What is a soft-hand print?
The feel of a plastisol print is called the “hand”. It is controlled by the type of ink and how thick an ink layer is. To achieve soft-hand prints you have to start with a soft-hand ink. To achieve an extra soft-hand print on white garments, use 230 or higher mesh. This can easily be achieved with soft base additives and water-based inks. Distressed and vintage prints are in high demand which calls for a natural feeling and more authentic touch. There are a couple of ways to achieve soft hand—water-based and discharge printing.
Just as the name suggests this type of ink creates a soft feel because its make up is not plastic. This type of ink tends to dry in areas if not watched carefully. You might lose some detail or fine halftone. The curing time of water-based ink is slower. This ink is more transparent than plastisol and does not appear well on dark garments. Typically this wouldn’t be an issue. You can slap an under base on your garment and continue printing. Unfortunately, water-based doesn’t print well on underbases. If you are going to use water-based inks, it is better to print on white and light garments.
Discharge inks are your solution to printing soft hand on dark garments. It is considerably softer than printing with plastisol but it does require an underbase. Discharge ink uses an “activator” that bleaches the dye out of the shirt and deposits the ink pigment in its place. Discharge is technically still a water-based ink. So you will want to avoid designs with heavy detail and fine halftones. Printing on “rich colors” such as red, purple, and royal blues tend to discharge unpredictably. The inks are often contaminated by the dye in the shirt so your print could end up an off color.
The trade off for soft-hand prints is in the opacity. Soft-hand prints are not very opaque.