Inkjet printing of 8% Y2O3-stabilized ZrO2 (YSZ) thin films is achieved by designing a novel water-based reactive ink for Drop-on-Demand (DoD) inkjet printing. The ink formulation is based on a novel chemical strategy that consists of a combination of metal oxide precursors (zirconium alkoxide and yttrium salt), water and a nucleophilic agent, i.e. n-methyldiethanolamine (MDEA). This chemistry leads to metal–organic complexes with long term ink stability and high precision printability. Ink rheology and chemical reactivity are analyzed and controlled in terms of metal–organic interactions in the solutions. Thin dense nanocrystalline YSZ films below 150 nm are obtained by low temperature calcination treatments (400–500 °C), making the deposition suitable for a large variety of substrates, including silicon, glass and metals. Thin films and printed patterns achieve full densification with no lateral shrinkage and high ionic conductivity.