What Is Water Based Ink in Screen Printing?  | Screenprinting.com

What is water-based ink? What makes it a desirable ink for screen printers? The basic answer is that water-based ink uses water as a base. Seems pretty self-explanatory, right? There’s a lot more to know about water-based ink than just the base itself. Let’s dive in and talk about what water-based ink is and how printers can get the most out of it.

a printer leans over a press and prints black water-based ink


Water-based ink uses water as a solvent base instead of a plasticizer, as plastisol ink does. Water-based ink lays down a thin, soft, flexible layer of ink on the garment. You can print a thin ink deposit that will still hold up after countless washes. When you’re finished printing, you can clean up with water or a similar cleaning product like Sgreen® Aquawash. Thanks to the little to no chemical usage, you’re able to reduce your eco-footprint. 

Printing with water-based inks isn’t a walk in the park. Since water-based inks contain water, the ink begins to evaporate once it’s exposed to air. If you take a break, wipe off the image area before you walk away. Be conscious of your time and energy. Plastisol, however, doesn’t dry like water-based ink does. Because of this (and a few other reasons we’ll get to later), water-based ink might not be for all printers and all shops. 



Water-based ink is soft and flexible on the garment. With a thin ink deposit that soaks into the shirt instead of sitting on top of the fabric, it’s a great choice for fashion prints and any customer who wants a soft-feeling print. 

There are a few factors to take into account when printing with water-based ink. Because the ink’s base is water, it prints best in places with high humidity. The ink will dry on the screen and will dry quicker in dry locations. It’s also best to be printed in shops that can control the humidity. A garage shop in Florida, for example, will have a much easier time printing water-based ink than a garage shop in Arizona. 

As mentioned before, water-based ink needs airflow to cure. A forced air flash or conveyor dryer creates this airflow and is the perfect curing device for water-based ink. Shops that don’t have the budget or space for a forced-air dryer can use a regular dryer and/or Warp Drive but will have to perform many tests to ensure the ink fully cures. 


a hand holds a bucket of black water-based ink


Water-based ink needs airflow to evaporate the water in the ink before the ink can properly cure. Using a forced-air flash dryer or conveyor dryer gets the job done easily. With a forced air flash dryer, a blower at the back of the dryer pushes warm air over the print, evaporating the water from the ink so it can cure.

A forced air conveyor dryer has two zones of heating elements. The first zone is a flash zone where it heats up rapidly, becoming 50% hotter than the rest of the dryer. It’ll evaporate water from water-based inks quickly, then dwell for an extended period of time in the second zone at its cure temperature.

a hand adds Warp Drive to a bucket of ink


In addition to the many varieties of water-based ink, you can make further adjustments by adding specific additives to whatever kind of water-based ink you use. Here are some popular effects printers can add to their ink.


Printing colors are great, but sometimes you want to get creative. To add a little something extra to your prints, use water-based special effects inks. These range from shiny inks like gold and silver to 3D effects like a puff additive. Make your prints stand out with these inks and additives. 

More specialty inks and additives help water-based printers do more with the inks on their shelves. Take stretch core for example. Stretch core helps ink become more flexible on stretchy garments like Lycra. An open-time extender keeps water-based inks moist in the screen for longer periods of time. 

Curing water-based ink can be a bit tricky. Good thing there are a few additives to help you out.

a gloved hand opens the lid of stretch core


Don’t have a forced-air dryer? There’s still a way to cure water-based ink with confidence.

The most popular way to cure water-based ink without a forced-air dryer is to use a regular dryer and some Warp Drive. Warp Drive is an ink additive that chemically cures water-based ink over a 48-hour period. Simply mix it into the ink at 1.5% by weight, print the ink as normal, and use your favorite curing method. The Warp Drive will make sure the ink cures chemically.

Another additive to help with curing is Fixator NFO. This additive lowers the cure temperature of water-based inks and helps improve pigment wash fastness. Water-based ink can be tricky to handle, but with a little help, you can print and cure it with confidence.


a bucket of mixed colored water-based ink sits on a scale with the Fusion mixing system behind it

There are tons to learn about printing with water-based ink: getting the best cure, printing on paper and boxes, and so much more. The best rule of thumb? If you’re interested in dipping your toes into water-based printing, try it out! Experiment and see if the ink works for your shop and process.

Green galaxyGreen galaxy inksManual pressManual printingManual screen printingPlastisol verses water basedPrinting with water based inkProducts and educationScreen printing educationScreen printing how toWater basedWater based ink