Screen Printing:

Spring Cleaning in the Ink Department

A well-maintained and organized ink room is 
paramount to your shop’s success.

By James Ortolani, Contributing Writer

If you’re in doubt about whether your ink contains phthalates, contact your ink supplier and verify if the ink lot number that you are using is phthalate-free.

April 1, 2013

After screen printing shop owners read this article, I’ll venture to say that most will hand this story to their production managers and say, “Here, read this and be sure our ink room is up to date!”

In all the years I’ve been in the screen printing industry, I’ve only walked into a few shops that had well-maintained ink departments. And believe me, I have been as guilty as the next person of leaving the lid off an ink bucket or setting squeegees and knives off to the side to clean “later.”

With the arrival of spring also comes the need for some good, old-fashioned spring cleaning and the ink department is an excellent place to start. Take a good inventory of all the inks in the shop and wipe down the ink buckets with a dry cloth to remove as much of the spilled-over ink as possible. The spilled ink not only looks bad, but it seems to end up all over the shop with employees rubbing against messy buckets and eventually transferring stray ink to your blank goods.

Next, check the labels on the ink buckets to determine the age of the ink, and to  find out if the ink is a new formulation and is up-to-date in terms of being lead- and phthalate-free. Lead-free plastisols have been the norm for decades and there is a good chance that the inks on your shelf are lead free, but the probability that you have plastisols containing phthalates is high since phthalate-free plastisols only became commercially available during the past 15 years. Printed designs with inks containing phthalates were banned for use on childrenswear with the passing of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) in 2008.

If you find ink on your shelf containing lead, then properly dispose of it. If you discover plastisols with phthalates, the main thing to understand is that these inks cannot be used to print on childrenswear.

Many shops are disposing of these outdated inks so they don’t mistakenly mix those containing phthalates with the phthalate-free inks. Cross contamination can be a real problem if your company prints for retailers that demand the use of phthalate-free inks on their goods, and the risk is high because the same screens, squeegees, ink knives and equipment will be used when printing with both ink types.

If you’re in doubt about whether your ink contains phthalates, contact your ink supplier and verify if the ink lot number that you are using is phthalate free. (ID lot numbers are generally marked on the ink label.) Visit to learn more about proper ink disposal.

It also is important to organize inks by categories that include athletic series, multi-purpose, puff, metallic, transfer inks and additives. It is best to store your general all-purpose inks separate from the
special-effects inks to avoid on-press printing problems.

Every well-equipped ink room should have all the necessary additives on hand to be able “doctor” the ink when the need arises. Some of these additives include 
cureable reducer, soft-hand additives, dulling powders, clear plastisol base, puff additives and more.

To properly use these ink additives, it is important to have a digital scale in your ink room to accurately measure the contents according to the ink manufacturer’s guidelines. The “galloping gourmet” technique of adding a pinch here and a smidge there needs to be a practice of the past when it comes to modifying inks.

A small- to mid-sized screen print shop can get by with the minimum tools and accessories in the ink room. The short list includes a digital scale, ink mixing 
containers, ink knives and temperature strips. The larger shops with automatic presses will need a turnabout ink mixer, roll paper towel dispensers, IR digital temperature gun and an ink-removal station (spot-cleaning gun.)

You also can cut down on stocking so many ink colors by investing in a color mixing system. There are two types of ink color-matching systems: the PC system and the finished-ink system.

The PC system consists of several plastisol bases and a complete set of pigment concentrates with an ink formulation book that has the ability to match literally thousands of PMS colors. With this type of ink-mixing system, a Pantone color is selected to be matched and the system provides a formulation guide (measured in gram weight) to mix and match the color.

The most popular color matching
system in our industry is the finished-ink system that consists of balanced, ready-to-print ink colors and a formulation guide. The nice part about using a finished-ink system is the fact that it’s not necessary to risk mixing inks out of balance.

Using a finished-ink system also eliminates the chances for an employee to print with straight PC concentrate by mistake. I have heard stories where printers pulled a bucket of PC to print with by mistake, ruining thousands of garments. Straight pigment concentrate will not cure if it’s not properly mixed with a balanced printing base.
It’s important to note that today’s cutting-edge screen printing shops stock more than just standard plastisol inks. The progressive shops have ventured into water-based inks, discharge inks, acrylic and silicone inks, just to name a few. There are many benefits to offering a wide array of inks to your customers, including being able to offer new special effects and fashion textures, as well as being able to stay compliant with the “green” movement.

Get your ink department organized and this will be your first step to achieving printing greatness.

James Ortolani has more than 30 years experience in the decorated apparel industry, specializing in hands-on direct screen printing and heat transfer production. He has worked for main industry suppliers, and currently serves as R & D project manager for Stahls’ DFC. For more information or to comment on this article, e-mail James at

Get Your Paperwork In Order

Along with spring cleaning also comes the added responsibility of getting your material safety data sheets (MSDS) in order for all the inks, additives and chemicals that you currently have in your shop. Many companies designate one person in the shop as the safety team leader and this person is responsible for making sure that all MSDS are compiled in a notebook and readily available for anyone who needs to look at this information. The safety team leader also should study the Occupational Safety and Health Adminstration’s (OSHA) guidelines for your shop and be sure you are current with OSHA’s “right-to-know” regulations.

New changes to OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (29 CFR 1910.1200) are bringing the United States into alignment with the Globally Harmonized System of classification and labeling of chemicals (GHS), improving safety and health protections for America’s workers. With these new revisions to OSHA’s current Hazard Communication Standard, the GHS is expected to prevent injuries and illnesses, save lives and improve trade conditions for chemical manufacturers.

Even if your shop’s safety leader only spends a few hours a week working on the MSDS and workers’ right-to-know notebook, this will pay off big time for your shop. This information is critical to have easy access to in case of a chemical spill situation or if an employee has an accident involving inks or chemicals that get on his skin or in his eyes. OSHA also can provide you information on eye wash stations and first aid kits that need to be available to your employees in case of an accident. — J.O.