How do I achieve a soft hand when printing?

When printers use the term “hand feel” it means exactly as it sounds. The desired hand feel for screen-printed garments has always been soft to barely there. The last thing you want is to have a heavy ink load on a shirt. With the high demand for vintage Ts and ultra-soft cotton, the industry is adapting to soft hand feel to keep customers flowing.

There are a few different ways you can achieve this feel:

  1. Water-based ink
  2. Discharge ink
  3. Additives and bases

Besides the method you choose to print, you will want to use a finer mesh. We recommend printing with a 200-230 mesh screen.

Water-Based Ink

The chemical makeup of this ink lends to the softness. Unlike its plastic counterpart, water-based inks have an easier time adhering to the garment versus sitting on top of the garment. Water-based ink is more transparent than plastisol, and it is a challenge to print on dark garments. If you are going to use water-based ink, you will want to stick with printing on white or light garments. One of the biggest disadvantages of water-based ink is they have a tendency to lose detail.


Discharge is king for printing on dark garments. It is also the happy medium between printing water-based or plastisol with an additive or base. You get the naturally soft hand feel offered from water-based products, but you also have more control over the color of your prints. The discharge itself does not look like much when you print it. When you run the shirt through the dryer, the heat changes the chemical makeup of the discharge creating a vibrant and soft hand feel.

Additives and Bases

When using these products, you can create just as soft of a hand as if you were printing with water-based or discharge inks. It may not feel that way when you first get the shirt off the dryer, but after a wash, you will be amazed! The great thing about using additives for plastisol is that you get the advantage of holding the same amount of detail as if printing with regular plastisol. Mixing with a soft hand base makes the plastisol more transparent meaning that bases are preferred when printing on white or light garments. Mixing with an additive would be preferred when printing on dark garments. The downside to using an additive or base with your plastisol is that it makes color matching difficult.

—Texsource Screen Printing Supply

Allee Bruce

Alexandria Bruce

Alexandria Bruce is the former managing editor of GRAPHICS PRO magazine.

View all articles by Alexandria Bruce  

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