Blends, Tough Dyes and Waterbase Printing

Learn about the problematic interactions between waterbase inks and difficult to print fabrics.

Fabric Dyes

Obtaining bright prints on synthetic blends is one of our biggest challenges in using water based and discharge inks. These inks are made to react with the reactive dyes commonly use on organic fabrics like 100% cotton. Polyester yarn is dyed differently resulting in fabric that is resistant to the discharge process. The manufacturers are hip to this, and many are reformulating their dye practices, giving us better discharge-ability on blended fabric. The prints are not as bright as 100% cotton yet, and the key is preparing your design to work with the garment you choose.

100% cotton vs 50/50 discharge ink comparison. Results vary by manufacturer, country of origin, gravitational pull, etc.

Design for the Garment

We recommend designing to the strengths of the garment. Yes, blended fabric can give a color cast to the inks, but we can use this to our advantage by designing in colors that complement the shirt color as shown in the green and blue gradient printed on American Apparel’s BB401 50/50 tee in Black/Aqua. The colors complement the fabric and we are not worried about printing a bright white that may turn light green. Why not just print a light green? We can get mad at the garment or the printer because thicker high opacity inks are needed to get a bright white, but this feels heavy on a garment with a sheer feel. Lets just give in to reality and design for the garment.

American Apparel 50/50 Black/Aqua with bright discharge colors.

Go Vintage

Want a muted or vintage look? Now you’ve got nothing to worry about. Most 50/50 and tri-blend garments will not discharge that well, so getting a muted print comes with the territory. We can also simulate this look on 100% cotton fabric if you ask. Otherwise, we’ll be trying to get the brightest print we possibly can.

Heather Grey shirt with a water based discharge print. Notice the heathering of the shirt showing through the print.

Pesky Dyes

To make things slightly more complicated, there are even some 100% cotton dye colors that are notorious for being resistant to the discharge process. They include but are not limited to: kelly green, turquoise, purple, royal blue and a few other similar colors. Regardless, that is the subject of another article.

White ink on royal blue fabric.

The Take Away

Printing on blends can result in muted or washed out looking colors. Embrace it. Some blended fabrics buck the trend and yield surprisingly bright results. Just ask. Not all fabric dyes are created equal. There are variances between manufacturers, origin countries and dye lots. Don’t feel let down if we can’t get a bright white print on every shirt color. Design for the garment. Let it influence the print colors and be at peace with that. Ultimately it often comes down to your priorities. If you really want to use polyblend tees, go for it! As you can see in the last photo posted, sometimes a heathering effect really adds a nice touch to your designs. But if you want the softest brightest most opaque print possible, you’ve gotta stick with waterbased discharge on 100% cotton.

Muted colors rule!