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Last Updated on: 29th June 2022, 07:49 am

What is the major difference between water-based inks and plastisol inks? And it is two things that concern people most in deciding on water-based or plastisol inks.

The first thing is, plastisol inks never dry until they are heat cured at 330 degrees Fahrenheit for up to a minute or longer, depending on how much ink you print.

The more plastisol ink you print, the more heat, and more time it will take to thoroughly cure the printed ink layer of top to bottom.

With plastisol ink, the heat cure is very critical, and it often requires more equipment than that of water-based inks.

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In contrast, water-based inks are heat-set. What we normally do with water-based inks is, we print them and we allow them to dry by evaporation and then we run them through some kind of dryer.

Or if you have a forced-air belt dryer or a forced-air flash cure, and we can cure water-based inks very efficiently with those types of units.

Difference Between Water-Based Ink Vs Plastisol:

The four important differences between plastisol inks and water-based inks are as follows:-

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01. Heat-setting Temperature:

Water-based inks are heat-set around 250-270 degrees Fahrenheit and that can vary specifically on the brand of water-based ink you are using.

So, make sure to check with the brand you buy the ink from to get the specification and technical information on how to use it.

The plastisol ink needs to be heat cured at around 330 degrees Fahrenheit with a little bit more equipment like belt dryers.

On the other hand, water-based inks are heat-set at lower temperatures maybe around 250 degrees and they can require less equipment as far as heat setting.

Because we can do it with an iron, a heat-press, standard infrared belt dryer, or a flash cure.

So, that’s the first major difference between plastisol ink and water-based ink. Frankly, because of that plastisol ink is much easier to learn and start because it does not dry on the screen and the press while you working.

Water-based inks can be a little more challenging to learn because they dry in the mash while you are working.

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02. Print Quality:

The second and most important factor may be the print itself.

Now, plastisol ink will have brighter and more durable colors. The print with plastisol inks last way longer.

The plastisol print will outlast the shirt printed upon. Even the shirt gets holes in it after using it for a long time before the plastisol print does. But the condition is if you print and cure it properly.

However, a plastisol print tends to be a little bit rubbery, heavy, and a little bit thicker than that of a water-based print.

And in the industry sometimes when we print on black garments where we do a white under-base and then a bunch of colors on the top. As a result, we get a patchy type print we often refer to as bulletproof or sweat patch.

So, there are ways to deal with that with plastisol ink and it’s all about the artwork.

Now again contrastingly, water-based inks tend to have a little bit dull colors, not durable and possibly fade over time after repeated washing.

Frankly speaking, the water-based inks just don’t have the brightness and durability that plastisol inks have.

But of course, there are exceptions with some of the new products that are out on the market today where you see some very bright water-based inks.

Important Points:

The most important point of the water-based ink print is that it is in the fabric and there’s not much ink printed. So in that respect, a lesser volume of ink printed also affects the longevity of the print.

What that means for water-based ink is that since we are printing a lot less volume of ink and water-based ink is very thin and tends to sit in the knit of the fabric rather than on top of it like plastisol inks, we get a very soft feeling print and that is known as a soft hand.

A lot of people today like water-based inks because when you touch them, it feels just like a t-shirt and it is very comfortable to wear and it breaths well, especially in the hot summertime.

So, water-based inks give you a softer feeling print whereas the plastisol inks give you a thicker, stiffer, more rubbery print.

03. Curing:

The most common question people ask is, can you cure water-based inks with a standard infrared belt dryer? The answer is: “yes” you can.

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But if you ask me the same question, I would tell you that you are going to need a forced air flash cure or a forced air belt dryer.

The reason is, for production and commercial work, we want to print the water-based ink and take it off and throw it into the belt dryer or iron right away.

The deal is with water-based prints is, it is a two-part process that makes them wash safe.

The first part of the process uses the solvents or petroleum solids that may be needed to evaporate out of the shirt leaving only the ink pigments and stain in the shirt.

And at that point, it is important that we have to heat set that pigment in the fabric applying heat of 250 degrees.

Ideally, we want a forced air flash cure or a forced air belt dryer. Because that allows us to take the shirt off the palette with the wet ink and solvents and throw it through the belt dryer.

And the forced air is going to evaporate the solvents and then the rest of the heat. And time in there is going to heat for setting pigments and make them wash safe.

Now, with plastisol inks, we have to heat and cure them at a much higher temperature. And possibly for a little bit longer time.

So, for plastisol inks we infrared belt dryers. But a forced air belt dryer can certainly cure plastisol and water-based inks.

So, the plastisol inks need more time, more heat to cure. But it can go through a standard infrared belt dryer or a forced air belt dryer.

How you can deal with water-based prints and a standard infrared belt dryer that does not have forced air?

So, usually, when somebody is printing water-based inks and they don’t have a forced-air dryer or a forced air flash cure. What they all do is simply one of these two things:-

  1. Either people run the shirts through the dryer twice. The first time evaporates the solvents and carriers and the second time, it sets the pigments.
  2. The second way you can do it is you can print all the shirts and take them off the press and lay them flat.
    Therefore, it lets the moisture of the ink evaporate. And then you can take the shirts and stack them because at that point they are dried to touch. But they are not just washing safe.
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At that point, you run them through the infrared belt dryer. And they will be heat set and thus wash safe.

04. Consistency or thickness:

Another difference between plastisol ink and water-based ink is the consistency or thickness.

Generally, plastisol inks are thicker and a lot more difficult to work with. So, we tend to use mesh counts as low as possible for the design.

There are plastisol inks that will be thinner like black inks, navy, or reds. Certain colors can be very thin in plastisol. But high opacity colors especially white, are going to be thick like toothpaste.

Contrastingly, again water-based inks are a lot thinner. And if you tip a can of water-based ink over it, most likely it will pour out. We use higher mesh counts with water-based inks.

For instance, if you are doing plastisol inks, we would prefer mesh counts between a range of 125 to 200. Depending upon what detail we want to have.

For water-based inks, you can start with a higher mesh count like 160 mesh count. It depends upon the detail in the artwork and what you are printing. If you using white ink in water-based you may use a lower mesh count.

Generally, plastisol inks tend to be thicker and a little bit harder to print. Especially when we print white ink on black shirts. Whereas water-based inks tend to be a little, thinner and a little bit harder to control on the screen.


To sum up, you can cure water-based inks with a standard infrared belt dryer. And in fact, there are a lot of people that do it every day. So, it is completely possible to use infrared belt dryers for the curing of both plastisol and water-based inks. You just have to work out your process. Do a couple of wash test and be sure you are happy with the results.

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