What You Should Know About Water Based Screen Printing

Emma Hewitt
January 25, 2024
What You Should Know About Water Based Screen Printing

Water based screen printing is a popular technique in the world of customized apparel, offering distinct outcomes compared to other ink types. If you're exploring water based screen printing for your next project, there's a lot to keep in mind. We'll guide you through the essentials of the use of water based ink so you can gain a more thorough understanding of this printing process and determine if it might be the right fit for your design.

What Is Water Based Screen Printing?

Water based screen printing utilizes water based inks and is widely used in the textile printing industry to produce several different effects. With this method of printing, you can achieve prints that are not only vibrant but also have a soft and breathable feel, or you can give your print a vintage or worn look. We’re strong believers that no one ink type is better than another, but rather the type of ink you choose should work in tandem with the design you’re printing. 

Key Advantages of Water Based Screen Printing:

  • Soft and Breathable Prints: Water based prints have a soft-hand feel, providing a comfortable experience for the wearer. The ink penetrates the fabric, allowing it to breathe and maintaining the natural texture of the garment.
  • Vibrant Colors: Water based inks can achieve vibrant and detailed prints, comparable to plastisol inks. They are available in a wide range of colors, providing flexibility for diverse design options.
  • Suitable for Light and Dark Garments: Water based screen printing is versatile and works well on both light and dark-colored fabrics. This versatility allows for a broad spectrum of design possibilities.

How Does Water Based Screen Printing Work?

Similar to discharge screen printing, water based screen printing involves a multi-step process:

  • Design Preparation: Digital separation of the design into color layers, preparing it for the stencil creation.
  • Screen Preparation: Coating a mesh screen with light-sensitive emulsion to create a stencil.
  • Printing: Applying water based ink to the fabric through the screen, allowing the ink to be absorbed by the garment fibers.
  • Curing: Drying the printed fabric to set the water based ink, ensuring durability and washability.
  • Final Inspection: Thoroughly inspecting each item for quality before shipping to the customer.

What Type of Garments Should I Use for Water Based Printing?

Water based inks are quite versatile when it comes to the type of garments you can use. No need to worry about 100% cotton – synthetic fabrics are compatible with this ink style. However, you will need to keep in mind that there is a possibility of dye migration with water based inks, which means that the color of the garment may alter the appearance of the ink due to the transfer of the fabric dye into the print. 

When using water based inks on dark colored garments, you’ll also need to know if your preference is to have a worn or vintage feel as this technique works best on darker garments with lighter ink colors. 

What Type of Designs Work Best for Water Based Screen Printing?

Water based inks are best used for designs that don’t have strict color matching as consistency across garments can vary due to the ink being absorbed into the fabric rather than settling on top. 

It’s not recommended to choose water based printing for photorealistic printing or designs that require halftone dots for several reasons. First, the appearance will vary as the print goes through the run due to some variance in how water based ink will react with each individual garment and how the ink behaves over time. Additionally, water based ink will begin to dry and close in some smaller details in the design as the print is running on press. This can be fixed, but due to the long process of removing, cleaning, and then realigning the screen, it is less than ideal. Finally, the cost of water based inks is higher, and with a higher color count comes a higher total cost.

Is Water Based Screen Printing More Eco-Friendly Than Other Print Styles?

Contrary to most of the content out there, water based ink is actually no more eco-friendly than other ink styles. Due to the chemicals needed for cleanup and the inevitable amount of waste created, the environmental impact of water based inks is no less than plastisol ink. 


Water based screen printing is an excellent option for some types of prints as long as you understand the results you will get. Water based ink provides a smooth, lightweight print that can be either vibrant or vintage depending on the garment and the print method. No ink style is more eco-friendly than another, so choosing water based ink should rely on your desired outcome for your print rather than environmental impact.

If you’re interested in a water based screen print or have any other questions, at Extreme Screen Prints, we love to educate! Feel free to contact us, or take a look at our online quoter tool for pricing on water based printing. 

Emma Hewitt
Last Updated:
January 25, 2024