Water-Based Inks

Our choice to use water-based inks was first a choice to not use the PVC-based industry standard, plastisol ink. Less plastic and petrochemicals is good, because we fight wars for petroleum and plastic will be in our land fills long after we are gone.

After we made the choice to print water-based ink, we found out that there are many great things about water-based ink that have nothing to do with the environment. There is a simplicity that goes with being able to use water to clean up after work or thin the inks to proper consistency for printing. A rag, a bucket of water, and maybe a spray bottle is all that is needed. Screen-printers accustomed to plastisol might say wb inks are a hassle to use, because they can dry in the screen. For those who aren’t familiar with plastisol, it will never dry, unless it is cured at 320ºF. In my experience the fast drying nature keeps print runs moving at reasonable pace and has created cleaner and better shop practices, because when we pack up to go home everything is cleaned, no lingering uncured plastisol ink on spatulas, inks containers, or screens, which has been an unfortunate feature of a couple plastisol shops I’ve worked in over the years.

Plastisol sits on top of the garment and is basically a layer of plastic, which does not breathe and overtime the ink will crack and peel away. WB inks penetrate the fiber of the garment giving it a soft and breathable feeling. Additionally, if the ink is cured properly the print will stay vibrant for years, and when it does start to fade (as all things do) it will do so gradually and gracefully.

As the market shifts toward more sustainable alternatives to out-moded industry standards, there is an increase in research and development of  water-based inks that make less and less impact on the environment and work for a wider variety of applications. Water-based inks are not perfect, but they are a step away from using petrochemicals.

-No PVC-based inks-
Plastisol ink is a liquefied  polyvinyl chloride(PVC). PVC is by far the most ecologically devasting plastic. Chlorine-based chemicals are released throughout the PVC life cycle(production, application, and disposal). Chlorine combines with other chemicals to form many harmful byproducts such as dioxin, PCBs, hexachlorobenzene, and acidic gases. These toxins go to the air, the water and the food chain. PVC is produced from imported, non-renewable fossil fuels and lethal chlorine gas. The plasticizers used in plastisol ink, which make the PVC stretchy, are carcinogenic and harmful to the environment. They are first released into the environment during the printing and curing of the plastisol ink, they will continue to exhaust toxins when exposed to a radiant heat source such as a house hold dryer or sunlight, and when landfilled, or incinerated the PVC will eventually release all of its additives into the air, water, and earth.


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