How long do discharge printed shirts last?

People are always concerned about how long printed shirts will last.

And with good concern!

Because there are a lot of bad printers out there, using bad methods, bad skills and bad equipment.

A properly printed shirt should never fade. Nor should it crack or peel off.

So many people print shirts in cheap, cheap ways, and people get scarred by it, and they expect that any shirt design could, at any moment, start to peel off.

Or they worry that the shirt won’t look good after ten washes. (Or even one).

Or that the design on the shirt will crack up, because the ink is heavy and weird and plastic-y and just too ephemeral to make a lasting, quality shirt print.

There are several different common shirt printing techniques, and screen printing is the highest-end, most professional one of them all. (That’s what Vacord Screen Printing does, naturally)

Discharge printing is just a kind of screen printing. For the most part, the major difference is the ink used. Other than that, the screen set up is a bit different, but it’s the same equipment and procedures overall. It’s great for printing on natural fibers (like cotton) but can work well in blend shirts too (like some 50/50 poly/cotton blends).

how long do screen printed shirts last

A 3 color discharge print for a mechanic's shop. This print will stay vibrant and clear for the life of the shirt.

So how long do discharge printed shirts last?


A discharge print on a shirt will last as long as the shirt lasts you.

I (Stuart, the founder of Vacord here) started printing with discharge ink in 2007, so quite a while ago.

And I, like all screen printers, have a ton of t-shirts. It’s a perk of the job.

And I wear these discharge printed shirts over and over, for years now. Some of them I’ve washed dozens of times. And they still look good!

Older discharge print shirt

This shirt is 10 years old, and has been worn and washed countless times. The white discharge print is still a nice white and the shirt still fits well.

Ten year old discharge print

Up close, this ten year old white discharge print still looks great.

old plastisol print

Up close, this ten year old white plastisol print does not look great. It's cracked up badly because it wasn't cured well. (This is not a shirt that we printed!)

Will discharge printing crack or peel?

No. It can’t.

When a print on a shirt cracks, it’s because the plastisol ink (which is a plastic based ink) is thick and wasn’t cured properly during the heating/drying stage after printing.

A plastisol print should never crack, but it’s poor curing methods that cause it.

Discharge can’t crack because it’s not thick like that. It’s not its own layer.

Discharge ink goes into the fabric and works by changing the color of the fabric.

So since your shirt can’t crack, the discharge print can’t crack.

And, as well, since the discharge printing is part of the shirt itself, it can’t peel off. It’s in the fabric. That’s also why you can’t feel the print (more on that later).

Quality screen printing won’t crack or peel, and discharge screen printing can’t crack or peel.

Will discharge printing fade?

No, if properly printed, discharge should not fade.

Discharge is used on darker fabrics, and it is sort of like it bleaches the design into the shirt (it’s not bleach though). So since you’ve created a lighter print than the fabric was, it’s not like it would go back to dark. It’s a very permanent process.

Now, if a printer does oversaturate the discharge ink with too much pigment, it can create a weird issue where the added color fades out, but the discharge print is still there. For an example of this, if you were trying to put hot pink discharge on black shirts, and you really added a ton of pink pigment to the discharge to try to get a HOT hot pink, the discharge pigment may not hold, so you’ll have pink on black shirts, but it will fade over time to be just white on black shirts. This issue can be avoided though if the printer uses proper color matching formulas and scales (which Vacord does!)

A three color discharge print for a Volleyball gym

A three color discharge print for a Volleyball gym

Do discharge printed shirts need special care?

No, not at all.

There is the rare chance that the discharge activator can be a skin irritant, especially to younger skin, so it is recommended to wash the shirt before you wear it. But other than that, there’s nothing special to the care.

Just throw discharge shirts into the wash with everything else!

Will the feel of discharge printing on the shirt change?

One of the coolest things about discharge printing is that since it’s part of the shirt, you can’t feel it.

Well, you can’t feel it after it’s been washed. There will be a very slight feel before the shirt is washed, where you can feel some texture of the printing.

But over time, the print’s feel won’t change because it basically becomes un-feel-able as soon as it’s washed and worn once.

ladies wearing pink discharge prints

Some of the Vacord staff wearing pink discharge printing on sweatshirts. Quality permanent printing!

So, if discharge printing can’t fade or crack or peel, is it the right ink for your screen printing job?

If you’re considering discharge printing for your job, or you just want a soft result for your print, there’s a few quick questions you can ask yourself:

- Are you fine with natural fibers? Discharge works on cotton and other natural fibers, so if you’re looking for 100% polyester active wear, discharge doesn’t make sense.

- Are you going for darker fabrics? It doesn’t have to be all black everything, but discharge does work on darker fabrics, so if you want white shirts, discharge doesn’t make sense (use regular waterbased inks instead for a soft touch). But if you’re doing something even as “dark” as a baby blue, discharge ink probably makes sense.

- Do you want something different than all the heavy plastic printing you see on cheap shirts? If you’re printing onto nice shirts, you should use an ink of matching quality, so discharge printing makes sense if you’re at all concerned with getting a nicer end result!

If you said "yes" to these questions, consider discharge printing for your job.

Have questions about discharge printing?

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