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If you are a screen printer using plastisol inks, you are more than likely facing challenges ordering inks these days. Ink manufacturers are facing raw materials, sea freight, road freight, compliance, and labor shortages, which is limiting the availability of plastisol inks we need to keep our businesses operating.

Ink companies have been scaling back offerings to the biggest demand core inks, namely white, black, bases, pigments and some finished mixing systems.

Looking for some ideas to get through this supply shortage?

Here are some tips to keep ink flowing in your shop:

Organize

Over the years, we accumulate a lot of ink on our shelves and if you don’t have a dedicated ink person, it can get a bit disorganized. Take a little time to go through all of your ink and sort by color or PMS number. Take note of any large inventory of colors and consolidate any duplicates you may find. Plastisol inks have a long shelf-life if stored properly and not exposed to excessive heat, which can partially cure the ink and make them very sticky.

If you do find some older, tacky ink you want to save, the best option is to use a Non-Curable Reducer. Adding 1–3% by weight can help make the ink printable again, just be sure not to go over 3% or you may have issues curing. A Curable Reducer can also be used, however, it will require a much higher percentage which will lower the viscosity.

Reuse & Recycle

Once you have everything well organized, be diligent in using what’s on your shelf by reusing and recycling ink, especially if it was made using a mixing system (many ink companies provide free software with Pantone formulations for their mixing systems). Some ink mixing software also includes a recycling feature that allows the user to repurpose colors in two ways:

1. Choose a color you have stock of and find new formulas it can be used in.

2. When you need to mix a new Pantone color, use the recycle feature to see what colors can be used in the formulas that you may already have on hand.

This recycle feature is a great way to easily reuse ink you already have; saving you ink and money.

Avient’s ims3 mixing software is a great option if you’re using Wilflex or Rutland mixing systems. Here’s a link to download.

Use A Stock Color Palette

A great way to limit the number of colors you mix in your shop is to establish a stock color palette to offer customers to avoid custom matches whenever possible. Most transfers companies charge around $20–$30 for a custom color match outside of their standard palettes. This is less common for screen printers, however, during this shortage and with the cost of inks rising, it may be a good idea to think of ways to manage your color offerings. Utilizing this stock palette will help lessen the number of custom colors you need to mix daily and consolidate ink inventory on your shelves.

When creating a stock color palette, consider the following options:

1. Stock colors from an ink manufacturer or dealer; these are generally the most popular colors used by screen printers. This allows you to mix from a mixing system or order ready for use colors.

2. If you utilize heat transfers in your business, consider using the stock colors from your transfer supplier. This is a great option to create consistency between ink and transfers.

3. Create a custom color palette using Pantone colors made with an ink mixing system. This allows you to mix a set number of colors in bulk that will be used often. With manufactures mainly focusing on white, black and mixing systems, you’ll be in good shape being able to create your own stock colors.

Once you’ve established your color palette, the art department can use these colors when creating art or for designs that come in without specific Pantones. Sales can also use this palette when discussing color options for clients.

Using the recycling strategy mentioned earlier, you can turn some of the unused ink on your shelves into colors from your stock palette.

Mix Smaller Quantities of Ink

Sounds simple, but may require some change in habits and also some additional tools to be executed effortlessly.

In a busy shop, we often mix larger quantities to avoid having to mix more throughout the run. However, when you have a limited ink supply, you definitely don’t want large quantities of custom colors going back on the shelf and sitting there.

To mix smaller quantities more often, the first thing you’ll need is a good scale to ensure colors are consistent. Scales are sold based on weighing capacity and resolution. A 7500g scale with a resolution of 0.1g is a good choice for mixing quarts and gallons.

Here’s a link to just one option available.

Winged flood bars are another important tool if you’re printing on an automatic press. Using these in place of standard straight flood bars will allow you to keep more ink over the image area and less ink spread out to the sides of the screen.

Water-Based Inks

This is a great time to consider introducing water-based inks into your business. If you’ve never used water-based inks, there have been many improvements over the years and they are much far more user-friendly these days.

Water-based inks can be broken down into 3 categories:

1. Low Solids – Low opacity for printing ultra-soft, vibrant prints on light fabrics.

2. Discharge – Also low solids, and when mixed with an activator, discharge inks remove the dye in the fabric and produce soft, vibrant prints on dark fabrics (providing the shirts are suitable for discharging). Fabrics that work best are 100% cotton or blends that contain reactive dyes. Many printers use a discharge base for light fabrics and just add the activator when printing dark fabrics, allowing you to stock just one base.

3. High Solids – More similar to plastisol inks, high solids inks have great opacity allowing you to print on a wide variety of fabrics, including 100% polyester. This is the best option for a water-based replacement for plastisol inks.

All 3 options are available in finished inks (ready to use out of the bucket) or base and pigments. You can contact your local supplier and they will often send samples or provide a demo.

Alternative Products

There are many plastisol inks on the market and many share similar features. Do some research and talk to your suppliers about similar inks that you substitute when your regular inks are out of stock. With ink companies focusing on key products, you may find better stock of certain inks over others. These will usually be top sellers, so definitely worth trying. This is a great time to test new products.

The plastisol ink supply shortage doesn’t look to be ending anytime soon so we need to be proactive to keep our presses going. Hopefully, these suggestions can help you better manage your ink inventory until things get back to normal.

Here’s a recap:

  • Organize your ink room and consolidate
  • Reuse and Recycle inks on the shelf
  • Use a limited stock palette when possible
  • Mix smaller quantities of inks
  • Introduce water-based inks
  • Identify alternative products for when items are out of stock
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