Water-based Ink vs. Plastisol Ink — Is One Better Than the Other?

Overview: This simple guide can help you determine if you should print with water-based ink or plastisol ink 

Not all inks are created equal, and this is noted in the differences between water-based inks and plastisol inks. It’s not just in the names, either, but the names are a great starting point to understanding the differences.

  • Water-based ink is made with water rather than plastic or PVC, hence the name water-based. This type of ink can be split into two main ingredients: water and pigment.

  • Plastisol ink is essentially liquid plastic, hence the plasti- part of the name. It’s easy to move at room temperature, and cures painlessly. Plastisol is the dominant ink of choice for a variety of reasons, but we’ll get into that soon.

There’s more to know, though, than simply what these inks are made from. Understanding how these inks are used and their end results could help you determine whether you should use water-based inks or plastisol inks for your print project.


Water-based inks are often considered to be a great alternative for those who don’t want to use plastisol ink for print projects.

Because the base is water, the ink seeps into the garment and dyes the material rather than sitting on top of the fabric like how plastisol does (though some prefer the latter).

Pros/cons of using water-based ink for print projects:

Though one con of water-based ink is that it tends to fade faster on some types of fabrics, a prominent feature of this type of ink is that the base does not include plastic, so the pros outweight the con:

  • It is a more eco-friendly/sustainable option.

  • Mixing agents could be added to water-based inks to print on darker garments.

  • It results in the best hand feel on fabric (it won’t be scratchy, rough, etc.).

  • That vintage look… ’nuff said.

>> READ MORE: Water-Based Prints – What is Water-Based Ink?

What water-based inks are typically used for:

While water-based inks are used for the standard t-shirt and apparel items, it can also be used for unique and high-capacity print projects such as: being an excellent ink system for high speed roll-to-roll yardage printing; towel printing.

>> READ MORE: The Advantages And Disadvantages Of Water-Based Ink


Because plastisol ink is thicker than water-based ink, it will raise up above the shirt a little more than water-based ink will, creating more dimension to the print. Plastisol ink is also more rigid compared to water-based ink. If you scrunch up a garment, plastisol ink will feel more stiff. 

This is, of course, due to the fact that it’s plastic. Compared to water that is fluid and soft, plastic is firm.

You can read more about the specifications of plastisol ink in this article.

Pros/cons of using plastisol ink for print projects:

While plastisol cleanup will be more of a hassle, there are some pros that surpass this one con:

  • User- and beginner-friendly (easy to use and cure/doesn’t evaporate); you can leave the ink on the screen overnight and continue printing the next morning with no issues.

  • Less aggressive than water-based ink, so your screen will hold up better if it wasn’t burned perfectly.

  • Well-praised for great color consistency and PANTONE accuracy

Icon printing has a short article that gives more insight into plastisol ink.

What plastisol inks are typically used for:

Remember that plastisol ink is the most popular ink used in the garment printing industry (for reasons stated above).

Lawson SP highlights that screen printing plastisol ink features great adhesion to the following: T-shirts, athletic jerseys, hoodies, heat transfers, and most textiles in general.


So, is water-based ink or plastisol ink better? Rush Order Tees summarized it pretty well: Like so many things in this industry, the answer is it depends.

“If you have light-colored cotton shirts and you’re printing a detailed design with muted colors, water-based is the way to go,” Rush Order Tees continues. “If you have dark-colored shirts and you’re printing a not-so-detailed design with bright colors, then Plastisol is your best bet. But even with such specific examples, it still depends.”

Something else to keep in mind. The hand (or the way a print feels, along with its weight) can be soft and light, rough and heavy, or somewhere in the middle.

This can help you determine what ink you would like to go for if you have a certain hand in mind.

You’re also welcome to speak with one of our Product Consultants if you just can’t seem to make a decision. We’re here to guide you through your print process… one drop of ink at a time.

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