3 Most Common Custom Screen Printing Styles

Miracle Ballard
December 21, 2023
3 Most Common Custom Screen Printing Styles

3 Most Common Custom Screen Printing Styles

In the screen printing world, there’s an abundance of inks to use. Which ones are most commonly used and why? When it comes to creating high quality prints in the screen printing business, there are three inks that are the go-to choices for printing professionals to utilize. The most widely used is plastisol ink, offering vivid color and durable quality. Another prominent ink in the business is HSA water based: an opaque ink that is light but gives a similar look to plastisol. Opposing HSA, regular water based is a transparent ink that can be perfect for vintage style prints. Printers can create the best quality prints with these inks on whichever fabric their customer chooses when keeping in mind that the most important thing is proper technique.

1. Plastisol Ink

Mastering the correct method with plastisol ink is the key to achieving flawlessly finished prints. Since it is the standard in the screen printing business, it has undergone extensive refinement to be able to consistently provide incredible prints. This process involves operating with the correct squeegees and utilizing the correct meshes on screens, guaranteeing clients are given durable, smooth, and vibrant prints. Furthermore, plastisol ink streamlines the printing process, making it not only more accessible for seasoned professionals but also for beginners entering the craft. Despite its user-friendly nature, like any other medium, it has its limitations. Acknowledging these constraints is crucial for ensuring the best product. Once all of those principles have been grasped by the user, a world of endless possibilities opens up for creating the best quality print.

The prints achieved with plastisol ink stand out for their undeniable quality. The ink’s vibrant color, stemming from its opacity, produces results that are not only striking visually but also the brightest and shiniest among the other inks that are mentioned. Beyond aesthetics, plastisol offers a softness when executed with precision, a result of using the proper squeegees on the screen printing machine. When the correct squeegees and pressure are used, you ensure a smooth and even coating on the fabric and it eliminates any ridges and dips that could compromise the print. Adequate heat application further allows the print to stretch without breaking. During the curing process, a bond forms within the plastisol ink, providing durability and flexibility. All of these factors come into play to create a long lasting print. The vibrancy in color will ensure that the print doesn’t fade over time, the print will always be smooth, and that durability makes sure the print doesn’t crack or break off.

Another factor that distinguishes plastisol from other inks is its user-friendly nature. It is an easy ink to utilize and manage as it has a long shelf life because it doesn’t dry out. A good perk about it is once an ink has been used for a job, any leftover ink can be returned back to its original container to be reused for the next job. Since it is a versatile ink it is the perfect ink for most people to use from experts in the screen printing industry to newcomers starting out. In addition, plastisol is the ink that can offer extraordinary color matching to the Pantone book. This ability to precisely match Pantone colors not only fulfills but goes above and beyond the expectations of both clients and artists. 

With all these exceptional qualities of plastisol ink, there are some limitations to its use. It works wonderfully with 100% cotton garments, but when used with fabrics containing synthetic fibers, such as polyester or rayon, issues in the print may arise. One potential challenge is migration, where the inorganic materials in a shirt cure, releasing pigment into the ink and causing it to take on unwanted colors. To prevent migration, it is recommended to use a barrier—an additional layer of ink that helps preserve the colors in the printing process, preventing the dye in the fabric from affecting the ink.

Considering the points made, achieving skillful prints rides on mastering the application of plastisol ink. As the industry standard in screen printing, plastisol has undergone rigorous refinement to consistently deliver outstanding results. The use of precise tools, such as squeegees and meshes, ensures clients receive prints that are not only enduring but also exhibit a seamless vibrancy. Plastisol's user-friendly attributes, along with its capacity for exceptional color matching, pose it as an ideal choice for both newbies and pros. Still, it's imperative to recognize the ink's limitations, especially when dealing with synthetic fibers, where issues like migration may come about. Despite these considerations, the ink's versatility, durability, and accurate color reproduction continue to establish it as a dependable and favored option in the world of screen printing.

This example of a plastisol print showcases how it shines with smooth layers of ink. From this visual you can tell that the print has some durability to it with how it was layered onto the shirt.
This example photo of a plastisol print showcases the vibrancy that plastisol colors can achieve. The green and yellow colors stand out vividly due to the opacity of the ink.

2. Water Based Ink

Another favored option for ink in the business is water based ink. It is known for its transparent and less opaque nature, creating prints with a uniquely thin and flexible feel. If you are looking for a “vintage” style print, a regular water based is the way to go. Being a thin ink that doesn’t require an underbase layer, it enhances the breathability on the shirts it is printed on. Water based ink utilizes water as its solvent rather than plasticizers, which may seem like it contributes to a more sustainable printing process, however that’s a common misconception. Water based ink seamlessly blends with fabric to ensure both visual appeal and a soft, natural feel to the finished product, making it an optimal choice for those prioritizing aesthetics and comfort in their screen printing endeavors.

When it comes to producing high quality prints using water based inks, just like plastisol ink, it takes technique. To get a good, breathable and durable print using water based, the printer has to know when are good times to print with water based ink. Since it is composed of water, it can dry out quickly, so typically printing it in humid climates or in the mornings is best. The biggest difference between plastisol ink and water based ink is that water based soaks into the fabric, as opposed to being layered on top of the fabric. This produces a print that becomes one with the shirt and will be just as soft as the shirt itself. 

On the other hand, water based ink presents its own set of limitations. While it can print well on garments of any color, it prints great on light-colored fabrics. The vibrant colors in the ink stand out on lighter garments, whereas their impact may be diminished on darker fabrics. Therefore, it is advisable to opt for water based prints on lighter garments to maximize color vibrancy. Additionally, garments with mixed fabric contents can be printed with water based ink, however their colors might appear less vivid when compared to 100% cotton garments. Also, achieving precise Pantone color matching becomes more challenging with water based ink due to its limited color range. Keeping all these limitations in mind is essential when working with water based inks to ensure the production of high-quality prints.

This example shows how the fibers of the shirt can be seen through the yellow ink. This allows breathability and a soft feel to the print.
This example of a regular water based print shows how vibrant the color shows on lighter colored garments. It also showcases how the ink soaks into the allowing for a more moveable and softer print.

3. HSA Water Based

Branching from water based ink, there is HSA water based, or High Solids Acrylic. Like regular water based ink, the technique and process for HSA water based ink is similar. However, a significant difference lies in the thickness of HSA water based inks, resulting in a more opaque appearance comparable to plastisol inks. Unlike regular water based, HSA water based is typically run with an underbase, adding strength and durability to the print. This underbase ensures that the print not only retains its brightness but also provides a tactile sensation when felt. HSA water based is particularly favored for creating prints that are not only visually vibrant but also offer a distinctive, tangible quality.

Here is another example of HSA water based on a darker colored garment where it is opaque and the color is still there but it isn’t as vibrant as it would be on a lighter colored garment.
Here is an example of an HSA water based print where the ink is opaque but since it soaks into the fabric of the shirt you are still able to see the fibers of the shirt through the ink.

Reflecting all aspects, water based ink offers two excellent choices for screen printing. Regular water based is ideal for clients seeking a vintage or classic aesthetic, while HSA (High Solids Acrylics) water based is a thicker, opaque option comparable to working with plastisol ink—especially suitable for clients desiring a light and breathable feel. Notably, water based inks soak into the fabric, creating a seamless integration with the shirt and providing a soft feel for any prints. However, it's crucial to carefully consider the limitations of water based inks to ensure the production of high-quality prints. 

Printing with water based inks may involve a learning curve, but with a thorough understanding of its nuances, you're bound to achieve excellent prints in no time!


In the world of screen printing, plastisol ink is the standard. Known for its vibrant colors, durability, and user-friendly qualities. Despite its versatility, it has limitations, especially with synthetic fibers. Water based ink provides diverse options. Regular water based caters to vintage aesthetics, offering a thin and breathable alternative. HSA water based, light and opaque, is highly comparable to plastisol. Navigating water based inks demands precision, considering factors like timing and fabric content. While enhancing visual appeal and softness, it has limitations on darker fabrics and Pantone matching. Also with its subtle thickness and underbase application, it adds strength, durability, and distinctive tactile quality. Each ink type enriches screen printing with its advantages and considerations. In essence, the screen printing ink world offers diverse choices, each with unique values. From plastisol's reliability to the breathable appeal of water based inks, achieving exceptional prints requires mastery of technique, understanding limitations, and aligning with client preferences.

Contact Us today to find out what print and ink type would be the best for your project! Our customer service team is here to help.

Miracle Ballard
Last Updated:
December 21, 2023