Discharge Inks vs. Fabric Colors

Explore the interactions between waterbase inks and fabric types and colors.

Fabric type

Our discharge inks love 100% cotton. Unlike plastisol, we have a lot to consider when combining discharge inks and fabric colors. We get the best image fidelity, color accuracy and wash-fastness on cotton t-shirts. Water base ink typically doesn’t like synthetic fabric like polyester that much, though we do print blended shirts all of the time. The results on blended fabrics are often described as muted or vintage. There are some exceptions to the rule, in particular many of American Apparel, Next Level and Tultex heathered blends will discharge surprisingly well, despite being 50/50’s. When in doubt about your desired garments discharge-ability do not hesitate to discuss with us. If we don’t know the results we can probably guess or may do some testing to find out for ourselves . . .

White printed on American Apparel’s Mint colored tee. It takes on a slight greenish tint, but could still be considered white.

Troublesome dyes

Some dyes are more resistant to the discharge process than others. In particular, royal blue, purples and kelly green are notorious for not discharging completely. Often the effect looks just fine, respectively, a powder blue tint on discharged royal garments, a lavender tint on discharged purple garments and a mint green tint on discharged kelly garments. Some other colors may resist discharge as well – it varies by garment manufacturer and color. Once again, ask us and we can discuss which garments may yield the best results for your project.

White printed on American Apparel’s Neon Yellow colored tee. The white barely discharges at all resulting in a color slightly lighter than the fabric.

If you can't beat 'em . . .

OK, it’s really hard to get a bright white print on Kelly Green. We could get frustrated OR we could work with our limitations instead. Do we really need a bright white? Can we print a bright green for a tone-on-tone look? Can we go for a white print that is tinted slightly green for a muted vintage look? Maybe try a different green shade, Grass and Irish Green tend to discharge better than the Kelly Green which has a stronger blue component. Who knows, with some creative thinking can we work around the limitations of fabric colors and get a solution that may be better than the initial concept? Lets try it.

Bright green ink on kelly green fabric. Works great!


Arrrg! It can be frustrating when things are completely out of your control. ‘Overdyes’ bear mentioning because they can come as a big surprise to us when we get them. What’s an overdye? Sometimes a manufacturer may make a whole bunch of shirts in a color like bright orange thinking that they will sell like hotcakes. When nobody buys them they turn around and dye them a really dark color, usually black. Pretty sneaky. Also really lame when we get some of those mixed in with an order because halfway through the run you end up with a dozen shirts with prints that look orange tinted. Not much we can do other than let you know about it, don’t charge you for those tees and reprint if necessary. Bummer, but out of our hands.

These shirts are all the same brand and printed at the same time. THe ones on the right are from a batch of over-dyed green shirts. Notice the slight green tint.