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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

Silicone inks are another appropriate non-PVC option and they’re aligned with the ecological demands of the market, though they are typically used on a narrow range of fabrics. Compression fabrics prone to dye sublimation fit very well with the technology since silicone inks can cure as low as 250 degrees. Cotton and brushed fabrics are more difficult to print because the ink coats the fibers. Silicone inks require a fixative or catalyst in order to cure, which gives them a shelf life and creates some waste. Silicones should be used when a specific application requires them. Stretch fabrics such as yoga pants come to mind, and they’re also suitable on performance wear made from technical synthetic fabrics. The elasticity, washability, and resistance to bleeding and cracking of silicone inks are superb, though they come with a hefty price tag.

Let’s Talk About Water
Many years ago, I was having a discussion with my friend Mark Gervais, director of screen print for Ningbo Shenzhou Knitting, about alternatives to PVC plastisol and he said something that I repeat often: “It’s H2O, stupid!” He may have added some expletives at the time, but yes – it’s all about water. It’s eco-friendly, has been around for a long time, and is definitely PVC free. Kind of a no-brainer, in hindsight.



Technological advancements have made water-based ink increasingly more attractive. A decade ago, we wouldn’t have expected water-based inks to perform as well as, or sometimes even better than, plastisol, but they’ve come a long way. Along with their perceived environmental benefits, the performance of water-based inks has improved tenfold.

When garment printing was in its infancy, the only available inks were water based. They were economical but they dried very quickly in the screen, had weak washfastness, and were prone to fading. They were also very transparent and suitable for printing only light-colored, 100-percent-cotton materials. These traditional, pigmented water-based inks are still used on all-over prints and deliver a soft hand on lights and whites.


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