Plastisol, Water-Based, or Discharge Inks?

Comparing the most common inks

Plastisol, water-based, and discharge inks are the most popular options for screen printing, each with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Here’s a comparison of the pros and cons of each ink to help you decide which type is best for you, your brand, and the environment.

Plastisol Inks:


  • Vibrant and Opaque Prints: Plastisol inks provide excellent color opacity and vibrancy, particularly on dark-colored fabrics. They create bold and vibrant prints that stand out.
  • Ease of Use: Plastisol inks are generally easy to work with, especially for beginners. They have a thicker consistency, which makes them easier to control during the printing process. They do not dry on the screen, allowing for longer print runs without the need for frequent screen cleaning.
  • Good Shelf Life: Plastisol inks have a long shelf life. They do not dry out when stored properly, allowing for extended usability and reduced ink waste.
  • Durability: Plastisol inks offer high durability and wash fastness. They adhere well to fabrics and can withstand numerous washes without significant fading or deterioration.


  • Environmental Impact: Plastisol inks are not eco-friendly. They contain PVC (polyvinyl chloride) resin and other additives, which can have a negative environmental impact during production, use, and disposal. Plastisol inks also require high-temperature curing, releasing harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other pollutants into the air.
  • Thick Hand Feel: Plastisol prints tend to have a thicker and heavier hand feel compared to water-based prints. The ink sits on top of the fabric rather than penetrating the fibers, resulting in a raised and sometimes plastic-like texture.
  • Limited Breathability: The thick layer of plastisol ink can reduce the breathability of the fabric, especially when multiple layers are applied. This may affect the comfort of the printed garments, particularly in warm climates or during physical activities.

Water-Based Inks:


  • Eco-Friendly: Water-based inks are more environmentally friendly compared to plastisol inks. They contain fewer harmful chemicals and VOCs, resulting in lower emissions during printing. Water-based inks are non-toxic, have lower environmental impact, and can be cleaned up with water, eliminating the need for harsh solvents.
  • Soft Hand Feel: Water-based prints have a softer and smoother hand feel. The ink penetrates the fabric fibers, resulting in prints that are more comfortable to wear and have a less noticeable texture.
  • Vibrant Colors on Light Fabrics: Water-based inks offer excellent color saturation and vibrancy, particularly on light-colored or white fabrics. They can achieve a wide range of colors and shades, providing vivid prints.


  • Limited Opacity on Dark Fabrics: Water-based inks may have limited opacity on dark-colored fabrics. Achieving vibrant and opaque prints on dark fabrics may require multiple layers or pre-treatments, which can increase production time and complexity.
  • Longer Drying Time: Water-based inks generally require longer drying or curing times compared to plastisol inks. This can affect production speed and turnaround times.

Discharge Inks:


  • Soft Hand Feel: Discharge inks, when properly cured and post-treated, can provide a soft and smooth hand feel on printed fabrics. The original dye or pigment in the fabric is removed, leaving behind a print that feels almost like the fabric itself.
  • Vintage and Muted Appearance: Discharge inks are known for their ability to create a vintage or muted look on dark-colored fabrics. They can produce subtle and distressed effects that give prints a worn or aged appearance, which is desirable in certain styles and designs.
  • Color Variety: Discharge inks can be combined with pigments to create a range of colors on dark fabrics. By selecting different pigments, printers can achieve a wide variety of hues and shades, allowing for creative flexibility.
  • Reduced Ink Build-up: Unlike plastisol inks, discharge inks remove the original dye or pigment from the fabric rather than adding an additional layer of ink on top. This results in a print that is thinner and has less ink build-up, providing a lighter feel on the fabric.


  • Limited Application on Dark Fabrics: Discharge inks work best on dark-colored fabrics since they rely on removing the original dye or pigment to reveal the lighter color of the fabric. They may not be as effective on medium to light-colored fabrics, as the discharge effect may not be visible or desirable.
  • Environmental Concerns: Some discharge agents used in discharge inks can contain chemicals that can be harmful to the environment if not handled properly. It’s important to choose eco-friendly discharge inks that use environmentally friendly discharge agents or natural dye processes to minimize the environmental impact.
  • Color Consistency and Control: Achieving consistent color results with discharge inks can be challenging due to the variability of fabric dyes and the potential for unpredictable reactions. It can be difficult to precisely control and reproduce specific colors, resulting in slight variations from print to print.
  • Additional Steps and Expertise: Discharge printing typically requires additional steps compared to traditional printing with plastisol or water-based inks. The process involves pre-treating the fabric, printing with discharge ink, and post-treating to activate the discharge reaction. This can add complexity and require additional expertise, equipment, and setup time.
  • Wash Fastness and Durability: While discharge inks can provide good wash fastness and durability when properly cured and post-treated, their longevity may vary depending on the specific discharge ink, fabric, and curing process. Some discharge inks may require additional steps, such as steaming or washing, to enhance their wash fastness.

Need Help?

From designing to formatting, our creative department can help you end up with awesome goods you’ll love. Just let us know what you you’re looking for by starting an order, and a team member will get back to you with answers.