Discharge Printing: A Comprehensive Guide to this Unique Printing Technique

Discharge printing, also known as bleach printing, is a fascinating technique that has gained popularity in the world of textile printing. This method involves removing the color from a garment to create unique and eye-catching designs. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the intricacies of discharge printing, exploring its process, benefits, and applications in the fashion industry.

Firstly, let’s understand how discharge printing works. Unlike traditional printing methods that involve layering colors on top of the fabric, discharge printing removes the existing color from the garment, leaving behind a soft, breathable, and vibrant design. This process is achieved by using a discharge agent, typically a combination of chemicals and dyes, that reacts with the fabric’s dye and breaks it down, resulting in a lighter or bleached effect.

The Process of Discharge Printing

The process of discharge printing involves several steps that are crucial for achieving optimal results. Firstly, the fabric is prepared by washing and drying it thoroughly to remove any impurities. Next, the discharge agent is mixed according to the manufacturer’s instructions, ensuring the right balance of chemicals for effective color removal. The discharge agent is then applied to the fabric using various techniques, such as screen printing or hand painting.

Once the discharge agent is applied, it needs to be activated. This is typically done by applying heat, either through a heat press or a conveyor dryer. The heat activates the chemicals in the discharge agent, breaking down the fabric’s dye and removing the color. After the activation process, the fabric is rinsed to remove any residue and neutralize the discharge agent. Finally, the fabric is washed again to ensure the removal of all traces of discharge agent and dried thoroughly.

Preparation of the Fabric

Preparing the fabric is a crucial step in the discharge printing process. Any impurities or contaminants on the fabric can interfere with the color removal and affect the final result. Therefore, it is essential to wash the fabric thoroughly before starting the printing process. This can be done using mild detergents and warm water, ensuring that all dirt, oils, and sizing agents are removed. Once washed, the fabric should be dried completely to prevent any moisture from interfering with the discharge agent’s effectiveness.

Preparation of the Discharge Agent

The discharge agent plays a vital role in the color removal process. It is essential to prepare the discharge agent correctly to ensure optimal results. The discharge agent usually comes in powdered form and needs to be mixed with water or a specific activator according to the manufacturer’s instructions. The correct mixing ratio and thorough blending are essential to achieve a uniform and effective discharge. It is also crucial to consider the fabric type and color when choosing the discharge agent, as different agents work better on certain fabrics and colors.

Application Techniques

Discharge printing can be applied to fabric using various techniques, depending on the desired design and effect. One of the most common techniques is screen printing, where a screen with the desired design is used to apply the discharge agent onto the fabric. This allows for precise and consistent application, especially when dealing with intricate designs. Hand painting is another technique that offers more artistic freedom and allows for unique and individualized designs. Other techniques, such as block printing or stenciling, can also be used to achieve different effects and textures.

Activation of the Discharge Agent

Activating the discharge agent is a critical step in the printing process. Heat is the most common method used to activate the discharge agent. A heat press or a conveyor dryer can be used to apply controlled heat to the fabric, allowing the chemicals in the discharge agent to react with the fabric’s dye. The temperature and duration of heat application may vary depending on the fabric type, discharge agent, and desired effect. It is crucial to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure proper activation and color removal without damaging the fabric.

Rinsing and Washing

After the discharge agent has been activated and the color removed, the fabric needs to be rinsed thoroughly to remove any residue. This is typically done by rinsing the fabric in cold water until the water runs clear. Rinsing helps to neutralize the discharge agent and prevents any further chemical reactions. Once rinsed, the fabric should be washed again using mild detergent to remove any remaining traces of the discharge agent. It is important to wash the fabric separately from other garments to avoid color transfer. After washing, the fabric should be dried thoroughly before further handling or wearing.

Types of Discharge Agents

There are different types of discharge agents available in the market, each with its own unique properties and applications. Understanding the different types of discharge agents can help you choose the right one for your specific printing needs.

Thickened Discharge Agents

Thickened discharge agents are commonly used in screen printing applications. They consist of a thickening agent, such as sodium alginate or starch, which helps to control the discharge agent’s flow and prevent color bleeding. Thickened discharge agents are ideal for achieving sharp and precise designs, especially when dealing with intricate patterns or fine details. However, they may require additional steps, such as steaming or curing, to ensure optimal color removal and durability.

Water-Based Discharge Agents

Water-based discharge agents are another popular option for discharge printing. They are easy to use and require minimal additional steps. Water-based discharge agents work by breaking down the fabric’s dye and removing the color without leaving a noticeable residue. They are known for their soft feel and excellent washability, making them suitable for a wide range of fabrics and applications. Water-based discharge agents also offer good color vibrancy and can be easily mixed with pigments or dyes to create custom colors.

Plastisol Discharge Agents

Plastisol discharge agents combine the color removal properties of discharge agents with the opacity and coverage of plastisol inks. They are commonly used in situations where a bright and opaque design is desired on dark-colored fabrics. Plastisol discharge agents work by breaking down the fabric’s dye and simultaneously depositing a layer of plastisol ink, resulting in a vibrant and opaque design. However, it is important to note that plastisol discharge agents may leave a thicker feel on the fabric compared to other discharge agents.

Suitable Fabrics for Discharge Printing

Not all fabrics are suitable for discharge printing. Some fabrics may not react well with the discharge agents, resulting in undesirable outcomes. It is important to choose fabrics that are compatible with the discharge printing process to achieve the best results.


Cotton is one of the most popular fabrics for discharge printing. It reacts well with most discharge agents and offers excellent color removal. Cotton fabrics also have good absorbency, allowing the discharge agent to penetrate the fibers effectively. The natural fibers of cotton also contribute to the soft feel and breathability of discharge printed garments, making them comfortable to wear. Cotton blends, such as cotton-polyester blends, can also be used for discharge printing, although the results may vary depending on the fabric composition.


Rayon is another fabric that works well with discharge printing. It is a synthetic fabric made from cellulose fibers, which can be easily broken down by the discharge agent. Rayon fabrics often have a smooth and silky texture, which adds a luxurious feel to discharge printed designs. It is important to note that some rayon fabrics may have additional finishes or treatments that can affect the color removal process. It is advisable to test a small sample of the fabric before proceeding with a larger project.

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