Customers frequently ask us about discharge printing or waterbase printing and why it works on some garments but not others. There’s a lot of information floating around promising that discharge will or will not work, but oftentimes the information lacks insight about the effectiveness or limitations of the ink. When working with discharge ink, there’s a difference between “Will this work?” and “Will this look good?”. We wanted to take a moment to discuss discharge, equipping you to make the distinction between these two questions and enabling you to determine what is best for your project.
The first thing to look at is the ink itself. Let’s start with an important point: all discharge ink is waterbase (water based) but not all waterbase ink is discharge. (You may need to re-read that last one a few times). The distinguishing factor between discharge and waterbase is that discharge contains an additive called ZFS (Zinc Formaldehyde Sulfoxylate for the super technical). ZFS creates a chemical reaction that essentially removes the dyed color of the material, allowing the waterbase ink to re-dye the material at the same time. For this reason, waterbase ink works best on light colored garments and discharge ink works best on dark colored garments.
When considering waterbase or discharge ink, you might try thinking of them as “dyes”. When waterbase ink is applied, the shirt color will affect the ink color, as the waterbase “dye” interacts with the material “dye”. For example, a white waterbase print on a red shirt will appear somewhat pink. Or a yellow waterbase print on a blue shirt will appear green. These results are not bad in and of themselves; in fact, they may act in your favor depending on the vision you have for your project. Some customers are intentional about these results to achieve a faded/vintage effect. Take a look at the following image for reference: