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Why You Should Be Using Water Based Ink

Table of Contents

Choosing the right ink for your tee is vital. Water based ink helps you to not only to get the most out of your design, but also to create the softest, most comfortable shirt possible.

Your beautiful, vibrant screen printed design and super soft tee can feel ruined when it’s been printed with an ink that feels rough and itchy on the skin or one that quickly cracks and peels as it wears. Believe us, we know, it’s torture. Luckily, using custom-made blends of water based and discharge inks with high quality fabrics s a great recipe for making your new favorite tee.

So what exactly are water based and discharge inks?

Water Based Ink

water based ink

What is it?

Water based ink is a specialized type of decorative ink that actually blends in with the fabric that it’s printed on, instead of just layering on top of it.

How does it work?

Because it suspends its dyes using water as a solvent, water based ink is extremely thin and versatile. This enables it to absorb right into the fibers of the fabric.

What’s the result?

By actively reacting and blending with the fabric during the printing process, water based ink consistently produces the most vibrant, softest, longest lasting, and most environmentally friendly screen printed merchandise. You can see some of our favorite water based ink creations in our gallery.

When should you use it?

Water based ink can be used on any fabric color, and still produces a clean, bright, environmentally-friendly print that that never cracks or peels. However, when used with darker colored fabrics, it’s important to supplement the ink with something called a discharge agent, which makes a hybrid pigment known as discharge ink. So what’s up with discharge inks?

Discharge Ink

discharge ink

What is it?

Discharge ink is a specific type of water based ink that’s been specially formulated to deactivate the dyes used on natural fabrics. As we mentioned, to create a discharge ink, you combine a discharge agent with a high quality water-based ink.

How does it work?

The role of the discharge agent is to interact with the fabric’s natural dye color directly, completely replacing it with the color of the ink it’s been mixed into. This formula is especially essential with darker colored tees, as you have to completely remove the coloring of a more assertive base fabric if you want to achieve a vibrant design.

What’s the result?

The discharge reaction lends itself to creating even more eye-catching colors and leads to a tee with a much softer feel after first washing.

When should you use it?

Discharge ink is the perfect solution to creating bright, soft, lightweight, and highly detailed prints on dark fabrics.

The Traditional Choice: Plastisol ink

plastisol ink

What is it?

Plastisol ink is a plastic based ink made for mass-produced apparel. It is the chief alternative to water based and discharge inks, and still remains the screen printing industry standard due to its ease of use, despite its environmental toll and quality limitations.

How does it work?

Unlike a water based ink that blends into the fibers of the fabric, a plastisol ink lays directly on top of the fabric, covering the shirt with an additional layer of color for your customized design.

What’s the result?

Plastisol prints eventually break down, often resulting in a cracked or peeling graphic on the shirt. While plastisol ink prints are bright and stay true to the printer’s design intentions, they feel bulky on the skin, chafe, and breathe poorly. This is especially true for oversized printing, where plastisol designs can border on unwearable.

When should you use it?

If your foremost concern in the screen printing process is ease and versatility, and not quality, comfort, or environmental impact, then this represents a viable ink option for screen printers.

Challenges to using Water Based and Discharge Inks

While the downsides to using plastisol ink are pretty clear, that doesn’t mean there aren’t also challenges to using water based ink products over those mass-production plastic inks.

Water based ink is more difficult to work with than its plastic counterpart. Not only because it is a much higher quality ink, but also because it actively reacts to the shirt it’s dying, making it a much more fluid and adaptable screen printing process as a whole.

In addition, all water-based inks and discharge inks are uniquely customized to match the fabric it’s being printed on, which takes additional preparation and expertise. Because of this, screen printers need to have wide ranging expertise on fabric types and ink reaction in order to reliably create water based prints.


One of the most important factors in crafting that perfect tee, the one you can’t stop wearing, the one that becomes less a garment than an extension of your own skin, is choosing a perfect ink that will blend in seamlessly with the fabric of your tee.

If you prioritize quality and comfort for your custom tee design needs, then water based and discharge inks really are the gold standard in the industry. In the hands of a professional, they consistently produce the most vibrant, soft, durable, lightweight, and environmentally friendly tees around.

Picture of Alex Hales
Alex Hales

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