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Getting Inky

So you’re ready to get some custom shirts printed and are thrown the question, "what sort of ink would you like?" What? There are different types of ink?!?!? You bettcha AND they all have different properties and purposes. The most common type of ink used in screen-printing is plastisol ink. It is the original garment ink. This is the stiff and sometimes rubbery feeling print that you get on shirts that are typically free (think free race shirt or corporate tee). This is also the cheapest option since it applies and dries easily. This is the sort of ink you would use if your budget is your number one priority. Here is a quick low down on plastisol inks:

  • A plastic based ink made for apparel. This is a cheaper ink, is the industry standard and makes for thick prints.

  • The plastisol ink lays directly on the fabric rather than changing the color of the fabric below it, covering the shirt with layers of color.

  • Plastisol ink prints eventually break down and that breakdown results in cracked, flaked or peeled graphics.

  • Plastisol ink prints are known for being vibrant and true to the design.

  • Plastisol ink prints feel thick and heavy; not allowing any breathability.

  • Plastisol inks were chemically formed to be highly easy to use for screen printers.

If you are looking for something with a little higher quality, most screen printers will point you towards water-based inks. These inks directly dye the shirt rather than having ink layered on top of the shirt. By actually dying the material, the prints come out soft and breathable. This is the ink of choice for high-end garments and typically is printed on higher quality shirts to compliment the quality of the ink production. Along with water-based ink, there is another material dying style of ink: discharge. This ink actually bleaches out the shirt color and infuses a color within the bleach. This method is also soft, but the ink is known for being volatile for the screens used in production so it tends to be one of the most expensive printing processes. Here’s the key points on water based and discharge inks:

  • The basics: a high-end ink made for super soft shirts (commonly used in retail printing).

  • The ink dyes the garment directly, literally removing the color of the shirt and replacing it with the color of the image.

  • Water based prints last as long as the garment does with no degradation in the graphic.

  • Water-based prints are bright and true, however your choice in shirt material, color and certain fabric dyes will react differently to water based inks. Its important to coordinate with your printer on the shirt material and construction before opting for water based or discharge inks.

  • The water based and discharge ink prints super soft and breathable. After the first wash, the print is unable to be felt on the shirt.

Regardless on which ink style you decide to use for your custom apparel order, taking a little time to coordinate and communicate with your printer will ensure that you get the product for which you are looking. The icing on the cake is that most printers offer in-house graphic design services that are able to create graphics that encompass your creative idea while also making sure it is designed in a manner that best compliments the shirt and ink style you choose to use.

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