Inks for stencil printing on fabric
Updated: Oct 4, 2021
As I am getting people into my stencil printing classes from all over the world, 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 different kinds of fabric ink.
The inks I’ve tried are:
Screenprinting ink for fabric, transparent (meant for light coloured fabrics)
Screenprinting 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 and also contours.
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 much 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 are so subtle that they are hard to photograph. The ink that I use myself is a screenprinting 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.
Screenprinting ink for light coloured fabrics (I use the Dutch brand called Tinta but other screenprinting inks for fabric will work in a similar way) 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 consistency of this ink is perfect for stencil printing. Is 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 screenprinting ink voor dark coloured fabrics is completely opaque and lies 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 consistency of the ink is 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 screenprinting 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 very good way to start, low cost and available in many colours.
Regular acrylic paint mixed with a textile medium has really surprised me. I had not used it prior to preparing for this blog and it was much better than I had expected. The textile medium does not affect the quality of the colours. The consistency is a little bit on the liquid side, but as soon as you know how much ink to use, it will not bleed underneath the stencil. I would say it is between transparent and opaque. If you want to try out stencil printing and don’t have screenprinting inks available this can be a good way to start.
Block printing ink has a completely different consistency 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 love lovely prints with it. The results I got surprised me in a positive way, you can use it in 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 a bit sticky and harder to spread out. If you have this ink at home and just want to try it out with a stencil you can absolutely do it, but if you want to buy ink to start stencil printing I would go for the other options.
The good news is that there will be a good option available to you wherever you are in the world, students have been sending me links to inks they want to buy in different countries and there seems to be no lack of suitable fabric inks. For brushes the differences have much bigger consequences on the quality (and pleasure!) of your printing. Find the blog post on brushes here.