What is it?
Discharge printing uses a chemical process to remove the dye in the fibers of a shirt and replaces it with a new color or leaves the natural cotton color when no color is added. It allows for a clean, soft and breathable print on your apparel. If you are concerned about the plastic-feeling, make-your-back-sweaty-in-the-summertime, raised ink that screen printed shirts sometimes have, then discharge printing is for you! It’s some sexy stuff.
Here’s some important stuff you’ll probably want to know:
Discharge inks usually come out without major issues and are great for soft, breathable prints. But know this…
- Discharge inks can give unique color results each time and are relatively imprecise.
- All shirt colors from all manufacturers discharge print differently. Click here to see a chart of shirt colors and their discharge print ratings.
- Discharge printing only works ‘correctly’ with 100% cotton. 50/50 shirts get a salt and pepper kind of effect. Sometimes this is a cool effect that people with use on purpose.
- Shirts won’t feel ‘ink-free’ until washed, and colors can lighten slightly after the first wash.
- The pricing for discharge printing usually adds about 10 to 50 cents per color at standard quantities.
Discharge inks usually come out without major issues and are great for soft, breathable prints. But here are a few things you should know.
- The pricing for discharge printing usually adds about 10 to 50 cents per color at standard quantities. But keep in mind that a dark shirt with discharge ink will often need one less screen since it doesn’t need an underbase of white, so it can actually save you money sometimes.
- Discharge printing is unique, imprecise & somewhat unpredictable. The colors can vary slightly, giving unique results each time, which also makes them impossible to color match exactly. Standard plastisol inks are relatively easy to control, but since discharge inks are chemistry in action, they’re one shade when they’re mixed, another shade once they’ve been printed, yet another once they’re cured & dried, and just slightly lighter after they’ve been washed the first time. We can usually get it within a Pantone number or two, but you need to be aware that you might not be able to get a color exactly where you’d prefer it. Additionally, please keep in mind that we can’t always stop and change discharge inks on press because it dries quickly and breaks the screen emulsion down. This is especially true with fine detail and halftones.
- All shirt colors from all manufacturers discharge differently. A black tee from one manufacturer could look different than a black tee from another manufacturer.
Even two of the same color shirts from the SAME manufacturer will discharge slightly differently sometimes. This is especially true of black shirts since some manufacturers will mix their leftover dyes to make black dye, or ‘overdye’ color shirts black. So if they used mostly red dye to make their black dye, and we discharge the shirts, the print could have a bit of a red tint. This is uncommon but has happened to us more than once. Click here to see a chart of shirt colors and their discharge print ratings.
- Some shirt colors just don’t want to discharge well. Royal blue and kelly green are hopeless. The only way to get a color that’s close to what you’re looking for is to combine a discharge white underbase with thinned plastisols on top (see ‘Combining ink types’ above).
- Discharge printing only works “correctly” on 100% cotton items. 50/50-blend shirts get a dulled or salt and pepper kind of effect (see George & Dragon example to the right). Sometimes this looks fantastic, and sometimes it looks terrible. The results are even more unpredictable with tri-blend shirts (rayon/cotton/polyester blends).
- The shirts usually won’t feel ‘ink-free’ until washed, and colors could lighten slightly after the first wash, so you could wash them before sale to your customer (or Acme can wash them for a small charge). In theory, discharge prints can cause skin irritation if worn before being washed, though we’ve never actually encountered this.
- Discharge printing adds to the printing price per color, per shirt, per location. But keep in mind that a dark shirt with discharge printing will often need one less screen since it doesn’t need an underbase of white. As mentioned above, it’s possible to combine the ink types and print a discharge underbase first and then print thin plastisol or waterbase inks on top of it, which would make the print softer, but not completely unable to be felt.
Because of the inherent variation of colors with discharge inks, we don’t usually offer Pantone/PMS mixes. We have a lot of standard discharge ink colors to choose from and discharge ink mixes are not cheap due to all the testing required ($50 each), so they should be avoided.
- Having said all that, discharge printing usually comes out without major issues and is a well worth the effort. The soft, breathable print looks and feels great. Have at it!
For more information on the best uses for discharge inks, check out this article on our blog for great tips for printing with discharge inks.