5 Top Tips for Screen Printing with Water Based Inks

by Wendy Croxford

in Permaset Blog

16 May 2018  | 0 Comments

Some screen printers steer clear of water based inks because of the perception that they’re tricky to master, but these inks can actually be a joy to use and the results really speak for themselves. Done right, your prints will be softer to the touch, more detailed, more environmentally friendly and more durable than with plastisol inks. Remember these top five tips and you’ll practically be ensuring a perfect print with Permaset water based inks.

1. Choose your screen mesh to suit.

Water based inks have a lower viscosity (that is, they are generally thinner) than plastisol inks so that they soak effectively into your fabric of choice, so you will want to choose a finer mesh than you might otherwise. Most screen printers use a mesh size of between 150 and 160 with water based inks. If you choose to use an emulsion, take care to find one that is suited to water based inks – otherwise you run the risk of the emulsion melting and ruining your print run.

Screen printing at Kick and Screen in Melbourne using Permset water-based inks

2. Consider using an underbase, or try Permaset Supercover inks
With the right preparation, water based inks can produce amazing vivid colour. If you’re printing with bright or neon colours on darker fabrics, it’s worth remembering that water-based inks can be less opaque than plastisol inks. You may either wish to apply an underbase of white such as Permaset’s First Down White, or alternatively you can choose Permaset’s Supercover inks. Permaset Supercover inks are an opaque range of water-based inks used for printing onto dark fabrics which DON”T require an underbase.  You can print Supercover inks straight onto black t-shirts and they deliver a brilliant print with just two strokes.

Checkout this excellent Youtube video showing printing with Permaset Supercover inks

Black t-shirt printed with Permaset SUPERCOVER inks without using an under-base. Design and print is by Wasted Heroes streetwear of Liverpool, UK.

3. Flood the screen if you’re walking away.
The water content in water based inks make it relatively quick to dry, which can lead to clogs in the screen if left out in the open for too long. You can avoid this happening with a quick ink flood of the screen while you’re setting up or organising the next colour. It’s also worth remembering to keep ink tub lids securely fastened so your precious inks won’t dry up in between printing sessions.

Checkout this Permaset video on ‘How to flood a screen when screen printing’ on Youtube

4. Remember to hydrate
A simple spray bottle with water will be your best friend when printing with water based ink. This can be used to keep the screen slightly damp before and in between prints. If you do notice that the ink has started to dry on the screen, simply run a test print to remove as much ink as possible, wipe down both sides of the screen with a damp rag and wipe again with a dry rag.

Justbee Design

Working with water based inks like @justbee_design is easy once you’ve mastered a few simple techniques.

5. Complete with heat.

The long-lasting finishes of water based inks requires a heat setting treatment, so fire up that drying tunnel or heat press. If you’re printing at home, you can tumble dry, use a hand iron, dry it in the sun for a few days or even bake the fabric at a low temperature to set the pigments. When you’re wearing the same shirt years later, you’ll be glad for this step in the process – and for your choice to use water based inks for screen printing.

Checkout this little YouTube video which shows you how to cure a print after screen printing, using a simple iron

Water-based inks can be used for intricate designs like this Poster print ‘The Pull of the River’ by @jamestreadsonstuff


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