What is Discharge Ink?

Get a Super Soft Feel with Discharge Ink

Discharge ink is a specialized water-based ink that uses an activating agent to remove the dye from natural fibers, giving it that super soft and lightweight feel. The most common activating agent is Zinc Formaldehyde Sulfoxylate.  When heat is applied to ink a chemical oxidizing process is generated resulting in dye being “bleached” out of a garment. When using regular activated discharge base the results will produce an off white color.  However, we are able to add colored pigments to discharge to generate nearly any color.

Discharge inks are limited to being used garments with natural fibers like 100%cotton or hemp and some natural/synthetic blends like cotton/polyester blends.  Results vary between garment manufacturers.  Some royal blues, purples, bright reds, and Kelly greens struggle to discharge.

Discharge ink is the best solution for bright color, soft, lightweight, and high detail prints on dark garments.

Are you worried about the Formaldehyde?
Don’t be afraid in the curing process the formaldehyde is dissipated, leaving the finished product safe to wear.  The discharge activator may leave a slight sulfur smell after production, but will disappear after their first wash.

Why can’t I use water-based and discharge inks with 100% polyester garments?
Synthetic fibers like polyester use different dyes than natural fiber garments like 100% cotton.  These dyes do not react with discharge activating agents and will not be bleached.  Also water-based ink does not form as strong a bond to synthetic fibers.  For 100% synthetic fiber garments plastisol or other specialty inks will have the best results. 

If you are looking for a softer more flexible print on your 100% synthetic garment, we recommend choosing a light colored garment with a dark ink color.  This is because printing light colors on a dark garment (especially white) will force us to use multiple layers of ink to obtain a nice opaque color, as well as prevent dye migration.

What is dye migration?
Dye migration is a problem in screen printing when printing light ink colors on dark 100% synthetic garments.  When the dyes used on synthetic fibers are heated some of the dye will be released as a gas in a process that is called sublimation.  This gas will leach into the screen printed ink.  Without care and use of layers of special dye blocking inks white ink printed on a red 100%polyester shirt can have the potential to turn pink.

Learn more about water-based inks and why we push the limits of excellence.