You might think that you need water-based ink to get a soft hand, but plastisol can work too!

Many screen printers don’t want to make the switch away from plastisol inks. Plastisol inks are cheaper, store better and are easier to work with. They’re a necessity when it comes to color matching. Fortunately, screen printers don’t have to choose between using plastisol inks and producing prints with a soft feel, or “hand”. There are several tools and techniques that can be used to deliver garments with a soft hand that are free from the shiny, rubbery plastic look and feel that’s become largely passé in all but athletic printing.

Print with a finer mesh and a harder squeegee

Printing with a finer mesh and a harder squeegee means you’re laying down less ink on the garment. When you lay down less ink, you get a print with a softer hand. To achieve a softer hand, print with a 200- to 230-mesh count screen. This tactic might require thinning out your ink and increasing your squeegee speed. It’s more effective on lighter garments, as a dark substrate might show through a lighter ink deposit.

Add reducer or soft-hand product to your plastisol ink

One of the quickest ways to soften your plastisol ink is to use a product that’s meant to achieve the task. There are soft-hand additives that are manufacturer specifically for the job, or you can thin your ink out with a reducer. Be careful when adding reducers or additives to your inks – they can dilute the color of your ink and make it more difficult to color match.

Use a soft-hand base

Rather than mixing a soft-hand additive or reducer into your ink, you can get a softer plastisol print by using a soft-hand base. A soft-hand base is a special product that you tint to the desired color and use in place of a traditional plastisol print. Soft-hand bases require the addition of color concentrate to achieve the proper colors.

Incorporate halftones and negative space

If you have control over the artwork, you can control the hand of the finished product by incorporating halftones and negative space. Using your garment’s color as part of your artwork means your artwork will require less ink. Less ink means a softer feel.

Employ a mat-down screen

Some screen printers use a mat-down screen after flash curing their underbases to soften prints. Mat-down screens are coated with emulsion and cured to create solid screen. After flash curing the underbase, the mat-down screen is pressed against the print, and a squeegee, lubricated with grease, is run across the back of the screen. This “mats down” the ink and any fibers in the ink to soften the underbase.

Press prints on a heat press

If you have a heat press, you can use it to soften your plastisol prints. Place a printed garment face up on a transfer pallet and cover the print with a Teflon sheet. Press the garment with medium pressure at a temperature just above your ink’s curing temperature for 2 to 3 seconds.

Print with discharge plastisol ink

You know discharge printing provides a soft hand feel, but did you realize you can discharge print with plastisol ink? There are products that can be mixed with plastisol ink for discharge printing. When discharge printing with plastisol ink, you get the softer hand feel but have more control over the color of your prints. That means printing with discharge plastisol gives you the advantages of both plastisol and discharge printing.

In the end, you don’t have to abandon plastisol inks to achieve a softer hand. With a few special techniques, you can achieve a soft hand with plastisol inks that meet your customers’ needs.

For more helpful tips on screen printing with plastisol ink, check out these blog posts:

(TH)INK Before Your Screen Print

Screen Printing Prevention: Keep Plastisol Inks from Washing out of Your Garments