The water-based inks market in North America is expanding at a rapid pace, growing 5.9% from 2023 to 2024 alone—according to insights from The Business Research Company.

But why is water-based screen printing taking off right now, and what should you expect from the future?

The waves of customer demands, technological advancements, and the looming potential of environmental regulations are a few of the reasons brands choose water-based ink for their garments.

Today, our experts at Scrappy Apparel are here to share why water-based inks are gaining popularity and how you can choose the best screen printing ink for your brand.

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What Is Water-Based Ink?

Water-based inks use water as their primary solvent to disperse pigment. Unlike plastisol, water-based ink deeply saturates the fabric, resulting in a softer print.

This is because the ink largely consists of soft resins and water, which evaporate throughout the curing process, enhancing the print’s texture and quality.

The main purpose of water-based ink is to replace plastic or polyvinyl chloride (PVC). As we mentioned, this change in our industry comes from the increasing demand for sustainable products.


What Are the Benefits of Water-Based Ink?

Before we uncover the reasons behind the growth of water-based ink, we want to share the benefits it offers to customers:

  • Eco-Friendly Choice – Water-based ink has no PVC or plastic components, making it the best choice for eco-friendly manufacturing.
  • Softer and More Wearable Feel – There are no excess deposits of ink onto the fabric, and the ink blends seamlessly with the fibers. This results in soft garments with beautiful prints that won’t crack or peel.
  • Free Flow of Air and Moisture – The ink enhances the fabric’s breathability by penetrating deeply into the material instead of forming a thick layer on the surface.
  • Durable Colors – The ink is durable, long-lasting, and resistant to peeling and cracking, even after many washes.
  • Accurate and Detailed Print – The ink creates images with exceptional detail, featuring sharper edges and more vivid colors. Your custom designs will look flawless.

The Long-Term Potential of Water-Based Ink

Want to make the best investment in the long run? 

The forecast for water-based ink usage in the apparel market is more than just a trend. It represents a significant shift in consumer preferences and industry standards.

Growth Expectations

Water-based printing ink studies indicate that the market for water-based printing inks is expected to expand at a rate of 4% through 2025, followed by a growth rate of 3.5% leading up to 2030. 

North America continues to be a major consumer of water-based inks, thanks to the region’s shift toward sustainable and eco-friendly printing practices.

Technological Advancements

There are different types of water-based inks, such as high solids, medium solids, and low solids.

We also want to share an advanced method for achieving superior quality outcomes: discharge ink.

Unlike typical water-based inks, discharge ink contains an activator that removes the original dye from the fabric, reverting it to its natural, undyed color.

This process allows for the addition of pigments to the ink, effectively re-dyeing the fabric in the desired color. The necessity of this technique stems from the challenge of printing on pre-dyed fabrics.

This innovative approach significantly enhances the quality and vibrancy of the final product.

Consumer Industry Shifts

The fashion industry is advancing towards a greener future.

According to Genomatica’s research, 55% of consumers are interested in purchasing sustainable clothing (and we expect this percentage to keep growing), but 48% of them don’t know where to find it.

You can lead the pack by promoting the eco-friendly attributes and superior quality of water-based inks to differentiate yourself in a crowded marketplace. This approach strengthens your brand’s market presence.

Regulatory Changes

As environmental regulations become more stringent, businesses are under increasing pressure to adopt sustainable practices. 

By transitioning to water-based screen printing, you can align yourself with evolving environmental standards, making your apparel more compliant and competitive.


water-based ink examples

Things to Know Before Using Water-Based Ink

Water-based ink isn’t a walk in the park. There is a vast difference between other inks and water-based inks. 

If you’re contemplating a shift from plastisol to water-based inks, it’s crucial to understand the challenges that lie ahead.

Here are a few things to know about water-based ink:

Longer Drying Time

A key disadvantage of water-based inks lies in their extended drying times when compared to plastisol inks. This extended drying period can decelerate the production workflow, potentially necessitating the use of supplementary equipment, such as forced-air dryers, to expedite the drying process.

Plastisol Wins in Vibrancy

Water-based inks tend to absorb into the fabric—resulting in slightly less vibrant colors compared to plastisol ink.

While not dull, the prints may not achieve the same brightness and may show some fabric texture through the design. Keep this in mind when you’re choosing the right ink for your project.

The Base Garment Color Matters

For optimal results with water-based screen printing, light-colored shirts are recommended because the ink’s visibility is more vibrant on a lighter base. 

However, if you prefer darker shirts, you can use discharge screen printing to achieve good results. While discharge printing offers a vintage look and high-quality finish, it tends to be more costly and requires specific inks. Read more pros and cons of discharge screen printing.

Learning Curve

Transitioning from plastisol to water-based inks requires adjustments in printing processes and techniques due to the distinct behavior between the inks. That’s why we don’t recommend tackling it solo. Leverage the expertise of a trusted manufacturing partner to help you produce your garments.

Higher Costs for the Best Technology

The downside to discharge screen printing is that it can be a bit more expensive, and it requires specific discharge ink. The cost is due to the special ingredients necessary for the discharge process, as well as the more complex techniques and equipment needed to apply these inks effectively.

However, by opting for the best technology available, you are positioning your brand at the forefront of sustainability and excellence.


Take Water-Based Screen Printing to the Next Level With Scrappy Apparel

At Scrappy Apparel, we understand the unique challenges that come with transitioning to water-based inks. That’s why we offer comprehensive support to our partners, ensuring a smooth and successful transition.

World-Class Screen Printing Quality

Our water-based screen printing inks are non-toxic, free from lead and heavy metals, and devoid of ozone-depleting chemicals (such as CFCs and HCFCs) or volatile solvents.

We’re Experts in Water-Based Screen Printing

Our team has printed hundreds of thousands of t-shirts using water-based ink.

Water-based screen printing demands a unique approach compared to conventional printing techniques, which is why we highly recommend you work with a trusted expert (like us!)

The entire process requires careful adjustments and modifications. Whether you choose our services or go with another provider, ensure they have a deep understanding of water-based screen printing.

We Offer End-to-End Apparel Supply Chain Management

Take control of your logistics with our comprehensive 3PL MGMT program and end-to-end supply chain management solutions.

By partnering with us, you gain access to expert coordination from production to delivery, ensuring efficiency and reducing your operational hassles.

Our solutions are designed to handle every aspect of your supply chain, from sourcing raw materials and manufacturing to warehousing, distribution, and customer fulfillment. 

We give you 100% transparency every step of the way, so you’ll always rest easy knowing what’s going on with your brand.

Don’t let supply chain complexities slow down your growth. Allow us to optimize your operations, cut costs, and improve your overall garment quality. 

That way, you can focus more on your core business and less on the logistics.

Choose Scrappy Apparel to Put Your Brand at the Forefront of Innovation and Excellence!

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