The best Water Based Ink for Screen Printing
Water-based ink screen printing is rapidly increasing across the industry. While plastisol ink is cheap, easy to use, and readily available, water-based inks offer some real advantages to a business and its customers. Besides their eco-friendly properties, water-based inks unlock powerful printing capabilities with very appealing results. You only need to cure the ink properly, and you’re good to go.
- Speedball Black – Best Price Water Based ink
- Speedball Starter Set – Best Water Based Inks for Beginners
- Ecotex Snow White – Best Eco-Friendly Formula Water Based Ink
- Speedball White – The Best Easy Cleanup Water Based Ink
- Ecotex Standard Ink Kit Best Color Mixing System Water Based Ink
Who is this product for? Besides screen printing, water-based inks offer a wide range of applications, including art education and studios. Most brands are easy-to-use (you can rely on YouTube videos) with hassle-free workability properties.
Moreover, users can easily clean water-based ink with soap and water. Doesn’t that sound great if you’re working on paints in your basement art studio?
However, you’ll only have a great experience if you buy a suitable ink. Remember, you can choose to purchase water-based inks in sets or individual colors. Also, you would want to use the best emulsion for all-around screen printing if you want high-quality, consistent production.
This article reviews five top-ranking water-based inks for home and commercial screen printing applications. We also included a buying guide that gives more in-depth information about water-based inks. This guide will also help you with the selection process.
TOP Rated Water Based Screen Print Inks – Reviews
Image Product Rated
Speedball Fabric Screen Printing Ink
Speedball Opaque Fabric Ink Starter Set
Ecotex Snow White Water Based Ink
Speedball Fabric Screen Printing Ink
Ecotex Water Based Standard Ink Kit
The Best Price Water Based ink
Speedball Water Based ink Review
Speedball is a reputable brand famous for manufacturing screen printing ink for paper and textile applications. All water-based inks from this manufacturer are pretty forthcoming in quality and high-performance. This ink is non-flammable and non-toxic; you can easily clean your working area with soap and water. Besides, the 8-ounce packaging jar is relatively economical to give back your money’s value.
Features and Benefits
You’re looking at a versatile ink ideal for various applications, including fabric, paper, and cardboard. You can apply it to a wide range of materials, including linen, cotton, rayon, polyester, and synthetic blends. You’ll experience the best results if you apply this ink on dark fabric, especially if you’re after vibrancy and opacity. It also gives good results on light-colored cloth.
The best part? This water-based ink is permanent on fabric once correctly heat set. Moreover, it guarantees excellent workability properties, whether you are a beginner or an experienced user. You can also buy this black water-based ink for classroom and studio applications. Students will find it safe and easy to use. Remember, you only require soap and water for cleaning.
High Performance, Low Price
Generally, this black ink from Speedball is a go-to option if you want to create bold, vivid details without breaking the bank. Whether your business specializes in screen printing or art education, this top-performance water-based ink gives superior coverage to enhance client satisfaction. On a scale, this product ranks as the best money value.
- Non-flammable formula.
- Easy soap and water cleanup.
- Versatile applications.
- Other products in the line exhibit different performance.
The Best Water Based Inks for Beginners
Speedball water-based ink KIT Review
If you’re starting your screen printing or art education business, you want a water-based ink set that provides smooth workability without compromising the budget. This ink set from Speedball comes in 25 rich colors that are permanent once correctly heat set. The colors include innovative blends such as Night Glo, opaque, fluorescent, and process colors.
This set contains six 4-ounce jars of raspberry, silver, pearly white, black-pearl, blue topaz, and citrine inks, ready for use in fabric screen printing. However, you can also paint the inks directly on the material surface, especially in studio and art education applications. Also, you don’t need any solvents when painting with a brush.
Features and Benefits
Unlike most products, this set gives you a great variety of inks for use in multiple applications. Besides, the inks offer excellent opacity without sacrificing time-consuming workability. Hence, it doesn’t matter whether you apply the inks on light or dark-colored fabric; the results will be great.
This water-based ink is safe for beginners, especially children in an art studio or laboratory. Besides the AP seal on each color on the set, this product guarantees a quick soap and water cleanup. Generally, it is a go-to product if you’re after shimmering colors. It leaves stunning and iridescent effects on various fabrics, including cotton, rayon, linen, polyester, and other synthetic blends.
- Six color set.
- Ideal for light or dark-colored fabric applications.
- Easy soap and water cleanup.
- Some customers complain about broken seals/ containers.
- The silver ink may dry after a few applications.
The Best Eco-Friendly Formula Water Based Ink
Ecotex white water-based ink Review
If you’re looking for a stand-alone white water-based ink, you might want to consider this product from Screen Print Direct ™ brand. You’ll likely have a good experience if you’re a first-timer because it comes ready from the container and doesn’t require discharging. Besides being bright and vivid, Snow White produces a soft hand on fabric. Moreover, you can also apply it on high mesh counts, either separately or with other inks, to create multiple effects.
Features and Benefits
The average consumers prefer associating themselves with green businesses to reverse climate change. This water-bases ink features an eco-friendly formula, free of PVC. Besides, it originates in the USA, making it a go-to option if you’re after quality consistency. For better results, the manufacturer recommends using Snow White with a water-resistant emulsion such as WR-Blue emulsions.
Snow White has a low viscosity, guaranteeing you opaque colors with a soft hand on fabric. If applied correctly, it penetrates the fabric (soft, breathable garment) to create great details. Your customers will likely experience 100% satisfaction, thanks to bright and crisp printings.
Color Matching Information
Kindly note that not all colors will discharge well, except for red, blue, and purple. In that case, your color matching applications may not be exact. Also, before going into production, you can do the wash and stretch test to ensure the cure and printing are correct. If this taste fails, you would want to increase the cure efficiency.
The manufacturer recommends using Snow White on natural fibers since 100% cotton material gives the best results.
- Bright, crisp, and opaque color.
- Eco-friendly formula.
- Made in the USA.
- Some colors don’t discharge well.
- Not ideal for synthetic fibers.
The Best Easy Cleanup Water Based Ink
Speedball white water-based ink Review
Are you a beginner printmaker? Finding the correct ink that guarantees excellent workability properties can be pretty daunting, especially if you have a slim budget. Well, not anymore. This white, water-based ink from Speedball comes in an economical 32-ounce bottle.
The formula is non-flammable and doesn’t include any harsh solvents or smells that can trigger allergic reactions. Most importantly, you can easily clean this product with soap and water after working without using any bleaching chemicals.
This white water-based ink prints vibrantly on fabrics, cardboard, and paper. Thus, it is versatile for wide applications beyond screen printing. You can use it in your art studio or art education classroom. This ink allows creating bold and vivid colors for business applications, thanks to its greater coverage and smoother workability. You can use it on a great selection of fabrics, including cotton, polyester, rayon, linen, and other synthetic blends.
What else guarantees quality results in this product? This ink produces a super-soft hand on all applicable fabrics and is permanent once correctly cured. Besides, it comes with an AP seal to guarantee safety.
- Smooth workability and great coverage.
- Higher performance for a low price.
- Made in the USA.
- No user manual.
- Other colors may exhibit different performance.
The Best Color Mixing System Water Based Ink
Ecotex Standard Ink Kit Review
Lastly, you can also settle for this high-quality CMS- Color Mixing System from Screen Print Direct™ brand. You’re looking at a go-to business product that allows you to create any color you want on the Pantone system using only 14 colors.
The best part? The kit includes all 14 colors with user-guide information. Thus, you’ll likely have a good experience, whether you’re a beginner or an experienced printmaker.
Features and Benefits
This water-based kit comes in six primary colors: yellow, green, jet black, process blue, rubine, and snow white. The ink is ready to use and is exceptionally gentle on garments. You can use this product as a discharge ink on various surfaces such as fabric, wood, and even poster paper. Moreover, the low-viscosity ink kit has high opacity, giving you bold and vibrant colors on press.
As noted, this ink kit is ideal for water-based printing, especially on light color garments. Thus, you can use it directly from the bottle or add a discharge powder for discharge printing applications. However, you’ll need to mix thoroughly to dissolve all the chunks or grains before discharge printing applications. The discharge powder lasts for about an hour after adding it.
Which Emulsion Can You Use?
The manufacturer recommends a high-quality, water-resistant emulsion such as DC-Pink or WR-Blue. Remember, both these options require mixing diazo. Also, it will help if you degrease the screen before coating it with the emulsion. In that case, Ecotex All Purpose Chemistry Kit can prove tougher on stains.
- Ready to use ink kit.
- A soft hand on garments.
- Low viscosity ink kit (ideal for press).
- The activator has a horrid smell.
- Relatively expensive.
Water-Based Ink for Screen Printing Buyer Guide
What is Water-Based Ink?
As the name suggests, water-based inks for screen printing utilize water as the primary solvent. However, different brands may contain several co-solvents, sometimes petroleum-based. In that case, the manufacturer will label the product “flammable.” Even though co-solvents perform varying functions, the primary purpose is decreasing the heat time to cure the ink film. You can use water-based inks on fabrics, cardboards, and even wood.
Types of Water-Based Ink
Water-based inks come in different types, each with a unique set of techniques to get a particular job done. Thus your go-to option depends on aesthetic preferences and the needs of your customers or art students. The prevalent types include:
Tradition water-base inks use pigments or dyes in an emulsion with water as the primary solvent. In that case, use the best-selling emulsion for screen printing if you’re after consistent, high-quality results. The cure temperature for traditional water-based ink for screen printing is about 300-320°C. You’ll need to cure the ink for about 2-3 minutes, ideally in a forced-air dryer.
The dryer evaporates the water from the ink. Water-base ink is an incredibly soft hand in fabric and guarantees long-term, vibrant colors when correctly heat set. However, water-based inks are not very opaque and may dry in unsealed containers. Thus, amateur printmakers may not have a good workability experience with it. Even so, varying brands may exhibit different properties that enhance your overall experience.
Discharge ink, just like traditional water-based inks for screen printing, also uses pigments or dyes in an emulsion, with water as the primary solvent. You would want to use the best brand of emulsion for screen printing. However, most formulas in discharge ink for screen printing deactivate dyes when applied to natural fabrics. Thus, you’ll need to use an activator/ catalyst before application. Once you add the activator to the ink, it will have a 4-hour pot life. Again, you’ll need to cure discharge inks at a temperature of 300-320° C for 2-3 minutes, ideally in a forced-air dryer. The curation process evaporates water from the ink and enhances color vibrancy. Kindly note that discharge inks for screen printing won’t give you vibrant colors unless appropriately cured.
Discharge inks for screen printing are incredibly soft hands in 100% cotton fabric. They also reduce the screen counts on press. However, it is critical to note that discharge inks may react to the dye on the garment. Thus, they may not be ideal for non-100% cotton surfaces. Discharge inks for screen printing also have a 4-hour pot life once activated.
High Solids Acrylic
Lastly, some printmakers prefer high solids acrylic ink for screen printing, popularly known as high solids water-based inks. These inks feature a PVC alternative (acrylic polymer) or polyurethane with a high binder content. High solids acrylic inks for screen printing are more opaque than traditional water-based inks and print better on darker garments than the latter. High solids acrylic inks follow the same curation rules and properties as water-based inks, where heat retention still plays a significant role. How do you know that high solid inks are ready for application after you cure? Typically, these inks exhibit a rubbery feel when adequately cured.
The main advantages of high solid acrylic inks include high opacity and soft hand in fabrics. They print in the same quality on a variety of materials. If you’re experiencing a difficult time with the ink drying on screens, you can add additives to enhance pot life or alter the cure temperature and heat retention time.
The Advantages of Using Water-Based Ink for Screen Printing
While plastisol ink is readily available at a relatively affordable price, why do screen printers spend a lot of time and energy learning how to use and apply water-based inks? What are some of the advantages that set these inks apart? They include:
You can make a soft print using any ink for screen printing, depending on your skills and experience. Even so, water-based inks are the best when it comes to creating an impression that is nearly as soft as the garment itself. That is why the average consumer prefers water-based inks to anything else.
Generally, water-based inks are eco-friendly, and they contain fewer toxins, even though some may constitute petroleum products. Some users may argue that petroleum ingredients are not environment-friendly. However, most experts view water-based inks as eco-friendly because they require less carbon print to manufacture. Moreover, water-based inks produce less waste that goes to the drain compared to other traditional inks used for screen printing.
If you have an old t-shirt printed before the arrival of water-based inks, you may notice that the ink fades, crinkles, or even chips after a few washes. Water-based inks will save your customers from going through such an experience. As their name suggests, water-based inks embed permanent pigments on garments after evaporating the solvent (water). If you cure the ink adequately, these pigments become a permanent part of the garment.
Do you have an old t-shirt with a relatively large plastisol ink print on it? If yes, you understand that it can be pretty uncomfortable to wear that t-shirt during summer because plastisol inks are unbreathable. Well, that is not the case with water-based inks. A high-quality water-based ink embeds the pigment within the garment’s fiber, allowing air to pass through. No matter how large the print is, your garment will feel comfortable throughout all seasons.
Lastly, an innovative printmaker would go for water-based inks because they allow more incredible details than traditional plastisol. Water-based inks are generally thin, making them ideal for extremely high mesh counts application. Thus, it is easier and quicker to create photorealistic results or microscopic details with water-based inks. Most importantly, water-based inks won’t sacrifice color for quality.
Factors to Consider When Buying Water-Based Inks for Screen Printing
Even with the expert recommendations, choosing the correct water-based inks for your screen printing business can be a pretty daunting experience, especially if it’s your first time. You would want an ink with qualities that fit your business model and the needs of your customers. Most importantly, you would want brands that guarantee user-friendly workability properties. In that case, have the following in mind when choosing the best water-based ink for screen printing:
The Curing and Drying Requirements
The main printing processes that affect the quality of your final print are curing and drying. The requirements of curing and drying a particular water-based ink determine the machine you’ll use. In most cases, it will be a forced-air dryer. But what is the essence of curing? Curing forms a thermochemical bond between the base and the pigment. However, curing and drying water-based inks for screen printing takes longer than other options such as plastisol and dry inks. Therefore, you would want a brand that guarantees pretty manageable curing and drying requirements to decrease energy consumption. Thus, go for ink that requires about 2-3 minutes of drying time at relatively high temperatures of not more than 200° C
Shelf Life or Pot Life Considerations
Shelf life refers to the duration which a water-based ink can last on shelf storage in its original sealed container. On the other hand, pot life refers to the usable period of a water-based ink when mixed or activated. You would want to choose a brand that lasts for up two years on your shelf before breaking the seal. Water-based inks with a relatively prolonged shelf life are a go-to option if you order your supplies in bulk. As for pot life, you can go for ink that lasts for about eight hours or a day. Remember, breaking the seal when you’re not ready can make some of the ingredients evaporate.
When considering the shelf life and pot life of a particular water-based ink, you would also want to consider the ink’s dwell time. Dwell time refers to the duration in which the ink can stay in the screen mesh during action printing before it dries or clogs the screen mesh. Unfortunately, the dwell time for water-based inks is just a few minutes before the ink dries. If you’re not keen, it can block the screen mesh, impeding production. So, what’s the solution? You would want to use evaporation-retarding chemicals such as wetting sprays when printing.
Hand Feel and Artwork
A great hand feel and artwork are the particular tributes that influence printmakers to choose water-based inks for screen printing instead of other options. But do all water-based inks for screen printing guarantee an excellent hand feel and artwork? The answer is no. It depends on the brand quality and how you master the art of screen printing, especially during cure. Moreover, the results may not be similar for all fabrics. For instance, you wouldn’t want to use water-based inks to screen printing large print blocks on synthetic materials such as athletic garments. This is because water solvent doesn’t adhere properly to synthetic fabrics
Cost Per Print
Generally, water-based inks for screen printing attract the highest cost per print than other options. This is because each pot or jar of water-based ink contains about 50% solid pigments, with the rest being solvents (mostly water) or surfactants. Moreover, the additional demands for curing the ink can be pretty expensive, especially if you do it on a small scale. So, how do you mitigate the high cost per print to end up with a relatively affordable process? It will only help if you save in terms of the initial cost. Watch out for brands that come in relatively inexpensive price tags. You would also want to associate your business with suppliers who guarantee complimentary after-sale services such as free shipping or delivery. That way, you’ll cut the general costs of acquiring a product.
The Pros and Cons of Each Brand
Lastly, you would consider the pros and cons of each brand before settling on the best option. Generally, all water-based inks are PVC-free and give a very soft hand feel on print. However, if you choose the wrong brand, it can block your screen, causing production stoppages. Some brands may also emit excess VOCs. So, how do you know that a particular water-based ink is reliable? Not all manufacturers will highlight the cons as part of the product’s description or advertisement. In that case, it will help if you go through other customer reviews found on the manufacturer or authorized vending sites. Your fellow customers will point out what they like or don’t about a specific brand. Treat most positive reviews as direct recommendations.
Wrapping It Up
Water-based inks are a go-to option if you want to give your customers the softest and long-lasting custom fabrics. However, besides the workability properties of water-based inks, the screen-printing technique also adds value to the final detail to impress customers. Hence, it will help if you master the art from the word go. You would want to use the best screen printing screen emulsion for water based inks, especially as a coating after degreasing the ink. For image prints, the best photo emulsion for screen printing will help get the job done. All the products featuring on this buying guide are pretty forthcoming in quality and performance consistencies. However, each brand is unique. You’ll need to consider your aesthetic preferences and your customers’ needs before finding what works best for you.
How to Mix Water Based Ink?