For the longest time, plastisol inks were considered the standard in the screen printing industry and they still remain widely used today. They’re made using PVC and contain no solvent, making them almost solid at room temperature and requiring extreme heat of up to 330°F before they finally turn into a fluid liquid that can be used for printing. Once applied, the ink must cool before forming a bond with the textile underneath. If you pick up a t-shirt and feel that the design is rubbery or plastic-like, it’s probably a plastisol ink print.

However, some designs no longer use plastisol inks. With the growing use of discharge inks, screen printers are seeing a greater deal of versatility when it comes to deciding how to approach a specific project. Discharge inks are water based and the water acts as the solvent, producing a fluid ink that can be applied to a variety of textiles.

Discharge ink is actually a specific type of water based ink that has a discharge agent in the mixture to help remove existing dye from the fabric, replacing it with the dye inside the ink. In contrast to plastisol inks that sit atop the surface of a textile, discharge inks soak into the fabric. This results in a soft print that cannot be felt when you run your fingers across the garment and that’s essential for many projects, especially fabrics that require a natural drape without the added stiffness of a plastisol design.

Discharge Inks vs. Standard Plastisol Inks

Once you understand how discharge screen printing differs from standard plastisol screen printing, you may begin automatically leaning towards discharge inks for your projects. However, plastisol inks still serve an important purpose in the screen printing industry. To better understand which is better for your specific project, you need to compare the pros and cons.

Advantages of Plastisol Inks

  • Simple Handling: The easy management of Plastisol inks make them very user-friendly. You can leave it for an extended period of time without worrying about it clogging your mesh and it’s also ready-to-use as soon as you open the container.
  • Durable, Bright Colors: With the thick layer that the ink forms on top of the fabric, you can apply any shade of color without worrying about the color of the fabric itself. The colors usually won’t fade either and will prove quite durable, although the design can crack and flake with time.
  • Works on Darks and Lights: Since Plastisol inks sit on top of the fabric, you will not have to worry about how the ink will interact with the garment’s original color or dyes. There should be no interference, making for superior flexibility when it comes to the colors in your designs.
  • Inexpensive: There’s a reason why Plastisol inks remain some of the most popular in the industry. Not only are they inexpensive to purchase, but they’re meant to last forever. They won’t go bad no matter how long the container is left open.

Advantages of Discharge Inks

  • Soft Designs: Discharge inks should be your first choice if you need a “soft hand” design, meaning that you don’t want to feel the design when you run your hand over the garment. Since discharge ink fuses into the fabric, you’ll never feel stiffness, rigidity, or a different texture.
  • No Cracking or Peeling: Since discharge inks soak into the fabric itself, dying the fibers of the garment, you never have to worry about the design cracking apart or peeling and flaking off, no matter how many times the garment is worn, washed, or ironed. Discharge inks are also used to create the perfect vintage look.
  • No PVC: Many companies prefer discharge inks since they do not contain PVC, which is widely recognized as the most toxic plastic there is. Many consumers actively avoid it due to its hazardous production processes, unsafe disposal, and the potential dangers of exposure.

Discharge inks should be your first choice if you need a “soft hand” design

Selecting the Right Ink for Your Project

Now that you understand the specific advantages of each type of ink, the final step in your decision process will depend on the details of your specific project. Here’s how discharge and plastisol inks stack up next to each other for different applications.

Choosing an Ink for Bright Colors

Discharge inks can appear very bright on lighter fabrics, although you won’t get the same brightness as plastisol inks simply because discharge inks sink into the fibers of the material. If you’re printing on dark colors and you need super bright colors, plastisol inks may be worth considering. However, if you are going for a vintage look, discharge inks are almost always your best bet. They give designs a nice, natural, “worn in” look.

Choosing an Ink for Durability 

When it comes to a project where long-term durability and overall color performance is key, you may want to consider plastisol simply because these designs do not tend to fade over time. Even when exposed to sunlight and water, the PVC in plastisol means it will not fade, although it can crack and peel, especially if the design will be flexed or folded often.

In comparison, discharge inks may fade over an extended period of time and lots of washing could lead to a reduction in the overall brightness in the color. However, they will never crack or peel, which can make them the superior choice for projects where folding and flexing is a regular occurrence.

Additionally, if high heat exposure is going to be the norm, you should rethink plastisol inks since high temperature activities, including ironing, can cause the design to come off the fabric. Ironing can melt plastisol designs or cause the colors to turn back into a fluid and smear or melt over the fabric, ruining the project. Discharge inks are not affected by heat.

Choosing an Ink for Comfort

If comfort is a major consideration for your project, you should definitely stray away from plastisol inks. While easy to use, plastisol inks definitely produce some of the stiffest screen prints in the industry. They can even make the inside part of t-shirts and other fabrics feel scratchy on the skin, which will not be appreciated by the end wearer.

In contrast, discharge inks maintain the seamless, comfortable feel that people yearn for when looking for their next favorite t-shirt or garment. The flexibility and movement of the fabric will also be completely preserved with discharge inks.

Choosing an Ink for Fabric

When it comes down to it, your choice of ink will really depend on the fabric you’re using for your project. For example, discharge inks work best on cotton fabrics. However, there are certain colors you should avoid, including royal blue, deep green, and maroon. Also keep in mind that discharge inks don’t work well on low quality or re-dyed fabrics.

Of course, if you’re working with a jersey knit, which is a stretchy cotton blend fabric, discharge inks will prove superior. If you use plastisol inks, you’ll find that the design splits and cracks as the fabric stretches and moves. Yet, plastisol inks still have their place. While they also work best on cotton, you can take special measures to use plastisol inks on polyester blends and other synthetics.

Try Discharge Inks for Yourself

If you think the soft feel and longevity of discharge inks could be the right fit for your next project, why not give them a go? See for yourself how discharge inks could work with your designs. Reach out to Scrappy Apparel for a free quote today.