The Definitive Guide to Picking Between Water-Based and Plastisol Inks

The Definitive Guide to Picking Between Water-Based and Plastisol Inks

Selecting the right ink for screen printing is essential to getting excellent outcomes. Water-based ink and plastisol are two common choices that frequently take the spotlight in discussions. It is difficult for printers and designers to choose between them because each has pros and cons of its own. We shall examine the features, uses, and effects on the environment of plastisol and water-based inks in detail in this article. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced screen printer, knowing the differences will enable you to choose the best option for your projects.

Water-Based Ink

Water-based ink has gained popularity in recent years due to its eco-friendly properties. Comprising water, pigments, and other additives, this type of ink is known for being less harmful to the environment compared to its plastisol counterpart. Water-based ink is also free from harmful chemicals such as PVC and phthalates, making it a safer option for both the printer and the end-user.

Advantages of Water-Based Ink

As water is the main ingredient in water-based ink, it has less of an environmental impact than traditional inks. Water-based ink prints feel softer on the hand than plastisol DTG printing, which makes them perfect for clothing when comfort is a top concern. Water-based inks can provide bright, detailed prints that are appropriate for complex patterns and multicolored applications. Water-based prints work well with lightweight, breathable textiles because they let the cloth breathe.

Challenges of Water-Based Ink

Water-based ink generally has a longer drying time compared to plastisol, which can impact production speed. Some fabrics may not be as receptive to water-based inks, requiring pre-treatment or specialized coatings.

Plastisol Ink

Plastisol ink has long been the standard in screen printing. Composed of PVC particles and a plasticizer, this ink creates a durable and opaque print on various surfaces. While it may not be as environmentally friendly as water-based ink, plastisol has its own set of advantages that make it a preferred choice for many printers.

Advantages of Plastisol Ink

Because of its durability and permanence, Plastisol prints are perfect for clothing that is washed frequently. Flexibility in printing applications is offered by a broad spectrum of fabrics that Plastisol ink can be used on, such as cotton, polyester, and mixtures. Because they are more forgiving and don’t dry out on the screen during printing, Plastisol inks are simpler to use, especially for newcomers. Excellent color visibility is provided by Plastisol ink, which produces vibrant prints on both bright and dark materials.

Challenges of Plastisol Ink

Plastisol inks contain PVC and phthalates, contributing to environmental concerns. Proper disposal and recycling are crucial to mitigate this impact. Plastisol prints can have a heavier hand feel compared to water-based prints, which may affect the comfort of the garment.

Choosing the Right Ink for Your Project

The choice between water-based and plastisol ink ultimately depends on the specific requirements of your project. Consider the following factors to make an informed decision. If you primarily work with lightweight and breathable fabrics, water-based ink may be the better choice. For versatility across various fabric types, plastisol ink is a reliable option. If sustainability is a top priority, water-based ink is the more eco-friendly option. However, plastisol ink can still be used responsibly through proper waste management and recycling practices. For intricate designs and a softer feel, water-based ink is the preferred choice. If durability and a more substantial print feel are essential, plastisol ink is the way to go. NW Custom Apparel, If you’re aiming for faster production times, plastisol ink’s quick curing process may be advantageous. Water-based ink requires more time to air-dry or may need additional curing equipment.


In the ongoing debate between water-based and plastisol inks, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. The ideal choice depends on your specific needs, preferences, and the nature of your printing projects. As the industry evolves, manufacturers are developing hybrid inks that attempt to combine the best features of both water-based and plastisol inks, offering a compromise between sustainability, durability, and print quality. In conclusion, the screen printing world offers a diverse range of inks, each with its strengths and weaknesses. By weighing the pros and cons of water-based and plastisol inks, you can make an educated decision that aligns with your values and project requirements. As the demand for sustainable practices grows, water-based inks continue to gain traction, challenging the dominance of plastisol and inspiring a new era of innovation in the screen printing industry.

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Antonio Massey

Production Team: Folder

Antonio Massey recently joined NWCA in June of 2022. His role on the Production Team has greatly improved our processes and productivity. Antonio is always willing to lift heavy boxes or help his co-workers during busy times. In his free time, he enjoys playing with his dog and mastering video games.


Alicia Wada

Shipping Clerk

Alicia Wada is passionate about helping her co-workers at Northwest Custom Apparel in any way that she can. She works in our Shipping and Logistics department. Alicia, who goes by Ali, has a bachelor’s degree in Applied Mathematics. She lived in Japan for ten years and recently brought her family to America in 2019. She is interested in learning crafts and textile art from around the world.


Erik Mickelson


Erik Mickelson’s position as Manager is more than a job, it’s a passion. It’s always fun and exciting because he enjoys marketing, computers, and coming up with innovative ideas to help NWCA grow. He majored in accounting and finance at Washington State University, graduating in 1996, and returned to school to obtain his Master of Business from WGU, graduating in 2016. Erik continually strives to advance his education through podcasts, audiobooks, and industry tradeshows. He is married to a remarkable and caring wife named Wendy, a Registered Nurse, with whom he shares his many hobbies and a love for the outdoors.



Ruth Nhoung

Production Manager

Ruth Nhoung is our Production Manager and Northwest Custom Apparel is lucky to have her. Thanks to her vast knowledge of machine embroidery and dedication to creating a comfortable and supportive work environment, the production plant runs smoothly and customers are pleased with our work. She is a loving mother and grandmother and enjoys spending quality time with her siblings. She says, “I love everything about Northwest Custom Apparel: the people, the atmosphere, the work, and the customers. I love what I do and I embrace all of NWCA’s core values”.


Steve Deland

Art Director

Steve Deland has been our amazing Artist since 2017. He loves working at Northwest Custom Apparel because he appreciates the goal-oriented, progressive-thinking management style. He is most passionate about his art, which includes scroll saw woodwork, and his five grandchildren.



Taylar Hanson


Taylar Hanson is a highly acclaimed Saleswoman at Northwest Custom Apparel. She has a BA in Apparel, Merchandising, Design, and Textiles from Washington State University. “Go Cougs!” The best part of Taylar’s job is getting to work with longtime customers who trust us to do the best work and take care of their needs. She is passionate about appreciating nature, traveling, and spending time with friends and family.


Nika Lao


Nika Lao is very knowledgeable in how the business is ran because she began as an Embroidery Machine Operator and has worked hard to become the excellent and personable saleswoman she is today. She enjoys the stress-free environment and the many chances to connect with her co-workers over potlucks, BBQs, and bowling parties. Nika is a proud sister of two highly successful brothers and can boast mastering three languages herself: Khmer, Thai, and English. She is an avid camper, enjoys going to farmer markets, and loves cooking.


Bradley Wright


Bradley Wright has been a vital team member of NWCA since 2017. As our accountant and knower-of-all-things, Bradley is proud to work closely with his wonderful colleagues. He studied at the University of Washington. These days he dedicates his free time to his new house.


Dominic Nguyen

DTG Operator

Dominic Nguyen recently joined our Direct-To-Garment department. He says he loves the family work environment at Northwest Custom Apparel. In his free time, Dom likes to listen to music, hangout with friends, and play video games. He comes from a very big family which can be very chaotic at times, but is always exciting.


Sothea Tann

Production Team: Trimmer

Sothea Tann recently joined the Production Team in 2022. She finds Northwest Custom Apparel to be a good working environment with helpful and friendly staff. In her free time, Sothea spends quality time with her family and, overall, focuses on a peaceful and happy lifestyle.


Brian Beardsley

DTG Supervisor

Brian Beardsley has been with Northwest Custom Apparel since 2018. He is our DTG Supervisor. Brian loves that he gets to work with high-tech machines in a fun atmosphere. He has a bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design. He said, “I always wanted to create visually interesting assets in a variety of mediums”. In his free time, he enjoys building and painting models, playing video games, designing, and playing his guitar.


UT Tri Tran

Embroidery Machine Operator

UT Tri Tran loves Northwest Custom Apparel so much that, although she has already retired after a long career in machine embroidery operations, she is happy to return part time. She says, “I love the family style work environment and how everyone shares food, laughter, and fun on a regular basis.” In her free time she is dedicated to living a healthy and peaceful lifestyle with her friends and family.



Embroidery Machine Operator

BunsereytheavyHoeu, who goes by Theavy, won our Operator of the Year in 2021. She takes on many roles in the production team. She says, “These are not my co-workers, these are my family! I cherish all the memories we make together”. When she goes home to be with her family, she makes the most of her time with them by holding family get-togethers and even karaoke competitions.


Sreynai Meang

Embroidery Machine Operator

SreynaiMeang is a hard-working Machine Operator. She is most passionate about helping people. Sreynai, who goes by Nai, likes to exercise in her free time and talk with her family in Cambodia.


Kanha Chhorn

Embroidery Machine Operator

Kanha Chhorn has been an Embroidery Operator with Northwest Custom Apparel since 2018. She is delightful and always makes everyone smile and laugh. Kanha takes on additional tasks that allow us to exceed our customers’ expectations. In her free time, she can be found at her local temple or spending quality time with her family and friends.


Savy Som

Embroidery Machine Operator

SavySom is one of our Machine Operators who is passionate about embroidery and sewing. She enjoys working at NWCA because of its flexibility. She has two teenage sons and loves spending time with her family on the weekends.



Embroidery Machine Operator

SorphornSorm has been a Machine Operator since 2011. One of her four sisters works here as well. Her other relatives are in Cambodia. In her free time, Sorphorn studies English, listens to music, and enjoys exercising.


Jim Mickelson


Jim Mickelson, after a successful career with a major oil company, founded Northwest Embroidery in 1977. This was the first commercial embroidery in the Pacific Northwest. Over the years, Jim has become the guru of embroidery never refusing to answer a question or offer advice to his fellow embroiders. Jim and his wife Leeanna raised four wonderful children who went on to successful business careers.

Northwest Custom Apparel
Northwest Custom Apparel
163 Google reviews
Steve McMains
Steve McMains
Great place to do business with.
Hector Aponte
Hector Aponte
Splendid service by this team. I needed a job done in one day and without hesitation I was helped. Besides the no notice, need now accommodation, the overall quality of the job of superb.
anthony mckenna
anthony mckenna
Amazing service and quality of work.
katie latimer
katie latimer
This small business is excellent! Great turnaround times and pricing. We've completely switched over to them for our uniform needs. The embroidery looks amazing and very professional. We have gotten jackets, vests, safety vests, hats and uniform polo shirts with them. The screen prints are very resistant to numerous washes. They have been super flexible and patient with us and going through getting PO set up with our company.
Dave Lambing
Dave Lambing
I am the Quartermaster for the Tacoma Fire Buff Battalion. We use Northwest Custom Apparel to produce our uniform articles. Their work is always perfect and done is record time. I can't recommend them highly enough.
Kyle Keehnel
Kyle Keehnel
Our company has been going to NWCA for years and have always encountered friendly service and quality products.
Smokey B3ar21
Smokey B3ar21
Super friendly staff , wonderful products for our company and couldn’t be happier with them
Chuck Schilling
Chuck Schilling
Working with NWCA was like hitting the EASY button! Ten days from our initial meeting to completed shirts and we couldn't be more pleased.
Bret Lauritzen
Bret Lauritzen
Prompt service
Cassandra Johnson
Cassandra Johnson
Words can't describe how much I appreciate the outstanding customer service I received from Northwest Custom Apparel! I placed an order for two coats that I needed in one week for a Valentines' day gift and Nika made it happen! She was proactive, quickly responsive, and understanding of me needing to see different looks of our company logo. She was incredibly sweet, accommodating, and made every effort to make my order the way I wanted it. A part of me felt bad asking to see the different looks, but she reassured me it was not a problem and was on top of her game! Every staff member I interacted with when I came to their shop was very pleasant, welcoming, and attentive as well. All around great work! Will absolutely use them again and highly recommend!!! Thank you Northwest Custom Apparel!!!