September 09, 2019 5 min read

As many of you know, Nothing Too Fancy started out with the aim of bringing downtown Knoxville a men’s retail space providing soft & comfy Tennessee-themed tees. While that's definitely still the case, we’ve grown and changed in many ways over the years - among the biggest of those changes, the opening of the Nothing Too Fancy Print Shop in historic Old North Knoxville. The opening of the print shop has allowed us to make our own decisions about every detail of our shirts - super cozy, tri-blend, vintage-fit tees with cheeky designs printed in soft-feel water based ink. I spoke with co-owner and print shop manager Dustin Burnett about Nothing Too Fancy’s preferred method of printing with exclusively water-based ink rather than a more traditional plastisol ink.

What are some of the main differences between plastisol and water based ink?

Water based ink is phthalate (plastic or pvc) free, making it much easier on the environment. In addition to being environmentally friendly, it prints with a much softer feel than traditional plastisol right out of the bucket, without the need for reducers or additives. Water based ink tends to settle into the fibers of the fabric better than plastisol, allowing for much greater detail in our designs and prints with less dot gain or bleeding. Plastisol has a much heavier hand out of the bucket and typically cures harder than water based inks, resulting in a design that sits more heavily on top of the fabric of the shirt. For the soft style tri-blend tees that we print on, we’ve found that the softer effect of water-based ink works better than plastisol.” If you dig your favorite NTF tee out of the laundry right now, you can run your hand over the design and feel the fabric of the shirt even where there is ink because the water based ink settles into the fabric rather than floating on top. 

What makes water based ink the more eco-friendly choice?

Water based ink can be cleaned up using water and good old fashioned elbow grease - although certain situations call for the assistance of a mild cleanser - whereas plastisol is an oil based ink and requires more chemicals for cleaning up after a job is run.” With the use of water based ink rather than plastic or pvc based plastisol, the NTF print shop avoids using harsh chemicals that are necessary in many other print shops. 

We use Green Galaxy Inks in our print shop. What led you to that choice?

I've tried a bunch of ink manufacturers water based inks over the years. While there are several good and reputable ink manufacturers out there today producing quality water based inks, Green Galaxy is the foremost industry leader in producing production-environment-ready water based inks. Time and time again they have proven to be the best. They are a progressive and innovative company always looking for ways to improve their products and the industry as a whole. Their customer service is second to none. While we may experiment with another manufacturer's product from time to time, I am more than satisfied with Green Galaxy's line of products and we are excited to see how they continue to positively impact the screen printing industry.” 

How does the use of exclusively water based ink set NTF apart from other print shops?

The first way it sets us apart is in the environmental aspect. We strive to leave as small of a carbon footprint as possible at Nothing Too Fancy. From the materials we print on, to the inks we use, we pride ourselves on environmentally friendly and ethical sourcing and manufacturing practices.”

While it is impossible to make screen printing a zero waste process, our goal at NTF is always to cut down on our waste and to recycle and reuse where we can. Burnett says another way water based printing sets NTF apart is the differences in the processes of printing with plastisol and water based inks. “Water based printing isn’t something that you can just pick up overnight. It comes with a learning curve, it’s a different process from traditional plastisol printing. We’re the foremost experts in the area for this type of printing, specializing in quality clothing that is soft, comfortable, and eco-friendly. We want to leave this Earth better than we found it for future generations.”

What are the challenges of using water based ink as opposed to a plastisol or other choices?

There are several challenges that come with using water based inks exclusively as opposed to other types of screen printing inks. While the printing process is mainly the same, the challenges lie within the inks you are choosing to use.”

Burnett explains that timing is of the essence when printing with water based inks: “Once a screen is on the press and the registration process is complete, you must be ready to go to print immediately when using water based inks. Due to evaporation, water-based inks will dry up in your screen in just a short period of time, which, if you are not properly prepared to run your job, can cause many delays and significantly reduce your efficiency, which in turn add stress and cost you money.” The timing of using plastisol is more laid back - “On the other hand, with traditional plastisol inks, you can leave a job setup with ink in the screen and break for lunch or go home for the night and return the next day and continue right where you left off.”

Burnett cites opacity as the second big challenge in being an all water-based ink shop - the thickness of the ink on a shirt, and how much one can see the fabric behind the print. “Because water based inks are thinner, typically, than plastisol inks, they tend to soak into the fibers of the garment, which means your garment color will affect how the ink appears on your final product. If you want a soft and worn vintage style print, water based ink with no underbase is the way to go.” Printing with water based ink doesn’t mean sacrificing an opaque final print. “If we want to have vibrant colors on a darker garment, we will print a white underbase layer or discharge underbase so that your colors POP against the color of the shirt behind them. We have dialed in our ink mixing process to achieve the perfect combo of a soft garment with the highest print quality possible.”  

Why was it important to NTF to use water based ink?
We specialize in providing the softest, most comfortable clothes in your wardrobe, and we really care about the planet and all - so plastisol was simply not an option in our minds. We were determined to be among the best and most experienced water based screen printers in the industry, so it was important for us to narrow our focus so that we could be GREAT at one thing and not just OK at a bunch of things.” 

Perfecting the processes of an exclusively water based print shop is an ongoing practice for the Nothing Too Fancy team. We are constantly experimenting, growing, and learning with the goals of eco-friendliness, comfort, and style in mind. To see more about our printing process and what we’re up to at the print shop, follow @NothingTooFancyPrintShop on Instagram and Facebook!