Images_Digital_Edition_April_2020 44 images APRIL 2020 TIPS & TECHNIQUES Waterworks Switching from plastisol to water-based printing presents challenges, but it’s not especially difficult, says Tony Palmer. Here, he demystifies the process for those print shops that are aiming to be kinder to the environment and seeking softer prints I n our industry, it is almost impossible to avoid the phrase ‘environmentally friendly’, a very open term that often leads printers to consider switching to water-based inks. My experience of water-based printing has turned full circle. When I first started printing, we used water-based for white and pastel colours and plastisol for dark shirts. Slowly, however, the trend turned towards plastisol for all work, a move made possible by the introduction of base white ink that flashed quickly and enabled us to use higher mesh counts to achieve an acceptable hand. Nowadays, the process used by the majority of garment printers is plastisol, which in turn has created the impression that water-based inks are difficult to use. They are not. Water-based ink printing is no more or less difficult to perform than working with plastiols, it simply requires a different set of techniques. I know many printers who prefer not to touch plastisol because it is so messy, it’s a by-product of the petrochemical industry or simply because they do not like the feel of plastisol prints. When they are forced to print with plastisol, they treat the whole technique with the disdain that is normally reserved for a screaming child in the supermarket. In my opinion, we are most comfortable with the system we used first. Do your homework It’s also worth noting that making the change to water-based does not have to include throwing all your old plastisol ink away and running around the print shop in a pair of hemp sandals, eating hummus and listening to whale sounds on your phone. My advice before venturing into the world of water-based inks is to first do your homework. Ask yourself the question: “Why do I want to change?” Is it driven by the customer? Do they have an RSL (restricted substance list) that you must conform to? Is the product fashion-based and therefore a soft feel is the most important factor? Is it driven by you? Do you want to be kinder to the environment? Do you want softer prints? Do you want to be able to put a little green logo on all your company literature? Do you want to use more cost-effective inks? Once you know the answer to these questions, you can start to formulate a plan. Water-based ink behaves differently to plastisol: it needs to be cleaned from the screen and not left overnight like plastisol, so you need to figure this into your production schedule. Allocate a time at the end of the shift where it is acceptable to turn off the press and start the process of clean-up. This time can vary according to colours and the amount of help available. I can say with confidence that you will rapidly find out who your true friends are when you have a 14-colour water-based job and it’s 4:45 on a Friday evening. The squeegees need to be cleaned thoroughly with water and the lids placed on all the ink containers. Only then can you start the process of ensuring all the screens are free from ink-dirty water and think about turning off the machines. This procedure is repeated at the end of every shift before you go home and will continue to make the operator wish for a return to those easy plastisol jobs with four flashes and three special effects. The mesh selection process that you worked so hard on – you even went to the effort of printing out a little colour- coordinated table, laminating it and sticking it on the darkroom wall – will now have to be revisited as water-based ink has slightly different requirements. The favourite squeegee that you use to get the brightest of whites using plastisol may now have to be retired, and the ink kitchen may now require a place in which to mix inks that does not result in the abstract decoration of your own clothes as you walk through it. Ink suppliers will help you through this transition, and it’s not because they have an altruistic outlook on life and wish to save as many polar bears and turtles as possible. It is because they want to sell you more ink. Use the suppliers as much as possible. They know the ink. Do not be afraid to ask what you think is a stupid question. It will be difficult for a plastisol printer to switch overnight to water- based printing, so ease the transition by picking the jobs that you feel will be best suited to it. A white shirt job A detailed print produced using a variety of water-based inks through 120 mesh counts