WATER-BASED SCREEN PRINTING INK IS AN INK MADE WITH WATER RATHER THAN PLASTIC OR PVC.
THIS TYPE OF SCREEN PRINT INK CAN BE SPLIT INTO TWO MAIN INGREDIENTS, WATER AND PIGMENT.
Water based ink serves as a great alternative to plastisol ink in many circumstances. One of the most prominent features is that the base does not include plastic, which makes it a more eco-friendly option. The ink seeps into the garment and dyes the material rather than sitting on top of the fabric - it is absorbed into the fabric material. This creates a more consistent feel along with a more vintage look after a few washes. We tend to use water-based ink as much as possible because it is one of the most sustainable options for printing.
A lot of companies choose to go this route because it creates a print that customers, clients, employees, etc... will want to actually wear again and again (and that's easily the best way to get word out about your brand!). This type of ink allows the wearers skin to actually breathe through the design and has a natural, smooth flex and a soft hand feel, whereas plastisol can feel like there's plastic glued onto the t-shirt that doesn't bend or breathe.
One drawback over plastisol is that it won't lead to a vibrant print. The colors will still be accurate and matched, but they won't POP like you'd see on a traditional plastisol print, especially on darker garments where you can lay down a bright white underbase to enhance brightness.
Water-based inks on dark garments
All shirt fabric for any shirt you purchase starts out as white or off-white. The manufacturer dyes the t-shirt to whatever colors they offer, so even a black shirt is really just a white or off-white tee in disguise. As water-based inks don't sit on the surface, but rather embed into the fibers, they won't "hide" the dye of the shirt. This is very different than plastisol which layers on the surface and covers the dyes.
To account for this, we add a mixing agent to the water-based ink that is specifically for darker garments. This ink, called Water-based Discharge, removes the dye within the image area of the garment and re-dyes it the color of the ink.
DISCLAIMER: Because water-based ink is water-based instead of plastic-based, it tends to fade faster on some types of fabrics. This is the sacrifice of having the best hand feel versus a plastisol print with a higher durability. Above is an Allmade Eco shirt printed with a black water-based ink. The right side was printed and washed once, while the left side was washed and dried about 15 times at various spin cycles and temperatures. Washout does occur at a faster rate for water-based inks than plastisol.
Overall, water-base ink is still a great alternative to plastisol and has a better feel and a significantly smaller impact on the environment.
Click here to take a deeper dive into plastisol and water-based inks.