Point / Counterpoint

Waterbase is the Trend

By Dan Corcoran, Forward Printing

Most Apparel Screen printers in the States specialize or deal exclusively with plastisol inks. It makes sense since most of us learned using plastisol. Not only is it common and readily available, it’s also very forgiving when it comes to dealing with a variety of fabric types and colors.

At Forward Printing, we gravitated toward waterbased discharge printing once we saw the trends that were happening in fashion printing at the retail level. Our personal preference was for a soft breathable print, so we ventured into the waterbased printing world and did not turn back.

We acknowledge the disadvantages and challenges involved (irregular results based on fabric makeup and color, difficulty printing synthetic fabrics and reduced ink shelf life), but our desire to produce a soft and washfast prints for our clients kept us addicted to waterbased printing.  

We have found a number of advantages to using waterbased ink chemistries. Cleanup is a big one. We typically only use water and rags for cleanup, eliminating the need for any chemicals or solvents on-press and off. The lack of phthalates and heavy metals makes the inks compliant to most consumer safety regulations. We are able to create incredibly smooth blends and fades that we cannot do with plastisol inks due to the more rigid deposit of ink. Our customers love to have a soft print that feels like it is part of the fabric.  

Now with ink companies rolling out lines of opaque waterbased inks, we have the ability to print on fabric types that were difficult to deal with in the past, so that one day we may be able to avoid printing plastisol completely. Exciting possibilities for new techniques with extremely opaque and soft prints lie ahead.

Plastisol Pays the Bills

By Terry Keeven, St. Louis Print Co. (asi/700623)

We Don’t Do any waterbase or discharge ink. We used to, but we got away from it the last couple years. Our market typically doesn’t call for that. We’re selling to promotional product distributors for the most part, and their clients really just want their company logo on shirts, race day shirts, things like that. We don’t do any sort of retail printing that often calls for that waterbase, soft-hand stuff.

You have to use a different emulsion if you’re going to use waterbase ink or discharge. It gets a little confusing cause you have to keep two different emulsions on-hand, two different sets of screens. The inks work differently as well. They tend to dry out in your screens and clog up your mesh fairly quickly. Since all of our employees are so used to printing with plastisol ink, it was a learning curve. And since we weren’t doing it every day, it was hard to get the guys to remember certain things. For us, we found it was not profitable.

Some people do want that soft hand, and we do lose out on some business because of it. I’m okay with that because those orders are not profitable. We had to make sure we would make up for it, so we brought more business on.

We started in the beginning of 2007. We were such a young company, we weren’t sure who we were going to cater to – pretty much anybody who wanted screen printing. When we were trying to be everything to everybody, it was a disaster. Not only were we doing waterbase ink, we were doing commercial ink. Today, we got rid of everything we don’t do well, and we only focus on one thing, and that’s plastisol printing for the promotional product industry.