Best Ink for Screen Printing: A Comprehensive Guide

When it comes to screen printing, choosing the right ink is crucial for achieving the best results. Whether you’re a professional screen printer or a DIY enthusiast, understanding the different types of inks available and their unique properties is essential. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the best ink options for screen printing, taking into consideration factors such as durability, color vibrancy, and ease of use. Screen printing inks come in various forms, each offering distinct advantages and considerations. From water-based and plastisol inks to discharge and specialty inks, we will delve into the characteristics and applications of these options, helping you make an informed decision for your specific needs. So, let’s dive in and discover the world of screen printing inks!

Water-Based Inks

Water-based inks have gained significant popularity in recent years due to their eco-friendly nature and soft feel. These inks are made of water as the primary solvent, making them more environmentally friendly compared to traditional plastisol inks. Water-based inks are also known for their ability to produce vibrant and long-lasting prints.

The Benefits of Water-Based Inks

One of the key advantages of water-based inks is their soft hand feel. When printed on garments, water-based inks result in a print that feels as if it is part of the fabric rather than sitting on top of it. This is especially desirable for designs that require a more subtle or vintage look.

Another benefit of water-based inks is their excellent color vibrancy. These inks are highly pigmented, allowing for vivid and vibrant prints that maintain their color even after multiple washes. The colors achieved with water-based inks are often more transparent, providing a unique aesthetic appeal.

Furthermore, water-based inks are easy to work with and clean up. They offer a smooth printing experience, flowing through screens and mesh easily. Cleanup is also a breeze, as you can simply rinse your screens and tools with water, eliminating the need for harsh chemicals.

Challenges and Best Practices for Water-Based Inks

While water-based inks offer numerous advantages, they do come with some challenges. One of the main concerns is their tendency to dry quickly on the screen, leading to clogged mesh and stencil breakdown. To combat this, it is essential to keep the ink wet during the printing process by using a spray bottle or adding a retarder to extend the drying time.

Another challenge with water-based inks is their limited opacity on dark-colored garments. Since these inks are more transparent, they may not provide the same level of coverage on darker fabrics. However, this can be overcome by using an underbase layer or printing a white layer before applying the desired colors.

When working with water-based inks, it is crucial to have the right equipment and tools. Using screens with higher mesh counts, such as 230 or above, is recommended to achieve finer details and prevent excessive ink penetration. Additionally, using a quality squeegee with a soft or medium durometer is ideal for smooth ink application.


Water-based inks offer a soft hand feel, vibrant colors, and eco-friendly properties. While they may present challenges such as quick drying and limited opacity, these can be overcome with proper techniques and equipment. If you’re looking for a sustainable and aesthetically pleasing option for your screen printing projects, water-based inks are an excellent choice.

Plastisol Inks

Widely recognized as the industry standard, plastisol inks have been a go-to choice for screen printers for many years. These inks are made of PVC particles suspended in a plasticizer, providing a thick and opaque consistency. Plastisol inks are known for their durability, vibrant colors, and versatility.

The Advantages of Plastisol Inks

One of the primary advantages of plastisol inks is their excellent opacity on both light and dark-colored garments. These inks provide full coverage, allowing for vibrant and highly pigmented prints on any fabric color. This makes plastisol inks particularly suitable for designs that require bold and solid colors.

Another significant advantage of plastisol inks is their durability. Once cured properly, plastisol prints are resistant to cracking, fading, and washing, ensuring that your designs remain intact over time. This durability makes plastisol inks ideal for garments that undergo frequent use and washing, such as t-shirts and sportswear.

Additionally, plastisol inks offer versatility in terms of special effects. These inks can be easily manipulated to achieve unique finishes, such as high-density prints, metallic effects, and even glow-in-the-dark designs. This allows for creative experimentation and customization of prints.

Techniques and Tips for Plastisol Inks

To achieve optimal results with plastisol inks, there are a few techniques and tips to keep in mind. Proper curing is crucial to ensure the durability of plastisol prints. This is typically done using a heat press or conveyor dryer, which heats the ink to the required temperature for curing. Following the manufacturer’s instructions regarding temperature and time is essential for achieving the desired results.

When printing with plastisol inks, it is important to use screens with appropriate mesh counts. Lower mesh counts, such as 110 or 160, are suitable for printing thicker layers of ink, while higher mesh counts, such as 200 or 230, are ideal for finer details. Using the right squeegee with the appropriate durometer is also important to ensure proper ink transfer.

Furthermore, plastisol inks require thorough cleanup with special solvents, as they are not water-soluble. It is essential to clean screens, squeegees, and other tools immediately after use to prevent the ink from drying and clogging the equipment. Additionally, storing plastisol inks in a cool and dark environment helps maintain their shelf life.


Plastisol inks offer excellent opacity, durability, and versatility for screen printing projects. Their ability to provide full coverage on any fabric color makes them suitable for a wide range of designs. While proper curing, appropriate mesh counts, and thorough cleanup are essential, mastering the techniques for working with plastisol inks can result in vibrant and long-lasting prints.

Discharge Inks

Discharge inks provide a unique way to achieve soft prints on dark-colored garments. Unlike other inks that lay on top of the fabric, discharge inks remove the dye from the fabric itself, resulting in a print that becomes part of the garment. This creates a soft hand feel and allows for intricate designs on dark backgrounds.

The Process of Using Discharge Inks

Using discharge inks involves a two-step process. First, a discharge agent is printed onto the fabric, which removes the dye from the garment. This is typically done as an underbase, covering the entire design area. Once the discharge agent has been printed, the garment is cured to activate the agent and remove the dye. After curing, additional colors can be printed on top of the discharged area.

It’s important to note that discharge inks work best on 100% cotton or cotton-blend fabrics. The discharge agent reacts with the dye in the fabric, and synthetic fibers do not have the same reaction. Additionally, the color of the fabric plays a role in the final result. Darker fabrics tend to produce more contrast, while lighter fabrics may result in a more subtle effect.

Considerations for Different Fabric Types

When using discharge inks, it’s essential to consider the type of fabric you’re working with. While discharge inks work well on 100% cotton, they may not yield the same results on polyester or other synthetic fabrics. It’s recommended to test the ink on a small area of the fabric before proceeding with the full print run.

Additionally, different fabric colors can affect the outcome of the discharge process. Darker fabrics tend to provide a more dramatic contrast, as the discharge agent removes the dye and reveals the natural color of the cotton. On lighter fabrics, the effect may be more subtle, resulting in a tone-on-tone appearance.

Printing Techniques and Tips

When working with discharge inks, it’s crucial to achieve proper curing to activate the discharge agent and remove the dye effectively. The curing process is typically done using a heat press or conveyor dryer, following the manufacturer’s recommendations for time and temperature.

Discharge inks are often combined with water-based or pigment inks to achieve multi-color prints. After the discharge process is complete, additional colors can be printed on top of the discharged area. It’s important to ensure that the additional colors do not contain any ingredients that will interfere with the discharge process, such as certain pigments or binders.

Cleanup and maintenance of screens and tools used with discharge inks are similar to those used with water-based inks. Rinse screens and tools with water immediately after use to prevent the discharge agent from drying and clogging the mesh.


Discharge inks offer a unique way to achieve soft prints on dark-colored garments. Working with discharge inks requires a two-step process and considerations for fabric type and color. When used correctly, discharge inks can create intricate designs with a soft hand feel, making them an excellent choice for achieving a vintage or subtle look

Specialty Inks

In addition to water-based and plastisol inks, there are various specialty inks available for screen printing that can add a touch of creativity and uniqueness to your designs. These inks offer special effects and finishes that can make your prints stand out.

Metallic and Shimmering Inks

Metallic and shimmering inks contain metallic particles that create a reflective and eye-catching effect. These inks are perfect for designs that require a touch of glamour and shine. Whether you want to create a sleek metallic logo or add some sparkle to a design, metallic and shimmering inks can achieve stunning results.

When working with metallic inks, it’s essential to stir the ink thoroughly before printing to ensure an even distribution of the metallic particles. Additionally, using a higher mesh count screen can help prevent clogging and ensure a smooth print. Proper curing is also crucial to ensure the durability of the metallic finish.

Glow-in-the-Dark Inks

Glow-in-the-dark inks provide a fun and unique element to your screen prints. These inks contain phosphorescent pigments that absorb light and emit it slowly over time, creating a glowing effect in the dark. They are perfect for designs that require visibility in low-light conditions or for adding an element of surprise to your prints.

When using glow-in-the-dark inks, it’s important to expose the printed design to light before it can glow in the dark. The ink needs to absorb light to charge up and emit the glow. The longer the exposure to light, the brighter the glow will be. Proper curing is also essential to ensure the longevity of the glow-in-the-dark effect.

Puff Inks

Puff inks create a raised, three-dimensional effect on your prints, adding texture and depth. These inks contain a blowing agent that expands when heated, creating a puffed-up appearance. Puff inks are often used to create a vintage or retro look and add a tactile element to designs.

When working with puff inks, it’s important to use screens with a higher mesh count to allow the ink to flow through easily. The curing process is crucial to activate the blowing agent and achieve the desired puff effect. Using a heat press or conveyor dryer at the recommended temperature and time is essential for proper curing.


Specialty inks offer a range of creative possibilities for your screen printing projects. Metallic and shimmering inks add a touch of glamour, glow-in-the-dark inks create an element of surprise, and puff inks provide texture and depth. Proper techniques, such as stirring the ink thoroughly, using the appropriate mesh count, and ensuring proper curing, are essential for achieving the desired effects with specialty inks.

High Opacity Inks

When it comes to printing on dark fabrics or materials, high opacity inks are the go-to choice. These inks are specially formulated to provide excellent coverage on dark-colored garments, ensuring that your designs stand out vividly.

Understanding High Opacity Inks

High opacity inks are typically made with a higher concentration of pigments, allowing them to provide better coverage on dark fabrics. These inks are often thicker in consistency and have a higher viscosity compared to regular inks. The increased pigmentation ensures that the ink blocks out the color of the fabric and allows the printed design to appear vibrant and bold.

It’s important to note that high opacity inks may require a higher mesh count screen to ensure proper ink transfer and prevent excessive ink penetration. Using a higher mesh count will help achieve finer details and prevent the ink from bleeding into the fabric.

Printing Techniques and Tips

When using high opacity inks, it’s crucial to achieve proper ink coverage without overloading the screen. Overloading the screen with ink can result in a thicker deposit of ink and may lead to issues such as ink bleed or loss of detail in the design. Applying multiple thin layers of ink, rather than a single heavy layer, can help achieve better results.

Using a squeegee with the appropriate durometer is also important when working with high opacity inks. A squeegee that is too hard can cause excessive pressure, pushing the ink into the fabric, while a squeegee that is too soft may not provide enough pressure for proper ink transfer. Experimenting with different durometers can help you find the optimal squeegee for your specific ink and fabric combination.


High opacity inks are specifically designed to provide excellent coverage on dark fabrics. Understanding the properties of these inks, such as their higher concentration of pigments, and using the appropriate mesh count and squeegee durometer, can help you achieve vibrant and bold prints on dark-colored garments.

Process Colors

Process colors, also known as CMYK inks, allow for the reproduction of a wide range of colors using a combination of four inks: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. These inks are commonly used in commercial printing and can be applied to screen printing as well.

The Basics of Process Color Printing

Process color printing involves halftone dots of each ink color that, when combined, create the illusion of a full-color image. By varying the size and density of the halftone dots, a wide range of colors and shades can be achieved. The process colors are printed one at a time in layers to build up the final image.

To achieve the best results with process color printing, it’s important to have a good understanding of color theory. The combination of the four process colors can produce a vast array of hues, but it’s crucial to understand how they interact and mix to achieve the desired colors accurately.

Advantages and Limitations of Process Color Printing

One of the primary advantages of process color printing is its ability to reproduce a wide range of colors and gradients. This makes it suitable for designs that require intricate and detailed color variations, such as photographs or complex illustrations.

However, it’s important to note that process color printing may not be suitable for designs that require highly saturated or vibrant colors. The process inks have limitations in reproducing certain shades accurately, particularly bright neon or metallic colors. Additionally, the halftone dots used in process color printing may be visible upon close inspection, which can affect the overall appearance of the print.

Printing Techniques for Process Colors

When printing with process colors, it’s crucial to achieve precise registration to ensure that the halftone dots align correctly. Proper registration can be achieved by using registration marks on the screen and meticulously aligning the screens during setup.

Using screens with a higher mesh count, such as 230 or above, is recommended to achieve finer details and prevent the halftone dots from becoming too visible. Additionally, using the appropriate squeegee durometer and applying even pressure during printing can help achieve consistent ink coverage and minimize the appearance of halftone dots.


Process color printing offers the ability to reproduce a wide range of colors and gradients using a combination of four inks. Understanding color theory, achieving precise registration, and using the appropriate mesh count and squeegee durometer are essential for achieving accurate and vibrant process color prints.

Mixing Inks

Creating custom colors and achieving unique effects often involves mixing inks. Whether it’s blending different colors to achieve a specific shade or adding additives for special effects, ink mixing allows for endless possibilities in screen printing.

Color Mixing and Theory

Understanding color theory is essential when it comes to ink mixing. The primary colors, cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (CMYK), can be combined in different ratios to create a wide range of colors. By experimenting with different combinations and proportions, you can achieve the exact shade you desire.

It’s important to keep in mind that ink colors can vary depending on the type and brand of ink you’re using. When mixing inks, it’s recommended to start with small quantities and keep track of the proportions used to achieve specific colors. This allows for consistency in future print runs.

Additives and Special Effects

In addition to color mixing, additives can be used to achieve special effects and enhance the properties of the ink. Additives such as extenders can be added to increase the ink’s transparency or improve its flow. Thickening agents can be used to increase the ink’s viscosity, making it suitable for printing on different materials.

Other additives, such as puff additives, can be used to create a raised or textured effect similar to puff inks. Metallic or pearlescent additives can be added to create shimmering or iridescent finishes. UV-reactive additives can be used to create prints that glow under UV light.

Best Practices for Ink Mixing

When mixing inks, it’s important to have a clean and dedicated mixing area to prevent contamination and ensure accurate color reproduction. Using clean spatulas or mixing sticks for each color can help maintain the integrity of the inks.

It’s also recommended to mix the inks thoroughly and allow them to rest for a short period before final adjustments. This allows the pigments and additives to fully blend and stabilize, ensuring consistent colors throughout the printing process.


Choosing the best ink for screen printing is a crucial decision that can significantly impact the quality and longevity of your prints. By understanding the unique properties and applications of different ink types, you can achieve outstanding results in your screen printing projects. Whether you opt for water-based inks for their eco-friendliness or plastisol inks for their durability, experiment with specialty inks for unique effects, or mix inks to create custom colors, this comprehensive guide has equipped you with the knowledge to make informed choices and elevate your screen printing game.

Remember, each ink type has its own set of considerations and techniques, so don’t be afraid to experiment and find what works best for your specific needs. Whether you’re aiming for soft prints with water-based inks, bold and vibrant designs with plastisol inks, or unique effects with specialty inks, mastering the techniques and understanding the best practices for each ink type will help you achieve professional and visually appealing results.

Furthermore, staying up to date with the latest developments in screen printing inks, such as sustainable and eco-friendly options, can help you align your printing practices with environmental consciousness. Consider incorporating recycling methods and other sustainable practices into your screen printing endeavors to contribute to a greener future.

Now that you have a comprehensive understanding of the best ink options for screen printing, it’s time to unleash your creativity and bring your designs to life. Whether you’re printing t-shirts, posters, or other promotional materials, choosing the right ink and employing the appropriate techniques will ensure that your prints leave a lasting impression. Happy printing!

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