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The Benefits & Challenges Of Water Based Inks
If you go to any retail mall these days you will find a huge variety of screen printed garments with a diverse array of specialty effects. There are many different modern specialty printing techniques that are used a great deal but two factors in many popular screen printed logo wear lines is the soft feel of the print and oversized, all over prints. These particular trends are not too difficult to print even for beginners in screen printing textiles. If you are used to plastisol inks, then you just have to learn how to work with an entirely new kind of ink.
Water based inks are perfect for the soft hand feel that many consumers want today. It is true that you can print soft hand prints with plastisol inks, but that will tend to limit you to halftones or lighter colored garments. And there is only so soft a plastisol print can feel when there are considerable layers of multi colored ink built up. And the way plastisol ink tends to sit on top of the fabrics knit also makes it a challenge to print over seams, pockets, collars or stitching of any kind. It can produce unsightly build up on uneven surfaces. But water based inks are excellent for this purpose because of their tendency to be absorbed into the fabric.Water based inks come in many different brands and they can be manufactured for any number of printing applications. In actual production, water-based inks will present entirely different issues than when working with plastisol inks. These problems can be related to artwork, garments, ink brands or additives and your particular printing application. Before you begin to promote or sell water based screen printing, it is very important to make sure you fully understand the process. Working with water based inks is much more labor intensive because of the speed, coordination, tools, supplies and extra skills or experience required. If you can learn how to print water based inks properly and efficiently, they can often command higher prices than those of standard plastisol screen printing.
Although there are some opaque water based inks made to be printed on dark garments such as black, they tend to be thick and stiff due to the amount of ink required for good coverage. Standard water-based inks will not show up on dark garments. In order to keep that soft hand feel to the print on black shirts, discharge water based inks are required. This printing process also needs another totally separate set of skills, experiences, tools, supplies, choreography and speed. When printing discharge water-based inks, it is necessary to ad an activator to release the dye from the fabric of the shirt. If discharge printing is to work properly, you have to have the experience to know the right drying times and use the right brand of garments. Even the screens have to be created specifically for this type of printing. You would really have to make sure to have the correct set of tools and the right equipment for water based discharge printing. And even when you can manage to work all the details out to a science, color matching can still be a difficult problem to solve.
Water based printing will demand a different set of screens and even your art can be designed accordingly. Artwork creation, especially for halftones, will be a whole new animal due to the way the ink is absorbed into the garment fabric. Obviously this in turn requires particular screens and mesh counts. Making very small and detailed artwork with tiny stencil openings can promote ink drying on press. Therefore artwork for water based work is done specifically for it. Distressed and textured prints or loose, hand sketched art, blends well with any irregularities in printing due to ink flow issues. Just as it is with standard plastisol screen printing, your artwork can make or break you.
Remember to use an emulsion that is designed for water based inks and solvents. A special additive can be used with some emulsions to protect the stencil from water based discharge inks. You can reclaim any screens used for water based printing the usual way but make sure to clean the screen of any ink immediately after use. If you do not, the water based ink can clog the mesh permanently. Also keep in mind these inks are much thinner than plastisol inks and will not need as much squeegee pressure when printing.
And one last note: if you plan on doing any large volume commercial printing with water based inks, you should seriously consider a decent size belt dryer. The larger oven chamber will facilitate the curing process and ensure consistency throughout your print run. Just because water based inks are said to "air dry" they most often need to be heat set to properly cure in commercial applications.