Getting Started: Inks and Supplies

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Most screen printers use only plastisol ink. If you own any printed T-shirts at all, these are likely printed with plastisol. There is a common misconception that only heavy, plastic-like prints are plastisol, but this is not the case. Plastisol can be printed with a very soft “hand”. The term “hand” in our industry means how heavy the print feels. A light or soft “hand” means the print feels very thin on the garment. By printing through a higher mesh screen and/or thinning the ink with an additive, you can achieve this soft hand print with plastisol ink.

The advantage of plastisol inks over others is in the fact that plastisol will not dry in the screen. Plastisol must reach a temperature of approximately 320 degrees to cure. For the screen printer, this means we can walk away from the press to take a phone call, go to lunch, or even leave for the weekend. When you come back to the press, you load a shirt, pull the squeegee, and keep going. No other inks offer us this kind of flexibility. This is a huge benefit to small printing operations where you wear multiple hats in running your business.

There are a variety of other ink products such as puff, metallic, water base, discharge, etc. that will make you a more versatile printer for your customers. You ink supplier can provide you with all the specifics of how to use these specialty inks.


There are a number of adhesive options to lightly adhere your shirt to the platen for printing. One is a liquid that you spread across the platen and allow to dry. As you print and the adhesive loses its tack, a spray of water will reactivate the adhesive. This product is most commonly used with automatic presses.

Most manual shops and many automatic shops use one of two types of spray adhesives. Available in spray cans and purchased by the case, spray adhesive comes in either mist spray or web spray. Mist spray has the appearance of spray paint as it exits the can. Web spray comes out in a strand similar to a spider web. Mist spray tends to get into the air and stick to everything, including your hands, arms, clothing, and your press through the day. Web spray is more directional but some printers complain it is more difficult to clean up on the platens and press. (Read the article: Adhesives on the Press)

In the end, your choice is a matter of personal preference. You will meet printers who swear by one product or the other, but this is usually based on the product this particular printer started with in their first shop. All these adhesive products do the job equally well.

With our adhesives, we want to achieve a low tack adhesion of the garment to the platen so the shirt does not pick up with the screen, and to hold it in place to maintain registration for multicolor printing. You will likely get 6-12 prints before reapplication is necessary, depending on the garment. You will get a “feel” for when you need to reapply by how easily a garment is removed from the platen after printing.

Inks and printing supplies are the consumable products in the process for you. In other words, these are the products you will buy over and over again as they are consumed in the process of printing.

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