Do you know all the different types of Screen Printing inks available today?

It’s surprising that many screen printers today in South Africa do not know all these inks, and what they are used for. It’s for this reason that I have made this post – as a reference guide for the Screen printer, as well as the customer.

I have this, as well as many other topics available in the Online Course, The Complete Graphics Course for Screen Printing

Caviar beads

A caviar bead is a glue that is printed in the shape of the design, to which small plastic beads are then applied – works well with solid block areas creating an interesting tactile surface.

Cracking ink

The cracking ink effect is when the ink produces an intentional cracked surface after drying. The primary cause of unintentional cracking of ink is from the ink not curing fully.

Discharge inks

Discharge inks use Zinc Formaldehyde Sulfoxylate to activate the dye in fabric to discharge from the originating fabric. Discharge inks are available in clear colors. The cons of using discharge inks are that the process only works properly on dark fabrics that have a content of 100% cotton. Fabrics with under-dyes and fabric blends will discharge their dye to different degrees. The fumes resulting from the application and curing are pungent and strong ventilation and a face mask are commonly needed to relieve exposure. The pros to this process is that discharge is especially effective for distressed prints and under-basing on dark garments that are to be printed with additional layers of plastisol. It adds variety to the design and gives it that naturally soft feel.

Expanding ink (puff)

Expanding ink, or puff is an additive to plastisol inks that raises the print of the garment, creating a 3D feel and look to the design. Mostly used when printing on apparel.


Flocking consists of glue printed onto the fabric and then flock material is applied for a velvet touch.


Foil is much like a flock, starting with an adhesive glue or plastisol ink base layer. Foil is finished by applying a thin sheet of reflective/mirror like material on top of the screened base, then heat pressed to set. The foil substrate does not adhere to non-screened areas of the design, and the balance of the foil sheet is discarded.

Four-colour process or the CMYK colour model

Four-color process is when the artwork is created and then separated into four colours (CMYK) which combine to create the full spectrum of colours needed for photographic prints. This means a large number of colours can be simulated using only 4 screens, reducing costs, time, and set-up. The inks are required to blend and are more translucent, meaning a compromise with vibrancy of colour.


Glitter or shimmer ink is when metallic flakes become an additive in the ink base to create this sparkle effect. Usually available in gold or silver but can be mixed to make most colours.


Gloss ink is when a clear base is laid over previously printed inks to create a shiny finish.


Metallic ink is similar to glitter, but smaller particles are suspended in the ink. A glue is printed onto the fabric, then nano-scale fibers are applied on it. This is often purchased already made.


Nylobond is a special ink additive for printing onto technical or waterproof fabrics.


Plastisol is the most common ink used in commercial garment decoration. Good colour opacity onto dark garments and clear graphic detail with, as the name suggests, a more plasticized texture. This print can be made softer with special additives or heavier by adding extra layers of ink. Plastisol inks require heat (approx. 150 °C (300 °F) for many inks) to cure the print.

PVC and phthalate-free

PVC and phthalate-free is a relatively new breed of ink and printing with the benefits of plastisol but without the two main toxic components. It also has a soft texture.

Suede ink

Suede ink is a milky coloured additive that is added to plastisol. With suede additive, you can make any color of plastisol have a suede feel. It is actually a puff blowing agent that does not bubble as much as regular puff ink. The directions vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but generally, up to 50% suede can be added to normal plastisol.

Water-based inks

These penetrate the fabric more than the plastisol inks and create a much softer feel. Ideal for printing darker inks onto lighter coloured garments. Also useful for larger area prints where texture is important. Some inks require heat or an added catalyst to make the print permanent.

High density

High density is a process that uses a type of varnish against a lower mesh count with many coats of emulsion or a thicker grade of emulsion (e.g., Capillex®). After the varnish passes through to the substrate, an embossed-appearing, ‘raised’ area of varnish is created. When cured at the end of the process, the varnish yields a Braille effect, hence the term ‘high density.

I hope that this information has been helpful, and please feel; free to contact me with any questions or for more information on my Course where I give away my tips and tricks used in the Artwork/Graphics side of Screen Printing.

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