Plastisol Screen Printing – How to use plastisol for printing t-shirts
What is Plastisol Screen Printing?
Plastisol screen printing is commonly used as a textile ink for screen-printing and as a coating. They are the most commonly used inks for printing designs on to t-shirts and various apparel applications and are particularly useful for printing opaque graphics on dark fabrics. Plastisol inks are recommended for printing on colored fabric and can retain a bright image for many years with proper care. Most plastisols need to be heated to about 180 degrees celsius (350 Fahrenheit) for full curing. Plastisol printing tends to sit atop the threads instead of soaking into them, giving the print a raised, plasticized texture.
What is Plastisol Ink?
Even as screen-printing technology evolves, plastisol ink still tops the list of designer favorites. This go-to medium made the cut for the past four decades due to its versatility, ease of use and durability. Made from heated PVC and similar polymer particles, plastisol ink is non-water soluble and therefore does not absorb or bleed into fabric fibers. The ink clings onto the fabric particles, providing a sharp, 3-D quality ideal for crisp designs and bright vibrancy.
Plastisol ink’s natural qualities make it the ink of choice for most fabric screen printing techniques, especially when printing colors against dark or opaque fabrics. The ink’s durable quality can stand the test of time in the wash and over many wears, ideal for heavily used athletic uniforms or branded apparel with intricate designs.
Here we’ll explore the benefits of plastisol screen printing, how the industry has changed around this mainstay, and how it compares to other ink varieties.
Benefits of Plastisol Ink
Though plastisol inks have changed over the years—becoming more eco-friendly or adaptable to different types of fabrics—it’s basic makeup and application has remained the same. The advantages of its use go back to the time when it first hit the market. Plastisol ink essentially changed the industry and process of screen printing itself. It allowed designers to layer colors without the fear of air-drying or blending in the process.
Here are the top benefits of plastisol ink for plastisol printing:
Plastisol Ink Stands Out Against All Backgrounds
Before the invention of plastisol inks, designers had to stick with lighter fabrics, paper and ceramics to create the desired detail without ink fading or running together. The opaque quality of plastisol ink means it clings to fibers, as opposed to absorbing deeply into the material like water-based dyes. This allows artists to printing eye-catching and crisp designs atop dark fabrics without worrying about the colors bleeding or wearing out.
Designers Can Layer Colors with Plastisol Ink
Imagine the process through the eyes of a wholesale screen printer. A t-shirt can move through a machine at Thrive Screen Printing and receive up to 10 colors in under a minute. How does it pull this off without drying each layer first? Plastisol ink can even be layered on top of still-wet coats of ink without running or blending together. The inks do not dry until they are later cured through a heating process. This makes plastisol ink design quick, cost-effective, and looking sharp no matter how quick the manufacturing process.
Plastisol Ink Does Not Air Dry
Unlike traditional water-based inks, plastisol ink does not air dry in the mesh stencil used for screen printing. The ink is solvent-free, meaning it does not solidify when moisture evaporates. When this ink appeared in the industry, designers could suddenly create more copies of their work without having to clean or replace the stencil. In the long run, this was also safer for the machines themselves.
When a design is complete, plastisol ink dries with a quick-drying machine that warms up the ink to 320 degrees Fahrenheit.
Plastisol Ink Creates Minimal Waste
Since the ink does not lose its viscosity, the remaining ink that goes unused in one product can be returned to its container and used again in the future. This both saves the designer money and adds to the eco-friendly advantages of using the product. If the thickness of the ink causes the mesh to clog, the artist can easily dilute plastisol ink for easier use without losing its color’s vibrancy.
Plastisol Screen Printing Can Work on Many Different Materials
One of the top benefits of plastisol ink is its versatility in printing materials. The receiving material must have two main features:
- it must be able to withstand the heat of the curing process without melting
- and it must be permeable enough for the plastisol to adhere to the fibers.
Important note: Plastisol ink wraps itself around fibers, as opposed to soaking into them entirely, so the material must have space for the ink to do so. Materials like glass and metal, therefore, will not do the trick. This does mean, however, that the ink is easier to control. Once it’s placed on the fabric, it does not unexpectedly bleed into other fibers like traditional ink.
Plastisol Print Designs Are Easy to Modify
If you want to create a unique design by adding features like glitter or glow-in-the-dark ink, plastisol ink is a great choice. Plastisol ink mixes well with many other additives. For example, you can include additives in the mix that give your design a reflective look or have a higher sheen when printed.
As we mentioned earlier, the thick ink can cause issues for some mesh screens, but plastisol is easy to dilute with a curative reducer without affecting the vibrancy of the color.
Plastisol Ink is Safe To Use
As with all inks, it’s always crucial to follow the safety rules for its specific characteristics. On the whole, plastisol ink is very easy to use without risk of injury or a negative impact on the environment. Until the curing process, the ink remains at a low temperature.
The ink also does not typically contain dangerous organic compounds. At Thrive Screen Printing, we strive to choose green screen-printing practices in everything from our ink choice to office habits. Our inks do not include phthalate-based plasticizers or PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) resins.
Comparing Plastisol Inks v. Ink Alternatives
How do plastisol inks compare to ink alternatives? We offer five additional varieties of inks, each of which responds differently to its host material and provides a different style. When choosing the best ink for your screen-printing project, consider the options below that provide an alternative to the traditional plastisol ink.
Run your hand over your favorite sports jersey, and you’ll probably across the iconic texture that flock printing is known for. Unlike the plastic elements of plastisol, flock is made up of small fibers that we adhere to your clothing design for a soft, velvety layer. Flock combines microfibers made of cotton and synthetic blends to provide a soft-to-the-touch 3-D element in your design. Choosing flock over plastisol ink really comes down to your desired result. Also, flock does not need to wrap itself around fibers in the same manner as plastisol, meaning it can also be applied to a wide range of surfaces.
Similar to plastisol, foil printing is a great choice if you need a design to stand out against a dark material base. A reflective gold, silver, or colored foil layer sticks atop a special adhesive painted on a surface you wish to decorate. Unlike metallic ink printing, listed below, this process uses an attached foil as opposed to an ink.
This look has grown in popularity in the past decade in everything from textiles to framed artwork, as it gives your piece a look of glamour unlike traditional inks. Foil stamping does have a reputation for wearing over time, so it’s important to entrust your project with a professional wholesale screen printer that can create a more durable design.
Gel printing is best for designers looking to create a three-dimensional look on their apparel. Unlike plastisol ink, a high-density gel sits atop the fabric and maintains its solidity as opposed to lying flat on the fabric. This is ideal if you have a specific design that needs to pop out from the material, such as with numbers on a sports jersey. Like plastisol, gel printing will also last for years with its initial sheen and structure.
Metallic Ink Printing
Add a silver or gold finish to the top of your design for an eye-catching look. Metallic ink printing is ideal for unique events like school reunions, weddings, corporate parties or for the creation of an artistic design meant for resale through your own brand.
Unlike plastisol ink, this technique is ideal for apparel that does not require a great deal of washing and wear, as it can break down over time. However, certain designers seek that rustic, worn look to their designs on purpose to give their shirt a one-of-a-kind appearance as it ages.
High-density inks are made from a variety of materials, including plastisol and gel. The high density printing technique lays atop the other layers of ink, giving one element of your design the appearance that it is standing off the material. It may also imitate the feel of flock printing due to its three-dimensional quality.
This process requires a thicker ink with a denser application, and therefore also needs to be cured at a higher temperature for a longer period of time. For this reason, designers recommend sticking to cotton material that can stand the heat of the curing process.
Once you consider all your screen printing options, choose an ink and technique that can best make your vision come to life. Plastisol printing is an ideal choice for designs that require multiple colors and elements or those looking to capture that traditional screen-printing style.
At Thrive Screen Printing, we aim to guide each designer through their idea for all wholesale orders of 24 items or more, whether it’s plastisol printing or one of our many other screen printing options. Contact us today to start your order and determine is plastisol printing is right for you.