There are a variety of screen printing ink options to consider. Below are some details on the differences, nuances and advantages of each of these ink options. We’ll work on getting some photos up here so you can compare visually, but it really is impossible to differentiate between the feel of the different screen printing ink options.
Water-based Screen Print
Water-based screen printing is done with eco-friendly water-based inks for a natural, uncoated print where the ink is literally pressed into the shirt fibers. See our site for more info about water-based screen printing. Use uncoated pantone spot colors when choosing your water-based screen printing ink colors.
Advantages: The softest possible print + best for the environment. This can also save an ink color vs. option 3 as no underbase is used. Good color on almost all 100% cotton and high cotton blends.
Disadvantages: This option provides the least ink color accuracy on non-natural fabrics and has trouble achieving high color saturation such as bright colors on non-natural fabrics & with particular ink dyes.
Nuances: Water-based screen printing inks are the most Environmentally-friendly print option available and the only way to keep the organic nature of organic shirts.
Vintage Screen print
Vintage screen printing is done with conventional (aka plastisol) coated inks to achieve a slight sheen. These inks sit on top of the garment, but by printing them the old-fashioned way we are depositing only a single layer of ink. Use coated pantone spot colors when choosing your water-based screen printing ink colors.
Advantages: Fairly soft print and can also save an ink color vs. option 3 as no underbase is used when printing on dark garments
Disadvantages: Lacks eco-friendly + soft ink qualities of water-based ink and lacks the ink color saturation and coverage of Conventional + underbase printing.
Nuances: Vintage screen printing with conventional inks is also referred to a single printing. This is the way all white t-shirts are printed as there is no regular need to use underbase prints when printing on white or very light colored garments.
Conventional Screen print
Conventional screen printing is done by creating 2 ink layers of white Underbase (UB) + color overprints, usually achieving a visible ink sheen. This is the way most professional printing companies print all light ink colors on dark garments, using an underbase print of white with an over print of the visible ink color, creating a double layer of inks. Use coated pantone spot colors when choosing your water-based screen printing ink colors.
Advantages: Best color accuracy and brightest ink color on all non-natural fabrics and most versatile
Disadvantages: Double layer of plastic-based inks makes for heavier print “hand” on soft fabrics. Additionally the additional underbase print requires an additional screen + cost vs. both above options. Because of the additional ink layers the print accuracy and line quality detail can be compromised.
Nuances: Conventional screen printing of 2 layers of ink is what provides the thick, bullet-proof nature of screen printing inks. When printing conventional inks on fabrics that aren’t very smooth (ie triblend fleece sweatshirts), the double printed inks will enhance the roughness of the texture in the inks. Additionally, plastisol inks don’t breath, thus the thicker the inks, the more likely you are to have a matching sweat stain under your shirt.
The above screen printing ink options are primarily useful when screen printing on dark garments and working with non-natural fibers, such as polyester