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    A Beginner’s Guide

    Water-Based Ink:
    A Beginner’s Guide

    When you first enter the textile screen printing industry, the sheer amount of procedures and technical details you need to learn before even printing a garment can feel a little overwhelming.

Many screen printers start their journey by printing with plastisol inks, so when faced with water-based inks making the switch can feel daunting. This guide breaks down the key differences between plastisol and water-based inks, helping you to get started with water-based or further hone your printing skills.

What are Water-Based Inks?

Water based inks are defined as inks that use water as the main solvent for carrying pigment. They are made up mostly of acrylic resins or hybrid blends of acrylic resin and polyurethanes. Water based ink penetrates the fabric more than plastisol and will always provide a softer print because most of the ink is made up of soft resins and water which evaporates during the curing process.

What are Plastisol Inks?

Plastisol ink is made of PVC resin and plasticizer which can only touch dry or cure at high temperatures. This means that the possibly of ink drying in the screen and or mesh is almost impossible making plastisol ink is much easier to print for beginners, however this process is limited when it comes to the softness you can achieve.

Screen Printing with Water-Based Ink

A key challenge when learning to screen print with water-based inks is how you control the evaporation of water when the ink is sitting in the screen during a production run or a sample print development. Learning how to control water-based ink from drying in the screen is not impossible, it’s just different. In other words, you cannot treat water-based inks like plastisol. Water based inks need to be treated differently.

The first thing a printer should do is ensure that a water-resistant emulsion is implemented in their screen room. We strongly recommend to start testing water resistant emulsions to prevent screen breakdown on the press when using water-based inks. You can find out more about choosing the right screen emulsion in our Technical Hub.

Calibrating the emulsion on the screens before testing water-based inks will help you gain a more positive start in your water-based screen-printing journey compared to one filled with frustration because the emulsion keeps coming off.

Types of Water-Based Ink

High Solids Water-Based Ink
High Solids inks include MagnaPrint® Aquaflex V2, Self Levelling, and Edge.

  • Used as white and neutral inks, combine and mix with Eco-Pigments to create thousands of shades.
  • High opacity inks designed for printing on dark coloured backgrounds (cotton, blends, and polyester).
  • Excellent ink coverage that maintains a very soft, smooth hand feel.
  • Dark fabrics are printed similarly to plastisol, with a white under base.
  • Most commonly used PVC-free alternative to plastisol.
  • High solids MagnaPrint® Migration Blocker Black is used as the first layer on polyesters for dye-migration resistance.
  • Excellent stretch, durability, and opacity.
  • Ideal for stretchy fabrics.

high solids water based inks

Medium Solids Water-Based Ink
Medium solid inks include MagnaPrint® HB

  • Used as white and neutral inks, combine and mix with Eco-Pigments to create thousands of shades.
  • Semi Transparent, designed for printing on light or dark backgrounds on cotton, blends, and polyester.
  • Ideal for full colour (halftone) printing on dark backgrounds with a white under base underneath (dependant on fabric type use discharge or high solids).
  • Has minimal hand feel.

medium solids water-based inks

Low Solids Water-Based Ink
Low Solid inks include MagnaPrint® ND Extra

  • Transparent inks designed for printing on light backgrounds (pastels and whites) for cotton, blended and polyester fabrics.
  • Ideal for solid or halftone printing.
  • Developed to be printed wet-on-wet (without flash units).
  • Has no or minimal hand feel.

low solids water-based inks

Discharge Ink
Discharge inks include the MagnaPrint® ABAW, ULF and LO ranges.

  • Usually a range of 3 inks – base, white, and super white. Combined with Eco-Pigments to create thousands of colours.
  • Designed to print on dischargeable 100% cotton, reactive-dyed dark garments.
  • Works through a “bleaching” process, where the colour of the ink replaces that of the garment.
  • Capable of producing very bright colours.
  • Can be used as an under-print with traditional water-based inks printed on top.
  • Has little or no hand feel, particularly after washing.

discharge ink

Your Journey with Water-Based Inks

The last and most important tip is that learning to print water-based inks isn’t something that happens overnight. Think of it as a journey…learning water-based inks is a day to day process of discovery of small victories and new challenges.

To enhance your knowledge of water-based screen printing and for more useful articles, access our Technical Hub.


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