The Complete Guide to Plastisol Printing: Everything You Need to Know

Plastisol printing, also known as screen printing, is a popular method used in the textile industry to create vibrant and durable designs on fabrics. This technique involves using a special type of ink that is made from PVC particles suspended in a liquid plasticizer. When heated, the ink cures and forms a solid, flexible layer on the fabric, resulting in a long-lasting and vibrant print.

In this comprehensive guide, we will take you through everything you need to know about plastisol printing. From understanding the basics of the process to choosing the right equipment and troubleshooting common issues, this article will equip you with all the knowledge you need to get started with plastisol printing.

What is Plastisol Printing?

Plastisol printing is a versatile and widely-used technique that involves applying a layer of ink onto a fabric or substrate using a mesh screen. The ink used in plastisol printing is unique as it remains in a liquid state at room temperature but solidifies when heated. This property allows for precise and controlled application of the ink on the fabric, resulting in vibrant and durable prints.

Plastisol printing has been in use for several decades and has become the go-to method for printing on textiles due to its excellent color opacity, versatility, and durability. Unlike other printing methods, plastisol prints do not fade or crack over time, making them ideal for garments that undergo frequent washing and wear.

Advantages of Plastisol Printing

Plastisol printing offers several advantages over other printing methods:

  • Vibrant and opaque colors: Plastisol inks have excellent color opacity, allowing for vibrant and eye-catching prints on any colored fabric.
  • Durability: Plastisol prints are highly durable and can withstand repeated washings and wear without fading or cracking.
  • Versatility: Plastisol inks can be used on a wide range of fabrics, including cotton, polyester, and blends.
  • Easy to work with: Plastisol inks have a longer open time, which means they stay wet on the screen, allowing for easier setup and cleanup.
  • Ability to print on dark fabrics: Plastisol inks can be used to print vibrant designs on dark-colored fabrics without the need for an additional white underbase.

The Evolution of Plastisol Printing

Plastisol printing has come a long way since its inception. Originally developed in the 1950s as a substitute for rubber-based inks, plastisol inks revolutionized the textile printing industry. The early versions of plastisol inks had limitations, such as a limited color palette and a stiffer feel on the fabric.

However, advancements in ink formulations and printing techniques have overcome these limitations, resulting in the wide range of plastisol inks available today. Modern plastisol inks offer a vast array of colors, including specialty inks with metallic or fluorescent effects. Additionally, improvements in ink additives and curing methods have made plastisol prints feel softer and more comfortable on the fabric.

The Plastisol Printing Process

The plastisol printing process involves several steps, from preparing the artwork to curing the printed design. Understanding each step is crucial to achieving high-quality plastisol prints consistently.

Artwork Preparation

Before starting the printing process, it is essential to prepare the artwork properly. This involves creating or obtaining a design in a suitable file format, such as Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop. The artwork should be sized correctly to fit the desired print area and have a resolution of at least 300 DPI for optimal detail.

Once the artwork is ready, it may need to undergo color separation if it contains multiple colors. Color separation involves separating the design into individual color layers, each representing a different ink color. This step ensures accurate registration during the printing process.

Screen Preparation

The next step in the plastisol printing process is preparing the screens. Screens are made of a fine mesh stretched tightly over a frame. The mesh’s openness determines the level of detail and ink thickness that can be achieved. A higher mesh count, such as 230 or 305, is ideal for fine details and thin ink deposits, while a lower mesh count, such as 110 or 156, is suitable for bold designs and heavier ink deposits.

To prepare the screens, a photosensitive emulsion is applied to the mesh. The emulsion is then exposed to UV light through a film positive, which contains the design’s opaque areas. The UV light hardens the emulsion, creating a stencil on the screen that corresponds to the design. The screen is then washed out, removing the unexposed emulsion and leaving behind clear areas where the ink will pass through during printing.

Ink Preparation

Choosing the right ink is crucial for achieving desired results in plastisol printing. Plastisol inks come in various formulations, including standard, high-opacity, and specialty inks. The ink choice depends on factors such as the fabric type, desired print effect, and color vibrancy.

Before printing, the ink needs to be properly mixed and prepared. Plastisol inks consist of a base and pigment. Mixing the base and pigment thoroughly ensures uniform color throughout the print job. Additionally, some inks may require additives, such as reducers or extenders, to adjust the ink’s viscosity and improve its performance.

Printing the Design

Once the screens and ink are prepared, it’s time to start printing. The fabric or substrate to be printed is placed on the printing press, while the screens are aligned and secured in position. The ink is then loaded onto the screen, and a squeegee is used to push the ink through the mesh, transferring it onto the fabric.

Proper technique is essential during the printing process to achieve crisp and consistent prints. The squeegee should be held at a 45-degree angle and moved smoothly across the screen with even pressure. Multiple passes may be necessary to ensure complete ink coverage, especially for dark-colored fabrics or designs with large ink deposits.

Curing the Print

After the design is printed, the ink needs to be cured to form a durable and permanent bond with the fabric. Curing involves heating the printed garment to a specific temperature for a set duration. The exact curing temperature and time depend on the ink and fabric type.

There are various methods for curing plastisol prints, including using a heat press, conveyor dryer, or flash cure unit. Heat presses and conveyor dryers provide consistent and controlled heat, ensuring proper ink curing. Flash cure units are used for spot curing or underbase flash drying during multi-color prints.

During the curing process, the ink reaches its gel point, where it transitions from a liquid to a solid state. This transformation ensures the ink adheres to the fabric and remains vibrant and durable even after repeated washings.

Choosing the Right Equipment

Selecting the appropriate equipment is crucial for achieving high-quality plastisol prints consistently. From screens and squeegees to curing units, each component plays a significant role in the printing process.


The mesh count and screen tension are two critical factors to consider when choosing screens for plastisol printing. Higher mesh counts, such as 230 or 305, are suitable for fine details and thin ink deposits, while lower mesh counts, such as 110 or 156, are ideal for bold designs and heavier ink deposits.

Additionally, screen tension affects print quality and registration. Properly tensioned screens ensure consistent ink deposits and prevent ink from bleeding or smudging. Screen tension can be measured using a tension meter, and screens should be re-tensioned as needed to maintain optimal print results.


Squeegees play a crucial role in transferring the ink onto the fabric during printing. The durometer, or hardness, of the squeegee blade affects ink deposit thickness. Softer squeegee blades, such as those with a durometer of 60, are suitable for thinner ink deposits, while harder blades, such as those with a durometer of 70 or 80, are ideal for thicker ink deposits.

The squeegee angle also influences print quality. A 45-degree angle is commonly used for most prints, but adjusting the angle can help achieve specific effects, such as increased ink opacity or reduced ink penetration.


Choosing the right inks is essential for achieving desired print results. Consider factors such as fabric type, desired print effect, and color vibrancy when selecting inks.

Standard plastisol inks are suitable for most garment printing applications. They offer excellent color opacity and durability. High-opacity inks are recommended for dark-colored fabrics or designs that require maximum vibrancy. Specialty inks, such as metallic or fluorescent inks, can be used to create unique effects.

Curing Methods

The curing method you choose depends on factors such as the size of your operation, budget, and desired print output. Here are the most common curing methods:

Heat Press:

A heat press is a versatile and cost-effective option for curing plastisol prints. Itprovides consistent and controlled heat, ensuring proper ink curing. Heat presses are available in various sizes and configurations, including clamshell and swing-away models. They are suitable for small to medium-scale operations and can be used for both single-color and multi-color prints.

Conveyor Dryer:

A conveyor dryer is a popular choice for larger-scale operations. It consists of a conveyor belt that moves printed garments through a heated chamber. Conveyor dryers offer precise temperature control and allow for continuous production. They are ideal for high-volume printing and can accommodate multiple screens for multi-color prints.

Flash Cure Unit:

A flash cure unit is used for spot curing or underbase flash drying during multi-color prints. It provides intense heat for a short duration and helps prevent colors from blending or bleeding together. Flash cure units are typically portable and can be positioned near the printing press for quick and efficient curing.

Infrared Dryer:

Infrared dryers use infrared radiation to cure plastisol inks. They provide rapid and even heating, reducing production time. Infrared dryers are available in various configurations, including panel dryers and tunnel dryers. They are suitable for both small and large-scale operations and offer energy efficiency.

Additional Equipment

In addition to screens, squeegees, inks, and curing equipment, there are other essential tools and accessories for plastisol printing:

Exposure Unit:

An exposure unit is used to expose screens coated with photosensitive emulsion to UV light. It ensures accurate stencil creation and allows for detailed designs. Exposure units come in various sizes and configurations, including tabletop and standalone models.

Screen Cleaning Supplies:

Proper screen cleaning is crucial for maintaining print quality and prolonging screen life. Screen cleaning supplies include emulsion removers, degreasers, and screen reclaiming chemicals. These products help remove ink, emulsion, and other contaminants from the screen, preparing it for reuse.

Drying Racks:

Drying racks are used to dry printed garments after curing. They provide a space-efficient and organized way to dry multiple garments simultaneously. Drying racks are available in various sizes and configurations, including wall-mounted and freestanding options.

Registration Systems:

Registration systems help achieve precise alignment of screens and prints, especially for multi-color designs. They include tools such as registration marks, registration pins, and screen registration clamps. These systems ensure accurate registration, resulting in sharp and well-aligned prints.

Heat Guns:

Heat guns are handheld devices that provide localized heat for curing small areas or touch-ups. They are useful for spot curing or adjusting ink consistency during the printing process. Heat guns are portable and easy to use, making them a valuable tool for on-the-spot adjustments.

Design Considerations for Plastisol Printing

The design plays a crucial role in the outcome of a plastisol print. Several factors should be considered when creating or choosing designs for plastisol printing to ensure optimal results.

Color Separations

Color separation is the process of separating a design into individual color layers. This step is necessary for multi-color prints and ensures accurate registration during printing. It involves creating separate files for each ink color, with each file containing only the areas of the design that correspond to that color.

When separating colors, consider factors such as color overlap, halftones, and trapping. Color overlap refers to areas where two or more colors meet, and careful consideration should be given to avoid unwanted color mixing or bleeding. Halftones are used to create shades of colors by varying dot sizes, and trapping is the slight overlap of colors to prevent registration issues.


An underbase is a layer of white ink printed beneath other colors to enhance their vibrancy on dark-colored fabrics. Printing colors directly on dark fabrics can result in dull or muted prints. By adding an underbase, the colors appear more vivid and true to their original shade.

When using an underbase, consider factors such as ink opacity, coverage, and flash curing. The underbase ink should have high opacity to block the fabric color effectively. Proper flash curing between the underbase and subsequent color layers is crucial to prevent bleeding or smudging.

Specialty Inks

In addition to standard plastisol inks, there are various specialty inks available for creating unique effects and finishes. These inks can add texture, shine, or other visual elements to the print.

Metallic inks contain metallic particles that reflect light, creating a metallic sheen or shimmer effect. They are commonly used for designs that require a touch of luxury or glamour. Fluorescent inks are vibrant and neon-like, providing high visibility and impact. They are often used for creating eye-catching designs or for safety and promotional purposes.

Glow-in-the-dark inks contain phosphorescent pigments that emit light after being charged by a light source. They are popular for designs that want to add an element of surprise or playfulness. Puff inks expand when heated, creating a raised, three-dimensional effect. They are commonly used for adding texture or emphasis to specific areas of the design.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

Even experienced printers can encounter challenges during plastisol printing. Understanding and troubleshooting common issues can help ensure successful prints and minimize wasted time and resources.

Ink Bleeding

Ink bleeding refers to the unwanted spreading of ink beyond its intended boundaries. This can result in blurry or smudged prints. Several factors can contribute to ink bleeding, including improper screen tension, excessive squeegee pressure, or excessive ink deposit.

To minimize ink bleeding, ensure screens are properly tensioned, and use the appropriate squeegee pressure. Consider using a higher mesh count screen to achieve finer details and thinner ink deposits. Controlling ink viscosity and optimizing ink amount during printing can also help reduce ink bleeding.

Registration Problems

Registration problems occur when the colors in a design do not align correctly, resulting in blurred or misaligned prints. This can be particularly challenging in multi-color prints. Registration issues may arise due to inaccurate screen alignment, improper squeegee pressure, or inconsistent ink deposit.

To improve registration, use registration marks on screens and garments to ensure proper alignment. Calibrate the printing press to ensure accurate screen positioning. Maintain consistent squeegee pressure and ensure equal ink deposit on each screen pass. Regularly check and adjust screen tension to prevent screen movement during printing.

Curing Difficulties

Curing difficulties can result in prints that do not properly adhere to the fabric or do not withstand washings. Insufficient curing can cause ink to crack, fade, or wash off. Factors contributing to curing difficulties include inaccurate curing temperature, insufficient curing time, or improper heat distribution.

To ensure proper curing, use a reliable temperature measurement device to monitor curing temperature accurately. Follow the ink manufacturer’s recommended curing temperature and time guidelines. Ensure consistent heat distribution throughout the curing process, especially for large or multi-color prints. Regularly calibrate curing equipment to maintain accurate temperature control.

Care and Maintenance of Plastisol Prints

Proper care and maintenance are essential to ensure the longevity of plastisol prints. By following the recommended guidelines, you can keep your prints looking vibrant and intact for years to come.


When washing garments with plastisol prints, it is important to follow the manufacturer’s care instructions. Turn the garment inside out before washing to protect the print from friction and abrasion. Wash the garment in cold or lukewarm water using a mild detergent. Avoid using bleach or harsh chemicals that can degrade the ink. Do not dry clean plastisol printed garments, as the chemicals used in the process can damage the print.


It is best to air dry plastisol printed garments to prevent excessive heat exposure. Hang the garment in a well-ventilated area away from direct sunlight or heat sources. Avoid using high heat settings in dryers, as this can cause the ink to crack or peel. If using a dryer, opt for a low heat or delicate cycle.


Ironing directly on plastisol prints can damage the ink. If ironing is necessary, turn the garment inside out and use a low heat setting. Place a thin cloth or parchment paper between the iron and the print to protect it from direct heat. Avoid applying excessive pressure or leaving the iron in one spot for too long.


Proper storage is essential to prevent prints from rubbing against each other or becoming creased. Fold garments with plastisol prints neatly and store them in a cool, dry place. Avoid stacking heavy objects on top of the prints, as this can cause damage. To prevent ink from sticking, place a layer of tissue paper or wax paper between folded prints.

Alternative Applications of Plastisol Printing

While plastisol printing is commonly associated with textiles, it can also be used for various other applications. The versatility of plastisol inks allows for printing on a wide range of materials, including paper, wood, plastics, and more.

Paper Printing

Plastisol printing on paper is commonly used for creating posters, stationery, and packaging materials. The opaque and vibrant nature of plastisol inks makes them idealfor achieving bold and eye-catching prints on paper. Whether it’s a simple design or intricate artwork, plastisol printing can bring your designs to life on paper.

Wood Printing

Plastisol printing on wood opens up unique possibilities for customizing wooden surfaces. From signs and plaques to furniture and home decor items, plastisol printing can add a personalized touch to wood. The ink adheres well to wood surfaces, creating durable and long-lasting prints that can withstand the test of time.

Plastic Printing

Plastic materials, such as PVC, acrylic, and polycarbonate, can also be printed with plastisol inks. This opens up opportunities for creating custom designs on various plastic products, including promotional items, phone cases, and point-of-sale displays. Plastisol prints on plastic offer excellent adhesion and durability, ensuring that the design stays vibrant even with regular use.

Glass Printing

While glass is not the most common substrate for plastisol printing, it is still possible to achieve impressive results on this material. Glassware, such as mugs, bottles, and glass containers, can be decorated with plastisol inks. Proper surface preparation and curing techniques are essential to ensure the ink adheres well to the glass surface and remains intact even with washing or handling.

Environmental Considerations

Being aware of the environmental impact of plastisol printing is important for adopting sustainable practices in the printing industry. While plastisol inks are not inherently eco-friendly, there are steps that can be taken to minimize their impact and promote responsible printing.

Eco-Friendly Ink Options

Consider exploring eco-friendly alternatives to traditional plastisol inks. Water-based and discharge inks are viable options that offer reduced environmental impact. Water-based inks are free of harmful chemicals and have a lower carbon footprint compared to plastisol inks. Discharge inks use a bleaching agent to remove the dye from the fabric, creating a soft and breathable print with minimal ink buildup.

Recycling and Reusing Screens

Properly managing and recycling screens is essential for reducing waste in the printing process. Screens can be reclaimed and reused multiple times by removing the emulsion and reclaiming the mesh. Consider implementing a screen recycling program to ensure screens are properly cleaned and reused whenever possible.

Responsible Ink and Chemical Disposal

Dispose of used plastisol inks and cleaning chemicals responsibly to minimize their impact on the environment. Follow local regulations regarding hazardous waste disposal and consider partnering with recycling programs that accept inks and chemicals. Avoid pouring inks or chemicals down drains or throwing them in regular trash bins.

Pros and Cons of Plastisol Printing

Like any printing technique, plastisol printing has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Understanding these can help you make an informed decision about whether plastisol printing is the right choice for your specific needs.

Pros of Plastisol Printing

  • Excellent color opacity: Plastisol inks offer vibrant and opaque colors, even on dark fabrics.
  • Durability: Plastisol prints are highly durable and can withstand repeated washings and wear without fading or cracking.
  • Versatility: Plastisol inks can be used on various fabric types, including cotton, polyester, and blends.
  • Easy to work with: Plastisol inks have a longer open time, allowing for easier setup and cleanup during the printing process.
  • Ability to print on dark fabrics: Plastisol inks can be used to print vibrant designs on dark-colored fabrics without the need for an additional white underbase.

Cons of Plastisol Printing

  • Environmental impact: Traditional plastisol inks contain PVC and phthalates, which can have negative environmental effects.
  • Less breathability: Plastisol prints can create a thicker ink layer, which may reduce breathability on garments.
  • Limited texture options: Plastisol inks do not offer as many texture options as some other printing methods, such as water-based or discharge inks.
  • More labor-intensive cleanup: Cleaning screens and equipment after plastisol printing requires more effort and specialized cleaning chemicals compared to some other printing methods.

Future Trends in Plastisol Printing

As technology continues to advance, the world of plastisol printing is not standing still. Several emerging trends and innovations are shaping the future of plastisol printing, offering exciting possibilities for the industry.

Environmentally-friendly Ink Formulations

Manufacturers are investing in research and development to create more eco-friendly alternatives to traditional plastisol inks. This includes the development of water-based and discharge inks that offer improved sustainability without compromising on color vibrancy or durability.

Advancements in Ink Additives

Ongoing research and development efforts are focused on improving ink additives that enhance the performance and versatility of plastisol inks. These additives can improve ink stretchability, enhance washability, and provide additional effects, such as glow-in-the-dark or reflective properties.

Digital Printing Integration

The integration of digital printing technologies with plastisol printing is a growing trend. Digital printing allows for high-resolution and detailed prints, making it suitable for intricate designs and small print runs. Combining digital printing with plastisol printing techniques offers the best of both worlds in terms of quality and versatility.

Automation and Robotics

The adoption of automation and robotics in the printing industry is expected to increase in the coming years. Automated systems can streamline the printing process, reduce human error, and increase production efficiency. From automated screen registration to robotic ink mixing and application, these advancements promise to revolutionize the plastisol printing industry.

In conclusion, plastisol printing continues to be a widely-used and versatile method for creating vibrant and durable prints on textiles and various other materials. By understanding the process, selecting the right equipment, and implementing proper care and maintenance practices, you can achieve high-quality plastisol prints consistently. As the industry evolves, it is important to stay informed about emerging trends and advancements that can further enhance the capabilities and sustainability of plastisol printing. Embrace the possibilities and continue to explore the creative potential of this enduring printing technique.

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