The Best Screen Printing Inks

Written by steven lafler
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Screen printing, also known as silk screening, is a graphic arts printing technology that is easy to learn and use. Simple screen printing kits are available from Speedball that can have you printing the same day (see Resources). This versatile technique can be used to print on many surfaces including fabric, paper, plastic, glass, metal and wood. Many screen printing inks are available. It is important to use the proper ink for the material you are printing on. Some inks are great for hobbyists while others are for professional use.

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Inks for Paper

Speedball and Versatex screen printing inks offer the hobbyist ease of use and cleanup for printing on paper and poster board. They clean up with water. Nazdar offers the 5500 series of flat poster screen inks, ideal for poster, art and point-of-purchase display printing. They may be used on coated paper with a slick finish or uncoated paper stock. Nazdar also offers the G3300 series of gloss poster inks. Nazdar inks are solvent-based, requiring a solvent for cleanup.

Plastisol for Shirt Printing

The best screen printing ink overall for T-shirts is plastisol, a plastic-based ink that cleans up with white spirit. Plastisol will not dry in screens during print operations, making it ideal for long runs in professional shops. It must cure at 149 degrees Celsius for 15 seconds to be wash-fast. Professional screen printers use spot or conveyor dryers to cure plastisol. Plastisol screen printing ink comes in many variations including transparent inks, opaque inks and process colour inks. Top brands include Union ink and QCM.

Water-Based Fabric Inks

For the hobbyist, the best results for printing on fabrics and T-shirts can be achieved using water-based screen printing ink. These inks clean up with water and have a soft hand, meaning that they do not feel stiff on the fabric after printing. They must be heat-set to be wash-fast with an iron on a high heat/cotton setting. The top brands for hobbyists are Speedball and Versatex. Professional screen printers use the Aerotex ink series from Union ink Company for water-based printing.

Other Materials

Nazdar manufactures an array of inks for printing on different materials. The 59000 Series Enamel Plus Gloss Screen Ink may be printed on hard plastics, glass, wood and metal. This ink is tough enough to be used on signs for the outdoors. This is a solvent-based ink, with Nazdar selling the solvent separately.

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