What is Discharge Printing?

What is Discharge Printing?
8th July 2022 5th Team

What is Discharge Printing?

Here at Fifth Column, we love printing t-shirts, it’s in our DNA. And we love all aspects of the art. One technique which is increasingly popular is discharge screen printing. Okay, we know, that begs a question. What is discharge printing? Well, read on and we’ll tell you everything you need to know about this fascinating form of screen printing and the discharge printing process. In simple terms, discharge printed t shirts are created using the screen print method but done so with a special ink. Specifically, discharge printing ink which reduces the dye in the garment and replaces it with the ink colour. As an aside, some folk refer to discharge printing as extract printing.

One of the key characteristics of discharge printed clothing is the soft hand feel of the finished article. These soft prints differ from those achieved with more traditional ink in that the dye is absorbed into the material rather sitting on the surface. As a consequence, you can’t feel the printed design when you run your hand over the garment. Plus, discharge print commonly has a rather beautiful, retro-inspired vintage vibe which people absolutely adore. Something that’s a must for certain artwork, those designs that simply won’t properly work with a surface-proud, plasticky feeling print.

What are the advantages of discharge printing?

Following that, we really ought to have a closer look at the qualities which make discharge printing t shirts such an attractive option. Whilst discharge print won’t suit every project, it’s definitely got a lot of devotees and is gaining admirers all the time.

  • Soft feel – as mentioned, print inks are absorbed so the tee feels super soft with none of the inflexibility found with other methods
  • Comfort counts – allied to the above, discharge printed t shirts don’t suffer from stiffness and are more comfortable than some alternatives.
  • PVC free – the discharge process employs waterbased ink which has environmental benefits (we’ll examine the eco side of things more below).
  • Classic cool – like we said, a printing discharge style of shirt is spot on for getting that classic vintage mood to your designs.
  • Less deterioration – although it may be subject to a little fading over time, unlike some print methods, discharge printed merch is not affected by cracking or peeling.
  • Dark delight – discharge screen printing works wonderfully well on some darker coloured base t-shirts.
  • Loves cotton – a great choice for cotton, 100% or those natural fibers with stretchier qualities to the material.
  • Less weighty – discharge printing ink is lighter, especially relevant with large designs which can feel heavy with other methods.
  • Strong shades – perhaps not the vibrant colours found in plastisol, but discharge printing still produces vivid, marvellously coloured garments.
  • Hot favourite – discharge prints are far more resilient when exposed to heat sources such as everyday ironing.

Need advice about discharge printing? Get in touch and let us help.

The discharge printing process

Okay, let’s take a quick look at the nuts and bolts of discharge printing t shirts. It’s got complications, like all commercial printing procedures, but we’ll provide an essential outline. And don’t forget, get your design and choice of garment right and discharge could be your perfect printing solution. In other words, the discharge printing step by step is similar to other forms of customisation. We agree quantities, artwork, and payment details. Then, sort the inks, mix in the activator and set up the printing presses. Once that’s done, cure and dry your shirts. It sounds simple but requires experts at every level of the process.

Below, we’ve got some quick answers for common discharge printing process related queries.

  • Is screen printing discharge printing? And, similarly, what type of print is discharge print? The answer to both is basically yes, they’re variations of the screen printing craft.
  • How do you identify discharge prints? Well, the easiest way is the feel and nature of the printed garment.
  • What is discharge paste screen printing? An easy one, it’s merely another term for discharge printing.
  • What is the difference between resist printing and discharge printing? Put simply, resist employs chemicals that inhibit the dyeing process whereas discharge removes the base ink of the shirt.

Discharge Printing Examples

These are some shots from our discharge screen printing runs. Examples of the process and results of discharge screen printing. Colour discharge printing is a unique technique and delivers distinctive results.

Discharge printing t-shirts at Fifth Column.

Soft to the touch

What is discharge screen printing?

Comfortable to wear

An example of how discharge printing ink looks on a t-shirt.

A vintage vibe

Examples of discharge printing t shirts.

Sizzling with colours

Cotton t-shirts work best with discharge print.

Cool with cotton

Advantages of discharge print.

Easier to iron

Is Discharge Printing Eco-Friendly?

The answer is yes, in context. It’s fair to say that there are aspects of discharge printing t shirts which are friendlier to the environment than some of the alternatives. For example, plastisol inks are no longer acceptable in certain circumstances. To explain, the latter contain PVC which is considered by many to be an extremely toxic substance. That’s to say, making and getting rid of it can be dangerous and potentially harmful activities. Which is avoided by using water-based discharge printing ink. Another eco-friendly t-shirt printing tick is that it’s possible to combine eco pigments with them. So, is discharge printing toxic? The answer is no more so than other methods if handled thoughtfully with an environmentally acceptable approach to such things as the bleaching process.

Why Use Fifth Column for Discharge Printing

Fifth Column are a fantastic choice of printing partner if you need this style of customised clothing. We have a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to screen printing and have printed literally millions of t-shirts over the years. The vast majority of which were screen printed and within that number many crafted using the discharge print technique.

In short, we know what we’re doing and we love doing it. We’ve got a discharge printing recipe that works. Get in touch and you’ll get a flavour of that passion for printing. Better still, you’ll see the physical evidence when we deliver your order.

If you want to read more on the subject, we also have a resources article: Types of Ink for Screen Printing T-Shirts.

Click HERE to get an online printing quote.

Stay up to date