Is Organic T-shirt Printing The Answer To Fast Fashion?

A Guide to Organic T-Shirt Printing, including the Advantages and Disadvantages

Dear reader, the author of this article has requested to remain anonymous. If you have any concerns or comments, please feel free to get in touch.

Many thanks,

Brett Stadelmann


T-shirts have been a part of everyone’s daily outfit, whether casual or semi-formal. However, the environmental effects of producing and using these pieces of clothing have worsened over the decades, with various synthetic compounds and wastewater emissions coming from factories worldwide.

It is time to change key details about the manufacturing of our t-shirts, including the printing processes of our favorite go-to outfits, to focus on the negative environmental effects.

Many manufacturers have addressed these issues by creating and producing sustainable products. Tees made from organic material (cotton, wool, or linen) are becoming mainstream in contrast to synthetic materials used for tee shirts. These organic shirts are ethical, sustainable, and available for everybody to purchase today.

Another thing that is becoming widely popular nowadays is organic ink used to print our designs on our shirts. It is slowly becoming the best option for the t-shirt printing industry.

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What Is Organic T-Shirt Printing?

Eco-friendly ink, also known as water-based ink, is slowly making its way into becoming the widely used ink in today’s tee shirt printing. These non-toxic paints are vegan, making them a great replacement compared to their synthetic, widely used competition, plastisol ink. It has proved to produce the same quality as plastisol printed tee shirts.

The organic T-shirt printing process involves heating water and pigment to use for transferring a print to the fabric. You can use this water-based ink to print on various textile items such as stickers, stationery, canvases, and other garments aside from tees such as polos, sweatshirts, caps, tote bags, aprons, and jackets. Aside from that, this ink works well with fibers such as cotton, polyester, or poly-cotton blends.

Organic T-shirt Printing Guide: Cropped man hand choosing samples catalog multicolor T-shirts palette film membrane. Marketing advertising business textile fabric clothes production. Printing house, office, manufacture. Close up

The Environmental Footprint Of T-Shirt Printing

As mentioned, the mass production of t-shirts due to their popularity has significantly affected the environment over the decades. A typical T-shirt is expected to emit 6.75kg of carbon dioxide during its manufacturing and sale. One t-shirt is estimated to use up to 120 liters of water every time a person wears it and emits 0.01 kilogram of CO2 annually.

Aside from t-shirt production and use, dyeing is another environmentally taxing process in the mass production of tee shirts. The procedure consumes large amounts of coal, steam, water, and dyes. This process also produces sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions and wastewater, which is why intervention and innovation for an eco-friendlier option are widely considered necessary.

Organic T-Shirts and Printing In Mainstream Fashion

The demand for organic T-shirts and eco-friendly dye has increased over the years. Many websites, blogs, and influencers now advocate wearing vegan shirts because they are sustainable and environmentally friendly.

Consequently, it can make a statement that fashion and caring for the environment coexist. Organic cotton, bamboo, hemp, and soy fabric are just a few of the materials used to make these shirts instead of synthetic materials made in factories. Water mixed with pigments to design shirts is now used in dyes to reduce the need for unsustainable paint.

Fast Fashion And Demand For Inspired T-Shirts

Since social media have overcome the fashion industry and celebrities are now becoming the new fashion gurus for trending styles, fast fashion has risen significantly. Fast fashion is affordable, trendy clothing that samples ideas from events such as catwalks or photos of famous people. These cheap garments are available in the market to be purchased by many people. Though it is impactful in the manufacturing sector, it also poses a significant threat to the environment due to the carbon footprint involved in the process.

This phenomenon is why organic or vegan tee shirts are essential in fast fashion and dyes that are more eco-friendly than our standard printing techniques. With these, we can accommodate the trends on printed tee shirts while not negatively impacting our planet and our depleting resources.

Advantages Of Water-Based Ink In Comparison To Plastisol

Plastisol is the most commonly used dye in manufacturing T-shirts. However, water-based paints present better factors and results than the traditional plastisol, and here are some of the reasons:

  1. ‘Soft Hand’ Prints

The ‘hand’ refers to the feel of a print and the weight of printed material in fabric printing. These hands can be light and rough for others, depending on the dye used. Organic, water-based ink produces the most delicate and lightweight hand for tee shirt prints, which is why many people prefer it. Plastisol, or the synthetic dye, is a liquid plastic with created PVC particles that, when heated to a high temperature, become solid. PVC resin and plasticizer, the components of plastisol, cure during the printing process. These properties cause plastisol print to be a layer in the fabric, creating a rough and heavy hand.  

Meanwhile, the composition of water-based fabric inks is only tiny amounts of plastic. Most parts are water soluble, allowing them to be absorbed in the fabric. The heating process of printing evaporates the water, and it deposits the pigment on the fibres of the tee shirt, creating a soft hand. 

  1. Less Ecologically Harmful

As previously stated, the artificial dye used to print shirts, known as plastisol, is a liquid plastic known to harm the environment due to the dye’s components. One of these is phthalates, considered toxic and banned in many countries because of their harmful properties to the environment and living organisms.

Water-based inks contain plastic, but the amount is significantly lower than plastisol. Also, water and pigment are the primary components of water-based dyes and do not contain phthalates. Considering mass production in the fast fashion industry: as the popularity of tee shirt designs grows, more dyes are required to meet market demand, and the effects of using synthetic dyes that are harmful to the environment are amplified, which is why water-based dyes are the better option to use in manufacturing.  

  1. Water-based Inks Are Long-Lasting

Because plastisol inks are liquid plastic that sits on the surface of a fabric, washing and wearing it can cause cracks or chip away parts of the print. That is why cracked or incomplete print designs are standard on older tee shirts.

On the other hand, water-based ink becomes a part of the garment, leaving the pigment on the fibres of a t-shirt rather than just the surface. The main advantage of water-based inks is durability, as the dyes can remain on the tee shirt indefinitely and will not chip or peel with washing and wearing. Moreover, you can iron your water-based print T-shirts, unlike plastisol-based ones, keeping their vibrance and print designs over time. 

  1. Water-based Inks Make A Tee Shirt Breathable 

People usually wear tee shirts in warm weather due to the fabric’s lightness. Most t-shirt fibres allow the skin to breathe and evaporate moisture. However, a layer of print made from plastisol can hinder that ability as it blocks the gaps in the fibre. Curing makes it a solid surface due to the solid PVC resin and plasticizer molecules cross-linking during printing. On the other hand, water-based inks seep into the thread and do not sit on the surface. This property allows the tee shirt to pass moisture and air, making it a comfortable choice to wear in hot weather.   

Disadvantages Of Using Water-Based Dye

Even though water-based inks have many advantages over other synthetic inks made for printing designs on t-shirts, you should consider the disadvantages.

  1. Printing On Darker Garments Is Difficult

Printing on darker-coloured garments and tee shirts may be more complicated since this ink is more transparent than plastisol, making the designs less visible. The vast majority of these water-based inks are not visible on dark tee shirts after printing, which is why manufacturers still use plastisol for dark-coloured tees.  

  1. Water-Based Ink May Not Be Suitable For All Materials

Water-based ink is suitable for cotton tee shirts that are 100% cotton due to their absorption capacity. However, polyester fabrics may not absorb the pigments well. The printing process can be much more complicated than synthetic inks that can print on any material. Manufacturers often use synthetic inks since it is easier and can print with less hassle. You may have to consider the type of fabric to print designs when using water-based ink. 

  1. Not The Best Option For Larger Print Runs

Lastly, water-based inks may not be the best option for larger print runs in businesses, especially in bulk. Synthetic inks such as plastisol are more cost-efficient and offer various features in which you can print faster and in size, unlike water-based ones. At the same time, these water-based inks are not as stable as plastisol during the printing process.


Organic materials and more eco-friendly dyes such as water-based inks have answered the call for a more environmentally friendly production of printed tee shirts amidst the fast fashion trend. Still, it has some disadvantages compared to the artificial ones we use, such as its complicated printing process and inability to be as vibrant as plastisol. Furthermore, moving from synthetic to more eco-friendly inks and shirts may cost more and take longer to sustain the demands for shirts.

However, this can benefit us in the long run as the carbon footprint of our current and future tee shirt demands will be lessened. It helps us to protect our non-renewable resources and move toward a sustainable industry that can keep up with fashion without sacrificing our environment.

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