What is discharge printing?

Discharge printing is a screen printing process where the same techniques and equipment are used but instead of normal ink, discharge inks are used, which remove the shirt’s dye instead of putting a color on top of the shirt.

It is somewhat similar to bleaching in a design, except it doesn’t damage the fibers like bleaching would. It results in an extremely soft print, and shows the weave of the shirt.

It can be used by itself, as an underbase for other colors to be put on top, or with pigments added.

Pigmenting discharge can be difficult to achieve exact color results, as the discharge efficacy affects the color, and what you see is not what you get when mixing the pigments, but it can still be a great way to achieve colors on dark garments.

A discharge print up close
Some of what we have discharge printed before

Example discharge printing

Multi color print using discharge ink on a lighter shirt

Multi-color discharge print remembrance shirt for a musician. Note that discharge can be printed on light shirts too! It's a great way to get a soft print on both light and dark shirts.

Discharge screen printing on a black shirt

2 color discharge print for a tech company. Fine detail work can be achieved with discharge if you use the right screens.

Discharge ink screen printing on a black heather shirt

Simple and soft white discharge print for a business

Discharge ink printing on a light green shirt

By incorporating the color of the shirt itself, this 2 color discharge print looks like a 3 color design.

Zoom in on discharge printing on fabric

A fine detail zoom in on discharge ink. The white area has been printed with non-pigmented discharge, and the shirt fiber's original color is showing. That's why the print is so soft.

2 color business shirt print using textile discharge ink

White discharge ink combined with black waterbased ink for the outlines.

discharge t shirt printing of sleeves

One color print on both the front and sleeve of a shirt. And notice the custom inside tag work too!

discharge printing process on short sleeves

Vibrant whites, reds and yellows give some variety to the same sleeve print within an order.

faint discharge print on a red shirt

Simple white discharge print on a tri-blend shirt. You won't get a super vibrant white on tri-blend because it's only partially cotton, but it can look really cool still.

Multi color discharge ink on a light blue shirt

Discharge ink works on light shirt colors too, and can be used for photographic prints like this one of a hot air balloon.

discharge screen printing with gradients on a stone wash shirt

Distressing the artwork makes it look more vintage, as shown here. Combine that with a stone-washed looking blank shirt, and the softness of discharge printing on fabric, and you have an instant "vintage" shirt!

3 Color discharge print

Large areas of ink on shirts can be heavy and hot if you are using traditional plastic inks, but with discharge ink screen printing, a larger print like this is not noticeable when you're wearing the shirt. It breathes and moves like the rest of the fabric.

Common discharge printing questions

Is discharge print expensive?

No, it's not really more than traditional ink screen printing. At Vacord, we price it the same.

Sometimes printing multiple colors can be faster with discharge, because you can print without "flashing" between colors (flashing is briefly drying the shirt before putting down another layer). And often you can avoid an underbase layer, so printing with water based discharge ink can be faster than traditional ink actually, so we don't have to charge more.

Is discharge ink eco friendly?

Yes. Conventional inks are made mostly of plasticizers, whereas discharge inks are made mostly of water. While no ink is completely inert, discharge ink is a major upgrade for the planet over conventional inks.

What is the discharge printing process?

It's not much different than traditional screen printing: Print your design on a film (a transparency), create a stencil in a screen from that film, and push ink through the stencil onto your fabric.

Extra steps and special emulsion needs to be used to keep the stencil from breaking down during the print process from the inks, but other than that, it's the same equipment as plastisol screen printing.

How can you tell if a fabric is discharge printed?

If you look closely at a discharge print, you can see the shirts' fibers in the print, and that's because you're putting the design into the shirt, rather than onto the shirt. So visually, you can tell that way, if it just looks like the design was bleached in.

Also, if you can't feel the design at all on the shirt, that's a good sign to tell if a fabric is discharge printed.

What is discharge ink?

Discharge ink is a special screen printing ink that removes and replaces the fabric's color, so that your design goes into the shirt, instead of onto the shirt.

What is discharge printing on t shirts?

Discharge printing on t shirts is a way to put the design into the fabric, which gives you a super soft print because the printing is part of the shirt, rather than a heavy layer of ink on top.

Is discharge ink safe?

Discharge ink is safe. We use advanced, modern ULF (ultra-low fermaldehyde) discharge inks so there's no skin irritation, which was possible (yet rare) with older generations of the inks. But now it's totally safe.

Some care has to be taken to keep it safe during the production process, with proper ventilation, but we of course do that at the shop.

Can you discharge print on polyester?

Nope. The discharge ink only works on natural fibers (IE cotton, or bamboo if you're fancy), so if you've got a shirt that's 100% polyester like an athletic shirt, it's not going to work.

But if it's a blend fabric, like a 50/50 (which is half cotton, half polyester), then it can sort of work, and either result in a vintage looking print, or a nice print that just isn't as vibrant as it may otherwise be.

It's rare for hoodies to be 100% cotton, so for discharge printed hoodies we like to use ones that are 80/20 or 90/10 blends for best results. That way, you can get a discharged hoodie that looks quite nice!

Positives of Discharge Screen Printing

• Very cool technique that removes the dye from the shirt

• Something different from screen printing “norms”

• We offer discharge printing at no additional charge. In fact, it’s often cheaper than traditional ink because it takes less layers

• Little to no feeling of the print on the shirt

• Vibrant colors

• Still able to do a great amount of detail

• The best way to print on dark shirts with non-traditional inks

Negatives of Discharge Printing

• Some styles may discharge better than others

• Not all shirt colors will discharge (royal blue never works well, for example)

• Process can be quirky

• Can be hard to use for photographic style or process printing

• Only works on natural fibers, like cotton, so 50/50 doesn’t discharge as well

But don’t worry, we are experts and will let you know how best to use discharge ink for your project, and if it should be used.

What does discharge screen printing feel like?

Discharge screen printing is soft. We keep saying that, but it's true.

People always notice how soft the printing is when they feel it. They say "you can't even feel it on the shirt!"

After being first printed, you do feel the discharge print a little bit on the shirt sometimes, but that goes away after the first time the shirt is washed.

Once it's washed, you can't tell where the design ends on the shirt because the design basically sits inside the shirt, so it's all soft and nice. That's part of the reason we're obsessed with discharge printing.

Gradient discharge screen printing
Why use discharge ink?

Discharge printing benefits

Discharge printed shirts are soft

Noticeably soft

Since the design is in the shirt instead of on the shirt, the printing is as soft as the shirt itself

Vibrant discharge printing on fabric

vibrant colors

Rich beautiful colors are possible, and we can match the print to your pantone codes

An affordable one color discharge print


Discharge is a premium service but doesn't cost much more, if any more, than traditional ink

Discharge t shirt printing for a business

Stands out

Most printers and shirts still use the heavier traditional inks, so by using discharge ink you're already ahead

Discharge ink screen printing of a hot air balloon

Why use Vacord for discharge screen printing?

Vacord has been a pioneer in discharge printing since 2008, when we got our first sample jar of discharge ink and became fascinated by the product. Shortly after that, we wrote openly about proper discharge printing techniques and became well known for it. Since then, we've further honed the craft.

When Fruit of the Loom wanted to test their shirts with discharge printing, they hired Vacord, and our experiments were written up in Impressions magazine, an industry publication.

We love discharge ink, we excel at it, and we want to print it for your projects.

Have questions about discharge printing? Want to get pricing?

Get a no-pressure quote

Vacord founder Stuart
Vacord staff Becky

Let us know what questions you may have, or what your project would be like. You should hear back within a business day (or same day) from either Stuart or Becky.

Not sure of all your answers? That's fine. You don't have to have everything figured out to get the conversation started. We can guide you to the best results.

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Email us at info@vacord.com

Call 888-787-4587

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