Water-based Screen Printing

Screen printing with water-based ink is really fun and can provide a cool vintage, soft-hand feel. Opposed to plastisol, which layers the ink on top of the fabric, this super soft ink essentially changes the dye of the fabric. Here’s how water-based ink works: A pigment is mixed into a water base. After the water-based ink has been printed on the apparel, it penetrates the fabric, alters the color, and then the water evaporates while it goes through the dryer. Because of its opaque nature, this is ink works best on light-colored apparel. A discharge ink, on the other hand, is a version of water-based ink that’s used for dark shirts, which essentially removes and replaces the fabric’s color. Both, water-based and discharge inks, work best on garments that are primarily made of cotton.

water-based ink on a shirt

While water-based ink has some appealing advantages, it doesn’t work for everything or everyone. Here are some pros and cons:


  • Water-based ink is just so soft. Since it doesn’t lay on the fabric and only alters the fabric color, it virtually has no feel (after the first wash)

  • If you’re specifically going for a faded or vintage-look, search no more. Water-based ink fades to look like your favorite old tee.

  • Another great thing about water-based inks is that it’s generally environmentally friendly--it doesn’t contain harsh chemicals and other ozone-depleting chemicals that harm the environment, nor does it require chemicals to clean it up.

  • Since it doesn’t sit on the fabric, it allows for more breathability. The caveat is that water-based ink works best on cotton, which is a fabric that doesn’t breathe well.


  • Water-based ink will fade a bit.

  • Most water-based ink doesn’t work well on synthetic fabrics, like polyester. It can work on some blends (primarily those with a higher percentage of cotton), but the outcome may not always be what is expected.

  • Generally, water-based printing takes more time to dry and is more difficult to cure compared to plastisol.

  • Water-based ink has a short shelf-life, so it is not an economical option for hobbyists and smaller screen printing shops.

Is Water-based Screen Printing Right For Your Project?

Water-based screen printing can be very fun and provide an exceptional end result. But because there are some significant pros and cons, you should evaluate whether or not this method is best for your project. If you are unsure, let us know. Rivet Press has years of experience printing with water-based ink and can help you assess the best technique for your custom apparel printing needs.

Find Out if Water-based Ink is Best for Your Custom Apparel