Do you love that lived-in, soft-to-the-touch feel on t-shirts?
Then you must know about discharge screen printing before you begin your next custom apparel project.
This water-based printing method removes pigment from the shirt, resulting in a comfortable print that’s softer than traditional screen printing inks.
But discharge screen printing isn’t the best choice for every project.
Today, we’re sharing the benefits of discharge screen printing, when to use it, and when it’s best to use a different printing method.
What is discharge screen printing and how does it work?
In a nutshell, discharge screen printing is a printing technique that allows you to print light colors on dark garments. You start with a dark shirt and print a design on it using a water-based ink.
The ink chemically reacts with the fabric of the shirt, leaving the fabric unchanged but bleaching the dye in the area where the design was printed.
The result is a soft, very durable print with great color contrast. You don’t even have to be a chemist to appreciate the science behind this stuff!
But how does it work? Discharge inks are made with a blend of pigments, binders, and discharge agents. The discharge agents react with the fabric to break down the dye molecules, leaving the fabric intact.
This is what gives discharge printing its unique feel. The finished garment is soft and comfortable, not stiff or crunchy.
What are some of the benefits of discharge screen printing?
There are so many that we could write a book on it. (Maybe we will do that one day!)
Here are just a few of them:
It’s gentle on fabrics.
Discharge inks are made with a water-based discharge agent, so they’re kind to the fabrics you’re working with. This makes discharge screen printing a great choice for printing on delicate fabrics.
The prints are very soft.
Because discharge screen printing removes ink from the fabric rather than adding it, your design will feel ultra-soft. If you have sensitive skin or you want to produce garments that feel amazing to wear, discharge ink is a phenomenal choice.
Discharge screen printing is a very durable printing method. The prints won’t crack or fade, even after multiple washes.
When should you use discharge screen printing?
You should strongly consider discharge screen printing if your project contains one of the following:
Vintage and distressed designs
If you’re looking to create a vintage or distressed look for your design, discharge screen printing is a great option. The soft, lived-in feel of the print is perfect for achieving this look.
Discharge printing is often used on athletic and performance wear because the soft feel of the print is comfortable to wear while working out or playing sports.
Since discharge screen printing doesn’t require a white under base, it’s an excellent choice for printing on dark garments. If you’re printing on black shirts, you may save money by choosing discharge screen printing over another method.
Discharge inks vs. Plastisol inks
Which is better? That’s a trick question.
Comparing discharge and plastisol is like comparing apples to oranges. Yes, they’re both fruits, but they’re totally different flavors and textures.
The same is true for discharge and plastisol inks. They’re both screen printing inks, but they’re used for different purposes.
Plastisol inks are the most common type of screen printing ink. They’re made with a PVC (polyvinyl chloride) resin, which gives them a thick, creamy consistency. Plastisol inks are great for printing on a variety of fabrics.
Discharge inks, on the other hand, are made with a discharge agent that reacts with the fabric to break down the dye molecules. (See? We told you the process was totally different.)
Discharge ink is ideal for printing on dark garments. And FYI, it does not perform well on all fabrics. Synthetic fabrics, like polyester, will not discharge correctly.
Reasons to choose plastisol ink
- It’s great for printing on both dark and light fabrics: Plastisol ink can be printed on both dark and light garments. This is because plastisol ink doesn’t rely on the fabric’s color to produce the design.
- The colors are opaque: Plastisol ink has an opaque quality that allows it to completely cover the fabric underneath.
- It has a wide range of colors: Plastisol ink comes in a wide range of colors, so you’re sure to find the perfect shade for your design.
- The colors are vibrant and durable: Plastisol ink is known for its vibrant colors and durability.
- It’s inexpensive compared to other types of ink: Plastisol ink is a great choice if you’re on a budget since it’s *generally* less expensive than discharge and water-based inks.
Reasons to choose discharge ink
- It leaves you with a retail-soft design: Discharge printing results in a soft, pliable design that’s comfortable to wear.
- It does not crack or peel: Discharge printing is also a very durable printing method. The prints won’t crack or fade, even after multiple washes.
- It does not contain PVC: Discharge ink is made without PVC, making it a more environmentally-friendly printing option.
So, which is better? It all depends on your priorities:
The best choice for brightness: Plastisol
Both plastisol and discharge inks can produce vibrant colors. However, plastisol inks tend to be brighter and more opaque than discharge inks.
The best choice for durability: Plastisol (potentially)
Overall, plastisol inks are more durable than discharge inks. However, this doesn’t mean that discharge inks are not durable. Once again, discharge inks will never crack or peel.
The best choice for comfort: Discharge
Discharge inks leave you with a soft, comfortable design that’s perfect for athletic or performance wear.
The best choice for the environment: Discharge
Since discharge inks are made without PVC, they are kinder to Planet Earth. Additionally, discharge inks don’t require the use of a white under base, which can save water and energy during the printing process.
If you’re not sure which type of ink to use, ask your screen printer for their recommendation. (Hopefully, that will be us!) Your custom apparel partner will be able to help you choose the right ink for your project.
How to spot a discharge printed fabric in the wild
If you’re not sure if a garment has been discharge printed, there are a few tell-tale signs to look for:
The fabric will be very soft.
Discharge prints are extremely soft, so if you can’t help but want to cuddle up to the fabric, it’s probably a discharge screen printed garment.
There will be no white under base.
If you see a light color printed on a dark garment with no white under base, it’s likely that the design has been discharge printed.
The garment looks like it came straight out of a high-end vintage store.
If the garment looks like it’s been around for decades, but the print is still in perfect condition, you know what that means. You’ve spotted discharge ink in the wild!
Is discharge screen printing eco-friendly?
Yes! Discharge screen printing is a very eco-friendly printing method. The inks are water-based, and the discharge agents used in the inks are usually biodegradable or non-toxic.
If you’re environmentally conscious (as you should be), discharge screen printing is a wonderful choice for your next project.
What does discharge screen printing mean for your project?
Well, as we mentioned, discharge screen printing uses a water-based ink formula that produces vibrant colors on dark fabric.
Instead of adding thick layers of ink to achieve the desired result, discharge screen printing only requires a thin layer. Your finished design will look crystal clear and feel soft to the touch.
Here’s the 411 on your discharge screen printing project:
Your garments will upgrade to “favorite t-shirt” status.
The ultra-soft garments created with discharge screen printing are sure to become your new favorite t-shirts.
Your prints will feel weightless.
The discharge printing process removes ink from the fabric, so your prints will feel weightless. This makes discharge screen printing ideal for printed garments that will be worn against the skin.
You’ll be able to charge more for your custom apparel.
Because discharge screen printing is a high-quality printing method, you’ll be able to charge more for your custom garments. Your apparel will look and feel expensive without breaking the bank.
You’ll have more design options.
Discharge screen printing gives you the ability to print light colors on dark garments, which gives you more creative freedom with your project.
Your designs will have superhuman strength.
OK, maybe not superhuman strength, but discharge screen printing is a very durable printing method. Say goodbye to cracking and peeling forever.
You’ll want to open your own vintage-inspired store.
Seriously, discharge screen printing is that cool. We’re not kidding.
Are there any disadvantages to discharge screen printing?
While discharge screen printing has many benefits, there are a few disadvantages to consider before choosing this printing method.
It can be tricky to produce accurate colors.
One of the biggest disadvantages of discharge screen printing is that it can be tricky to get the colors right. Because discharge inks remove color from the fabric, it can be difficult to achieve consistent colors from print to print. (This is why we don’t recommend DIYing your discharge project.)
However, if you work with a team of reputable custom apparel experts like us, we will make sure your discharge screen printing project turns out perfect.
Not every fabric will discharge correctly.
Discharge screen printing only works on natural fabrics like cotton and linen. If you’re discharge printing on a synthetic fabric, the ink will not discharge correctly and you’ll end up with a mess.
If you want to print on polyester, you’ll need to opt for a different printing method.
In general, water-based inks are more expensive than plastisol inks.
If you’re working with a tight budget, discharge screen printing may not be the best choice for your project.
Despite these disadvantages, discharge screen printing is a popular printing method due to its many benefits. If you’re looking for a soft, durable, and eco-friendly printing method, discharge screen printing is a great option.
Discharge screen printing prerequisites
To discharge your project, you will need:
A garment that is mostly cotton
Discharge inks don’t work well on polyester or other synthetic fabrics. 100% ring-spun cotton or 80% cotton/20% polyester garments react the best with discharge ink.
A design with limited colors
Discharge screen printing works best with designs that have four colors or less. Each color in the design needs to be printed separately, which can increase the cost of your project.
A trustworthy custom apparel partner
Because discharge screen printing can be tricky, it’s important to work with a team of experts who have experience with this printing method.
In recent years, discharge screen printing has seen a resurgence in popularity. Prior to that, not many custom apparel companies offered it. Therefore, there aren’t as many discharge ink experts as you might think.
At Scrappy Apparel, we have years of experience in discharge screen printing. If you want your project to turn out perfect, we’re the ones to call!
How can you get started with discharge screen printing today?
If you’re interested in discharge screen printing, the best way to get started is to find a reputable company that offers this printing method.
And now for our shameless plug:
Why choose Scrappy Apparel for your discharge screen printing project?
With 16 years of experience in the custom apparel industry, we’re ready to rock your world with luxury-level garments.
We’ve been using discharge screen printing to create soft, durable prints for our clients for years.
Our experts will help you navigate the custom apparel ordering process from start to finish, ensuring that your project turns out perfect.
And in case you’re new here, here is a rundown of why you should pick us to be your custom apparel partner:
- Our shipping is FREE to the USA, and we always deliver on time.
- Our turnaround times are unbelievably fast.
- Our customer service is second to none. We’re not happy until you’re happy. Period.
- Our luxury-level fabrics and inks are unrivaled.
Ready to get started on your discharge screen printing project?