Water-based inks: will you be part of the change?
SustainabilityMany companies share our mission to work in ways that respect people and the environment. This issue we talk with Chris Dart at ASP, one of our official dealers in the UK, about working exclusively with water-based inks and the COUP campaign – Cut Out Using Plastisol.
Based in the picturesque coastal town of Newquay in Cornwall, ASP is the UK’s largest contract screen printer with GOTS accreditation (Global Organic Textile Standard). Founded 17 years ago by Chris Dart, he took the decision early in 2019 to work exclusively with water-based inks. ‘We made the switch because it’s the right thing to do, both for people and the planet.’
‘The vast majority of t -shirts that are printed in the UK, for the high street, festivals and for corporate uniforms are with plastisol ink, containing PVC and sometimes even Phthalates. This doesn’t have to be the case, and credit to those ink companies that have at least removed Phthalates from their ink systems. If we can keep these harmful chemicals from entering the water system or landfill, then why wouldn’t we?’
Moving to water-based inks also has a hugely positive effect on screen printers, ensuring they don’t have to breathe in toxins all day long. ‘When cleaning up Plastisol ink, solvents are used which can be pretty nasty for the guys working with them’.
Besides the environmental benefits of cutting out plastisol, water-based inks produce a softer feel. Explains Chris ‘the ink penetrates deep into the fabric and becomes a part of it instead of merely sitting on top, giving your prints unparalleled softness and flexibility. It is much more breathable and obviously doesn’t melt when you iron it. The end result is just so much better.’
While sales figures went down at ASP after the switch, profit margins are now higher and profitability is up. Argues Chris ‘if you can help people, the planet and profit, then why not do it?’
Although there’s a growing awareness of the harmful effects of single-use plastics, few people realise that their printed clothing or merchandise contribute to the vast amounts of plastic used in Europe every year. For Chris, it’s time to drive change.
Using social media to raise general awareness, ASP’s campaign highlights the damage that PVC and Phthalates do to the environment and argues for a shift in attitudes in the industry. 'Polyvinyl chloride is the world's third-most widely produced synthetic plastic polymer, and it’s also a major component in the ink widely used in the T-shirt printing industry. We, as printers, can commit to making a change and provide a product that is kinder to the environment and softer to wear. And end-users need to be aware of what goes into their clothes and demand better, both for themselves and the planet.’
How do you go about converting to water-based ink?
The switch should be planned carefully and there are many points to consider. Here is Chris’s advice:
Working with water-based inks is a different experience, requiring different skills. It’s all a learning process. Start testing and don’t hesitate to ask your ink suppliers for help and guidance.
Give yourself the time you need to migrate across from plastisol to water-based ink. If aiming to exclusively use water-based inks you could phase it in over a 12 - 18 month period. The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll achieve your goal!
Communicate the switch to your customers. The market is heading towards environmentally friendlier processes, so why not highlight this as much as you can? Your customers will see a massive difference with the finished product.
Plan your ink switch carefully and bear in mind that you will incur some costs changing not only your ink system but also converting some of your screens to different mesh counts.
Give some consideration to ink curing - you may need a longer tunnel on your dryer. Plastisol ink just needs to get up to a temperature to cure. Water-based ink needs a longer tunnel that evaporates the water from the garment in order to cure fully. At ASP we have two driers - one with a 3m tunnel and the other with a 4m tunnel.
Lastly and probably most importantly, it’s all about the drive and determination of the company leaders and all the employees – having total belief that a difference can be made. It can be done, and the proof is ASP!
Join us in our mission
At Stanley/Stella, we are continuously working to soften our environmental impact and deepen our social commitments, from the production of our cotton to our finalised, decorated garments. But we can’t do it alone. Why not join us?
You’re a dealer interested in finding out more about GOTS certification
You’re looking for an end-to-end certified printed garment, we’ll match you with a certified decoration specialist in your area.