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  • Writer's picturePauline Greuell

Inks for stencil printing on fabric

Updated: Jul 31, 2023

A piece of fabric with geometrical print, two containers of screen printing ink and a stencil brush
Stencil printed fabric with an iris inspired print

I am getting people into my online stencil printing classes from all over the world and the materials they bring with them are also varied. This was a reason for me to try out the different options to get a better idea of the differences. I did a blog on stencil printing brushes recently and now I want to go into inks for stencil printing on fabric.

The inks I’ve tried are:

  • Screen printing ink for fabric, transparent (meant for light coloured fabrics)

  • Screen printing ink for fabric, opaque (meant for darker coloured fabrics)

  • Block printing ink

  • Acrylic paint with textile medium

  • Textile inks in small containers from craft stores, these do not seem to have a general name.

With all of these inks I have tried out the techniques that I use in my prints and in my classes. I typically use a variation of solid prints and very transparent prints done with an almost dry brush, contours, gradients and shading.

In general I want to start by saying that you can get pretty decent results with all of these inks. The differences between brushes are more crucial than those between inks.

I set out to take pictures of all the different printing results and compare them in this blog, but the differences were hard to photograph as they were mostly subtle. The ink that I use myself is a screen printing ink meant for light coloured fabrics. I love the way it completely merges with the fabric showing the texture and the fibers of the fabric. But I have to admit that I am a bit nerdy about this and not everyone will appreciate this effect in the way I do.

I’ll try to describe the pros and cons the way I’ve experienced them, but know that I’ve only tried one brand of most.

Screen printing ink for light coloured fabrics (I use the Dutch brand called Tinta ,but other screenprinting inks for fabric will work in a similar way. Another ink that I have tried is Permaset Aqua, also a very good option) as I said is transparent which means that the fabric shines through, the ink really merges with the fabric. Also when you print one colour on top of another you will get a third colour in the area of the overprint. I like playing with this effect. You cannot use this ink on really dark fabrics as the underlying colour will overpower the colour you are printing with. The texture screen of these printing inks differs from one brand to the next but is usually is great for stencil printing. It is not too runny (if it would be it could bleed underneath your stencil) and not too thick making it difficult to apply evenly.

The screen printing ink voor dark coloured fabrics is completely opaque and lies more on top of the fabric. You can print one colour on top of another without getting a third colour in the space where the prints overlap. The texture of the ink is usually a little bit thicker, but still easy to use with your brush.

The fabric inks that I’ve found in craft stores are a bit similar to screen printing inks for dark fabrics. They tend to be opaque and suitable for printing on dark fabrics. I have found them easy to stencil print with. I used them, when I first started to print and they are a good way to start, low cost, small quantities and available in many colours.

Regular acrylic paint mixed with a textile medium has surprised me. I had not used it prior to preparing for this blog and it was better than I had expected. The textile medium does not affect the quality of the colours. The texture of the combination I used was a little bit on the liquid side, but when you know how much ink to use, it will not bleed underneath the stencil. I would say the effect is between transparent and opaque. If you want to try out stencil printing and don’t have screen printing inks available this can be a good way to start.

Block printing ink has a completely different texture from all the other inks, it is oil based (at least the one that I used was) where all the others were water based. It is designed to be sticky and really adhere to printing blocks. I had expected this one not to work well with stencil printing, but I’d seen someone in class get good prints with it. When I tried it I found that you can use it with all the techniques that I teach. It is pretty opaque and can be used on dark coloured fabrics. I did however find it hard work. Where the other inks are quite easy to work into the fabric, this one is indeed sticky and hard to spread out. If you have this ink at home and just want to try it out with a stencil you can do it, but I would recommend to go for the other options.

From all that I have seen I am certain that there will be a good option available to you wherever you are in the world. For brushes the differences have bigger consequences on the quality (and pleasure!) of your printing. Find the blog post on brushes here.

If you feel like you want to learn more about the techniques of stencil printing that I have developed, you can check out the courses that I offer.

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