There are several factors to take into consideration when choosing between Plastisol and Water-Based screen printing textile ink. Water-Based Inks are harder to work with in general - mainly because they dry so fast in the screen.
The differences between Plastisol Ink and Water-Based Screen Printing Textile Ink
However, this depends a lot on shop conditions, temperature and humidity and your method of printing. It can also depend on the color and material of the apparel/fabric, as well as the design. When it comes to screen-printing, some designs do better with plastisol and others with water base ink. And in large measure it also depends on what your customer demands.
The Pros of Water-Based Ink
Water-Based Ink is a mixture of water with dye that sinks into the fibers of the substrate creating good ink penetration, essentially becoming part of the fabric, desirable with towels and other high nap fabrics, while still having a soft hand and even coverage. Water-Based Ink is breathable and generally more comfortable to wear since it becomes a part of the fabric, as opposed to another layer that lays on top of the fabric, like most plastisol. Water base ink, some believe, is more environmentally-friendly since it does not contain PVC and can be cleaned-up with water as opposed to chemicals and solvents. Water base ink can also print over seams better because the ink seeps into the fabric. It is great for printing faded/vintage/distressed looking designs. Sometimes it can even layer over Plastisol Ink without problems.
The Cons of Water-Based
The cons of Water-Based Ink is that it can be more expensive and it doesn't work well (at all) on dark colored garments because of its lack of opacity and bleed-resistance. Also, layering causes problems because you can see through the colors. It is also harder to match Pantone Colors, and it is not as wash-fast as plastisol, the colors are duller/less crisp, and it can dry in the screen and clog them (increasing screen cost, labor and production time). Also, different screen emulsions are mandatory, and these are also harder to reclaim, as they are water-resistant.
The Pros of Plastisol Ink
Plastisol Ink is PVC-based. It is thicker and heavier than water-based ink. The colors are bright and crisp. They are good for printing on dark or light colored garments (t-shirts, sweatshirts, jackets, tote bags and even nylon jackets). Plastisol comes in different strengths - transparent to very opaque. The higher opacities are better for printing on dark garments. Plastisol Ink is the best choice for Pantone Color Matching and is resistant to fading. It layers easily over other colors without bleeding and is cheaper than many water-based inks. It doesn't require a running water source and won't clog the screen because it won't dry until it is cured at 350 degrees. Plastisols are also much easier to cure and cure must faster than water-based ink.
The Cons of Plastisol
The cons of Plastisol Ink is that since it is thermoplastic, it will re-melt if it comes in contact with anything hot enough, causing the ink to smear - however, this is almost an impossibility in real life. Plastisol also has a thicker hand, but soft-hand versions are available, like the WOW Series from Multi-Tech. Check out our full line of Textile-Printing Inks.