Tagged: discharge

Team Matchless Tees: Clear Discharge on Heather Denim Blue

As I’ve written before on the site, I have become a fan of discharge screen printing, but sometimes the results can be unpredictable. For example, I printed a whole batch of American Apparel jersey cotton t-shirts. Most of them came out to a light brown color, but some came out blue.

Discharge printing works by removing the dye from the fabric, and it really works only on all-cotton shirts. It sometimes works on poly-cotton blends, but you might not get the results you wanted. I was tasked with printing some more shirts for the softball team sponsored by Bar Matchless in Brooklyn.

The team selected a poly-cotton shirt in heather blue denim made by Tultex.

Tutlex Heather Blue Denim Raglan Shirt

They didn’t have any specific instructions in terms of print color. I was allowed to do what I wanted. At first, white seemed like a good choice, but I didn’t like the result. It looked like I had printed on top of the shirt, instead of printing in the shirt. Also, black seemed to fade away into a low contrast color. (Please excuse the poor white balance.)

Bar Matchless Shirts - Test Prints

The black might look a little gold to you, but trust me, it’s not. It’s the similar effect of that white-gold/blue-black dress meme from a couple of years ago.

I tried a series of different colors, including clear discharge. This “ink” removed the dye from the fabric but does not add any color. I was concerned whether this would work with a poly-cotton shirts that was dyed blue, but the results looked great.

Fullsizeoutput fdee

You can see that the natural color of the fabric complements the heather blue denim color really well, certainly much better than what I saw in my tests using white ink or black ink.

Here’s a look at the whole print on the shirt:

Fullsizeoutput fded

This example reinforces something I’ve learned over the years. Order a bunch of extra blank shirts to run test prints. You might be surprised how well one combination might work.

Adventures in Discharge Screen Printing

Over the last couple of years, I’ve become a fan of discharge screen printing. The process was popular in the 1990s but has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years because time is a flat circle and these kinds of trends are cyclical.1

Most screen printing today is with plastisol inks. These inks offer a lot of advantages including precise color matching and allow the printer to correct their mistakes. Plastisol inks, however, have one big disadvantage: a shirt printed with plastisol, especially one with a large print area, can feel like you’re wearing a heavy layer of rubber. Water-based inks, on the other hand, dye the fabric and feel exactly as if there was no print. This makes for very comfortable t-shirts and it’s something I’ve seen in “high-end” fashionable t-shirts. The process works very well, except for black or any other dark fabric. To print on those, you can either use an opaque ink—with a white base—or remove the dye from the fabric and then print on to the natural color.2 The latter is what the discharge process does.

Sometimes you get some very desirable results just using discharge base without any dye. Most all-cotton black t-shirts discharge to a light-brown color, which is the natural color of the cotton fabric. For example, this basic American Apparel all-cotton jersey t-shirt discharged as such.

IMG 6427

This is what I expected to get with this all-cotton shirt, and the last run I did for Roebling Sporting Club looked as such.

However, not all of the shirts discharged as such. For example, some shirts, specifically the small-sized shirts, discharged to this blue color.

IMG 6428

Don’t get me wrong. That color looks beautiful, but it was not at all what I was expecting.

Upon closer inspection, the “black” fabric on the small shirts does look a little more blue than the rest of the shirts. Whatever American Apparel did to make that batch of shirts, it was enough to cause them to discharge to a different color.

Thankfully, the client was open-minded enough to accept the results, but in the future I will be inspecting the fabric of each shirt to ensure they are actually made from the same fabric to ensure consistent results.

  1. It also might be because of the toxicity of the process. 
  2. This only works for 100% cotton fabrics. Poly-cotton and tri-blend fabrics work, but you might be surprised with the results.