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Test the Waters

(April/May 2019) posted on Thu May 09, 2019

There’s never been a better time to hop aboard the water-based inks train.


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By Lon Winters

As you probably know, the garment decoration industry is moving away from PVC-based inks. Fashion and sports brands such as Nike and Adidas led the charge some years ago, mandating their suppliers move completely away from plastisol and PVC. The trend is intensifying and moving into the mainstream, leaving printers with some choices to make.

PVC plastisols became popular because they are so simple to print and cure. Frankly, they are way too easy to use. They have a wide curing window, don’t dry on press, are available ready for use (RFU), have extended screen life, print wet on wet, and work on almost any fabric or color. No wonder they dominated the market for decades – they were almost God’s gift to screen printers.



Although plastisols are still commonly used, the reality is they are no longer aligned with market expectations and regulatory trends, and haven’t been for some time. About a decade ago, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act led to the removal of phthalates from plastisols, altering the formulation, price point, and printability of the inks. Now, brands are demanding the removal of PVC – the very resin that makes up plastisol – altogether.

The Search for a Substitute
The biggest challenge for ink manufacturers has been the race to provide a non-PVC solution that acts like plastisol in production. A number of alternatives are available today.

One option is non-PVC plastisols, also known as acrysols. Basically, these inks replace the vinyl resin with acrylic polymers. They have a number of advantages beyond removing the PVC, including the feel on press and especially the ability to stay wet in the screen like a plastisol. But they are expensive and, for the most part, must be flashed after every color, which requires substantially more energy and larger equipment. There aren’t a lot of low-cure optionsand the ink film tends to be weaker than other ink systems, raising durability concerns. I see them as more of an evolution of plastisol technology than an innovation.


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