A Guide to Common Water-Based and Plastisol Screen Printing Ink Additives
You’ll often see screen printing ink advertised as ready to use out of the container, but there’s a wide variety of additives to help you handle different jobs.
There are different additives for printing with water-based and plastisol inks, and it’s important to know which inks are right for which jobs. Here is our guide to the most common water-based and plastisol screen printing ink additives to help you find the right additive for your screen printing job.
Additives for water-based inks
Water-based ink can present some unique screen printing challenges. Most water-based ink additives are made to overcome these challenges by changing the way the ink prints, cures or looks. Know that once you’ve used an additive with water-based ink, the ink won’t be able to be used again, so mix additives and ink in a separate bucket, and mix only what you need for the screen printing job at hand. Common water-based screen printing ink additives include:
One of the most common problems with water-based inks are that they dry quickly and can dry in the screens during printing. A retarder slows the drying of water-based inks to prevent drying in the screens. It can be especially valuable if you’re screen printing in an arid climate or if the humidity in your shop is especially low.
Of course, water-based ink is thin and it settles into the fibers of your substrates. If you’re looking to create a print that sits more on the surface of the garment, a thickener can help to slightly solidify your water-based ink to lessen the settling of the ink into the garment.
Binder booster is another additive that can help to boost the appearance of your water-based inks. Binder booster enhances the binding of the pigments in the ink to the fibers of your substrate, creating a brighter, more durable print.
Printing on stretch garment, like performance wear, can cause problems with the appearance and durability of screen prints. Stretch additive helps your water-based print to stretch with the garment so it won’t be damaged when the garment is worn.
Saturate additive helps your water-based ink sink into your substrates. It’s used mainly for fleeces and towels that will require more absorption for a saturated print.
Cross-linker additive makes water-based inks dry faster and at a lower temperature. This can be helpful both in decreasing cure times and in curing ink on fabrics that might be prone to scorching.
Additives for plastisol inks
The additive options for plastisol inks are even more varied, as there are additives meant to create special effects, additives to make the ink easier to work with and additives to alter the ink for certain substrates. Beware when mixing additives with plastisol inks: Many plastisol ink additives with lighten the ink color or change the curing parameters for the ink. Common additives for plastisol inks include:
Ink reducer lowers the viscosity of the ink. It can be used to reduce the thickness of the ink to make for easier printing or to increase the flow of ink through the screen. It also reduces the amount of ink that will cling to the bottom of the screen during printing and lowers the opacity of the ink.
The opposite of a reducer, adding thickener to your plastisol ink will increase the viscosity of the ink.
Low-cure additive reduces the temperature at which plastisol ink will cure. It’s used for printing on synthetic fabrics whose dyes will sublimate and transfer to the ink during the normal curing process.
Plastisol is known for creating a stiffer print because of the way the ink sits on top of the fabric. Soft-hand base was made to change that. With a soft-hand base, you can get a lighter, softer print with your usual plastisol inks.
For customers who don’t want a print with the usual high gloss of plastisol ink, a suede or dulling additive tames the shine of plastisol inks.
Just like water-based inks, plastisol inks printed on stretchy fabrics can have durability problems. They can crack and warp as the garment is worn or stretched. Stretch additive for plastisol ink allows the ink to move with the garment to prevent damage to the print.
As the name suggests, puff additives will cause your plastisol ink to puff up during the curing process to create a fun, textured effects. Puff additive will dramatically lighten the color of your plastisol ink, and they must be cured carefully, as the puff effect will deflate if overheated.
Metallic bases are clear bases two which glitter or metallic particles are added for special effects printing. The thicker texture of the additive allows for better suspension of the glitter or metallic particles.
If you’re printing CMYK or process, a halftone base can make it easier to print wet on wet. Halftone bases also help to combat some of the common problems with half-tone printing, such as dot smearing and dot gain by allowing the ink to more deeply penetrate the fabric of the substrate.
Using water-based or plastisol ink additives in your screen printing can help you to add effects, combat common printing problems when working with certain substrates or processes and help you achieve the look you desire. Just know that using additives can make quality control more difficult because you’re adding another variable to the screen printing process. Always read the manufacturer’s recommendations for the additive you’re using and perform a trial run before using an additive for a full press run.
Looking for some more ideas on getting your ink prepared for successful screen printing? Check out these blog posts: