The Black Arts Studio specializes in water based and water based discharge printing, but we do also occasionally print with phthalate free plastisol ink as well.  This page will explain the differences and will outline some of the printing techniques we offer.  Mouse-over the images for a description and click on them for an enlarged view.


Water Based Ink

Water based ink leaves a super soft print on the shirt.  Once the shirt has been washed once or twice you will hardly be able to feel the print at all.  The inks are very transparent and therefore work best on light color garments.  If printing water based inks on medium-dark color garments the shirt color will influence the ink color a great deal.  This can look pretty cool for some designs, and just won't work for others.  Light shirts are the way to go with this ink for more consistent results.

Pictures coming soon.


Clear Water Based Discharge

This is a clear version of the water based ink above, but it has had a discharge activating agent mixed into it.  This discharge agent reacts with the dye in the garment and essentially bleaches the dye from the shirt where it is printed leaving behind the natural cotton color that the shirt started out as before it was dyed by the manufacturer.  Once the shirt is washed there is absolutely no feel to the print what-so-ever.  The results from this technique can vary depending on the quality of the cotton and how it was processed by the shirt manufacturer.  The color usually ranges anywhere from an off-white, to a warm tan.  Occasionally garment manufacturers may take a shirt color that they have an abundance of in stock (say a kelly green) and re-dye the shirt black to make up for a shortage in black shirts.  In this case the clear discharge ink will get rid of the black dye and leave behind a greenish print.  This doesn't happen often, but we have run across it a few times.  We can not guarantee the finished color of the print with this method, but if the color of your design isn't critical this method can make for a really cool, unique look.  The discharge agent will ONLY remove the dye from cotton fibers, therefore this technique works best on 100% cotton garments.  It can be used on 50/50 blend or tri-blend garments but only the cotton fibers will be discharged, the polyester and/or rayon fibers will remain a darker color.  This can be a cool effect for some designs.

Clear water based discharge on 100% cotton garment.  The print you see is the actual natural cotton color of the fabric before it was dyed black by the manufacturer.  After the shirt is washed there is absolutely no feel to the print.  The final color of the print left behind by this technique is entirely dependant on how the manufacturer processed the cotton before dyeing it.  Expect variations in color from print to print.

Close up of a clear water based discharge print.  Notice that there is no ink sitting on top of the fabric, the print is IN the fabric.

This is a clear discharge print on a Canvas brand Charcoal-Black Triblend t-shirt.  Triblend fabric is 50% polyester, 25% cotton, and 25% rayon.  As you can see the discharge ink only removes the color from the cotton which leaves a speckled vintage looking print. 



Water Based Dye Discharge

This is the way we print most dark color 100% cotton t-shirts.  Water based dye discharge printing utilizes the same clear base as the method above, but we add in dye to the ink to color it.  When the discharge ink removes the original dye from the shirt it then leaves behind the new dye we added to the ink.  We can mix any color with this method.  It leaves the same soft feel as the water based ink above.  We can also print bright white prints with this method.  Again, the most consistent results are on 100% cotton shirts. 

White water based discharge ink on a Charcoal-Black Canvas brand Tri-Blend t-shirt.  This print has been washed a few times.  Notice how the print is an actual part of the fabric.  You can not feel this print on the shirt at all.  The print is not 100% bright white because of the polyester and rayon content of the tri-blend fabric.  The discharge only removes the dye from the cotton content.  This gives the print a slight vintage look on this fabric.

More pictures of dye discharge coming soon.


Plastisol Ink

Plastisol ink is a PVC based ink that has been the industry standard for decades.  Though this ink has been around for a long time it is constantly being reformulated and improved.  We only print with plastisol inks that are free of harmful ortho-phthalates, heavy metals, and chlorinated organic solvents.  These inks are just as environmentally friendly as water based inks when used and cleaned up properly.  Current plastisol inks are also extremely durable and vibrant.  They are highly opaque and can cover well on dark garments, or can be thinned down and printed on light garments.  The major draw-back to this kind of ink is the fact that it leaves a thick rubbery feeling print on the shirt if needing a bright print on dark garments.  On light garments the ink can be thinned to achieve a softer print, but it still has more of a feel to it than the water based inks we described above.  

We tend to only use this ink for printing on non-cotton shirts such as polyester, or when color matching is a high priority.   

Plastisol ink on cotton t-shirt.  Notice the thickness of the ink.  It has to be thick to cover up the color of the garment beneath.  You will feel this ink on the shirt.  This is the only way to print solid consistent colors on certain garments that contain lots of synthetic fibers such as polyester.

Hybrid Techique

Our hybrid printing technique involves printing a water based discharge ink as an underbase underneath all the colors in your design and then printing thinned down soft plastisol on top.  This allows us to get a bright and consistent print when the consistency of the color is a high priority and also gives a softer feel to the print than when just printing with normal plastisol.  This method works best on 100% cotton, but can also be used on blended fabrics with slightly less consistent color results.

Thin, softened plastisol ink printing on top of clear water based discharge ink.  The water based discharge ink removes the black dye from the shirt  so the subsequent plastisol colors are printed directly onto light natural cotton color fabric which allows the ink to be thinned for a softer print with consistent color.

You can see that the ink is not in the fabric as it is with water based and discharge inks, instead it is a thin layer on top of the fabric.  This means you will feel it on the shirt, but it will be much softer than printing thick regular plastisol straight onto the shirt.