you live, this can take a longer or shorter amount of time. If you live in a warm, humid climate (or your shop is warm and humid), water-based ink will take longer to dry out. If you print with plastisol ink, though, you don’t ever have to worry about it, period.
You can get your platens and ink hot enough that the plastisol can gel on the screen. This happens especially with low cure inks. Depending on how long the print sits on the platen, the heat from the platen can transfer to the ink on the screen and start to gel the plastisol ink. Make sure you’re letting your platens cool down enough before printing the next color, especially on long print jobs. If you have a press with multiple print arms, it won’t be as big of an issue. If you have one print arm, make sure to take a few seconds after flashing to let the platen cool down.
PLASTISOL INK IS EASIER TO CURE
To cure plastisol ink, the entire ink layer must be heated to the ink’s fusion temperature. It takes time for heat to go through all layers of ink. With low-cure inks like FN-INK™, curing the ink will take less time, as the ink cures at 260℉. Once the entire ink layer is heated to fusion temperature, it’s cured!
Pro tip: To ensure extended ink longevity, plastisol ink should still be held at cure temp for a short amount of time, for about 5-10 seconds. Easiest way to hold ink at cure temp is with a longer conveyor dryer.
RELATED: ENSURING PROPER INK CURING
In order to cure water-based ink, you must first evaporate all the water in the ink deposit. It takes time, as water boils at 212℉. Only after the water has evaporated can the ink begin to cure. Once the entire ink layer is at fusion temperature (read the ink’s label to find the cure temp), the ink needs to be held at that temperature for 20-30 seconds in order to properly cure. Otherwise, you can run into washout issues due to undercuring. A forced air conveyor dryer will be your best bet in evaporating and curing water-based ink. The longer the conveyor, the better. If you have a short forced air conveyor, use Warp Drive to help chemically cure the ink.
Curing with plastisol ink saves you time and stress. Simply heat the entire ink layer to fusion temperature, hold it at that temperature for a couple of seconds, and it’s ready to go.
Photo by Freemotion Clothing
Printing with plastisol ink is user-friendly and saves time and money. Depending on your shop, client needs, and personal preference, learning to print with plastisol ink is worth the investment.