A handful of screen printers start out using water-based ink. For some hobbyists and DIY printers, it’s a more forgiving ink to learn the ropes with (for some, others find plastisol easier). If you make a mistake, you can wash it out. But water-based ink does have its drawbacks if you don’t have the proper tools. Sometimes, making the switch to plastisol ink is worth it. Amanda Dunigan, creator of Salt & Pine Co., shares her experience when she switched from water-based to plastisol ink.
Photo by Amanda Dunigan
MAKING THE SWITCH
Amanda, like many others, started out with a DIY kit that included Speedball ink. While this worked for her in the beginning, she soon upgraded to Green Galaxy ink.
“I wanted to step up more, and that’s when I found ScreenPrinting.com and Comet White,” Amanda said.
As a DIY printer, Amanda didn’t know if plastisol ink would work for her home shop. Getting rid of waste from plastisol printing is more tricky than water-based. You can’t rinse it out with water or dish soap.
She finally got her hands on plastisol ink when the team at ScreenPrinting.com sent her a bucket of FN-INK™ to try out. She did a little research and experimentation, and was ready to use it in her shop.
“Had they not forced me to do that, it probably would’ve been a while longer until I jumped ship,” Amanda said.
The classic line of FN-INK™ is now an ink mixing system. Check it out.
WHY SWITCH TO PLASTISOL INK?
Plastisol ink has many advantages. When Amanda started using FN-INK™, she noticed that it drastically improved her production and quality of the print.
Amanda uses vinyl to create her screen for printing. When she used water-based ink, she had to create a backup screen for longer runs. The water in water-based ink would slowly erode the adhesive on the stencil, eventually breaking it down to a point where it’s no longer usable. Plastisol ink does not have water in it, so her screens last much longer on-press.
“Even for my jobs up to 70 or 75 [shirts], the vinyl is going to last that long with plastisol,” Amanda said.
Plastisol ink is more opaque than water-based. Amanda noticed right away that she didn’t have to do as many passes with FN-INK™ as she did with the water-based inks. She always had to print-flash-print to create an opaque design that would stand out on the shirt when printing with water-based.
Since plastisol ink is thicker and more vibrant to start, she usually only has to do one pass, and doesn’t have to print-flash-print nearly as often. With only having to do one pass, she saves on her ink supply, speeds up production, and reduces her electricity bill.
The print itself amazed Amanda at how bright, vivid, and opaque it was. The colors popped, appearing much more vibrant than a print with water-based ink. She was sold.
Plastisol ink cures quicker and easier than water-based ink. Water-based ink won’t cure unless the water has completely evaporated from the entire ink layer. Some printers add Warp Drive, a curing additive, to their ink. The additive chemically cures the ink in 48 hours. While it’s a great way to ensure the ink becomes fully cured, it definitely slows down production.
Amanda’s cure times with water-based ink and a heat press were around 40 seconds. With FN-INK™, that time is cut in half. This new cure time allowed Amanda to speed up her process. While one shirt cures, she loads the next onto the platen. By the time that shirt is loaded, the timer goes off, and the heat press is ready for a new shirt. There’s no waiting around during jobs anymore.
Photo by Amanda Dunigan
Many DIY or hobbyist printers fear plastisol ink because it seems harder to clean up. But for Amanda, cleaning up plastisol ink after a job actually takes less effort than cleaning up after a water-based run.
Amanda doesn’t have a washout booth. When she used water-based inks, she would rinse them in her bathtub. She was regularly turning her tub different colors and making a mess. Plus, water-based ink can dry on a screen, leaving bits of pigment locked into the mesh. Trying to remove those hardened pigments is a nightmare.
Since plastisol ink doesn’t have water in it (it has oil), it never dries. When she’s done with a job, Amanda peels her vinyl stencil off the screen, scrapes the excess ink back into its bucket, and cleans the screen while it’s still in the clamps. She uses Sgreen® Supreme Wash, a press wash, to clean the screen. When she reclaims the screen, she uses Sgreen® Haze Remover to remove the last bits of pigment and ink from the screen so her next vinyl stencil will stick properly. It’s that simple.
“I can literally clean [the screen] while it’s still clamped in the press and just be done with it,” Amanda said.
ARE THERE ANY DRAWBACKS TO PLASTISOL INK?
Amanda uses plastisol for everything. But when she was learning the ins and outs of using the ink, she noticed that cleaning up mistakes was more difficult. Since plastisol ink doesn’t dry, printers have to be careful not to get any ink on themselves that could potentially transfer to another part of the shirt besides the design.
Water-based ink is relatively easy to clean out of an area you don’t want it in. It’ll wash out with Sgreen® Aqua Wash or Dawn dish soap. Plastisol ink is a little different. Other than using chemicals like Sgreen® Supreme Wash, getting plastisol ink off a shirt is difficult without industrial chemicals.
Photo by Amanda Dunigan
When printers switch from water-based ink to plastisol, there’s a little bit of a learning curve. With water-based ink, you can leave the shirt out to dry overnight, and then cure it. Plastisol ink doesn’t dry. If you leave the shirt out to dry, it won’t, and it’ll actually harm your curing process. If a plastisol print is left out overnight, the oils soak into the shirt, and the ink may crack after it’s cured as the ink needs those oils in order to fully cure.
When printing with plastisol ink, gel/flash and cure the ink as soon as possible. Ink cracking happens when the ink isn’t properly cured. You can test whether your ink has properly cured with a light stretch test and a wash test.
Think of this like baking bread: if you leave dough out for too long, it will dry out. The bread will turn out tough and crumbly, resembling biscotti instead of a fluffy loaf. The same idea applies to plastisol ink — if it’s left to dry, since some of the oils in the ink absorb into the garment. Without those oils, the ink will not cure properly.
RELATED: ENSURING PROPER INK CURING
Photo by Amanda Dunigan
For printers starting out, Amanda recommends water-based ink. Since it’s easier to clean up after a mistake, learning the ropes of screen printing is a little easier. Plastisol ink is messier and thicker, making it an intimidating ink to learn with. But when you’re doing longer print runs, Amanda recommends plastisol ink.
Amanda will not go back to her water-based printing days. She gets better results and can take on longer print jobs without worrying about the screen breaking down. Best of all, it’s easier to clean up. Besides, the timer on her heat press is set to the plastisol ink cure time of 20 seconds, it would be a hassle to change it back.
Follow Amanda on Instagram to hear more about her printing process and experience.