6 Ways to Avoid Dye Migration During Heat Printing
With the growing popularity of athleisure and performance wear in the sporting goods industry, we are seeing more of the garments containing materials that present a challenge to the apparel decorating community. This is especially true in regards to printing and the need to avoid dye migration.
I’m sure we’ve all had requests for that 100% polyester, moisture wicking apparel.
Not only are these, and others, hard to print on because of the materials used, such as polyester, spandex, nylon, etc., but also because of the dyes in the materials that are used to color the fabrics.
Sublimated apparel adds trouble to the printing mix because of the special dyes used during that specific printing process.
In the end, when apparel decorators are trying to print on these types of fabrics, especially polyester, the apparel dyes tend to “migrate” through the finished design that was added to the garment.
What does this mean?
Well, for example, your white letters on your red shirt end up being pink instead of white.
Image source: Stahls’
This is known as dye migration.
Dye migration happens during screen printing and heat printing. It doesn’t matter if it is heat transfer vinyl (htv), screen printed transfers, or direct screen printed inks. It happens with both water based inks or plastisol inks.
So how can you combat this dye migration issue?
Telling customers you can’t print on performance wear or sublimation is not an option. You don’t want to lose business.
Especially because there are ways that you can avoid and mitigate dye migration from occurring.
What is Dye Migration and What Causes It?
Dye migration is when the ink “bleeds” through the ink or transfer that was applied to the garment.
This happens because of the heat that is needed to cure the ink or apply the transfer during the screen printing or heat printing process.
However, the same heat will also “activate” the dyes used for coloring the apparel, especially in polyester fabrics. This will allow the dyes in the garment to start penetrating the ink used for decorating.
Image source: Stahls’
It may not be visible immediately, and many times will become visible within several days after the decorating process occurs.
Dye migration is also very common among sublimated apparel. During the sublimating process, dyes are actually infused into a garment with the dyes being in a gaseous state. Heat will also activate these dyes back into a gas state, allowing the dye to bleed through your ink.
Image source: Siser
The most common fabrics that allow bleeding or dye migration is polyester or polyester blends.
[Related Content: Dos and Don’ts of Heat Printing on Polyester]
Apparel that has a deep or bright color, such as red, tend to bleed more frequently.
It is a similar concept of when you wash your clothes. If you add a red shirt in with your white shirt, especially in hot water, your white shirt will come out pink.
So the most common culprits are the polyester fabric types, bright colors, and the dye process that was used, such as sublimation.
If you have these combination of factors, take careful measures to avoid dye migration from happening.
Ways to Avoid Dye Migration
Dye migration is a big issue, but there are several ways that it can be handled so that it doesn’t happen, or so that it is not noticeable.
1. Use a low temperature application transfer
As mentioned above, the heat during heat printing activates the dyes in the apparel which start the dye migration process.
The good news is that this generally tends to happen above 300°F, around 300°F to 320°F.
Our first suggestion to prevent dye migration is to use a heat transfer type that applies in this range or lower, at 300°F or less. There are several transfer options to accomplish this.
Our screen printed transfer type, Elasti Prints®, is a plastisol ink that applies at 290°F on 100% polyester.
[Related Content: Combat Dye Migration with Elasti Prints®]
You can also use our full color transfer, UltraColor® Soft, which also applies at 290°F.
2. Use a transfer with blocker to avoid dye migration
When a low temperature application heat transfer just isn’t enough to block the dye migration, another suggestion is to try a heat transfer that has a “blocker” added to the transfer.
This printing technology adds an extra “hmph” to block that mischievous bleeding.
UltraColor Stretch with Blocker is available with a dye-blocker added as an option.
It is available with dye-blocker technology for added precaution for those sublimated garments.
The digital CAD-PRINTZ Sub Block heat transfer is another option that also has a blocker with this transfer type automatically.
Both these transfer types apply below the 300°F mark, at 290°F and 265°F, respectively, and adding the blocker with these transfer types helps mitigate the toughest of dye migration problems.
[Related Content: CAD-PRINTZ Sub Block – Great for Decorating Sublimated Fabrics]
3. Back your design with a darker ink
Another option to prevent the bleeding in your ink is to back your design with an extra color of ink, preferably a darker color.
The double layer and the dark color may not entirely “block” the dye migration from happening, but the bleeding will not be visible to the eye because of the darker color being used, especially when used on a lighter color of apparel.
Colors such as black, navy, or dark green for example, are great backing colors that help conceal the dye migration. This can be used as an extra measure of precaution with transfers such as our Elasti Prints, that already apply at a low temperature.
If you are confused on what we mean as a backing color, we are referring to the order of colors printed during the screen printing process.
In other words, if you have a common outline color on all of your artwork in the design, the entire design in backed with that color, adding a full layer of ink on the back.
Imagine if you were to print the ink layers one at a time, first printing black on the shirt, then white on top of the black.
With screen printed transfers, you get the advantage of printing both colors at once in a one-step application process.
[Related Content: Heat Printing Digi Camo]
4. Apparel choice
Choosing the right apparel can also help in fighting dye migration.
Depending on if your customer requests a certain brand or not, you have the ability to work with the garments of your choice.
There are so many different brands available that offer performance wear and popular blends of fabrics. As you work with the various apparel offerings over time, you’ll know which brands and fabrics tend to bleed more or less.
Because dye migration is an issue that is well known to manufacturers, brands, such as Augusta, help create blank apparel that is friendly to the printing process. Augusta offers a variety of apparel items that feature their True Hue Technology® that helps prevent dye migration and holds the garment color longer, wash after wash.
You can also get recommendations on apparel from other apparel decorators in online forums or at networking events, workshops, or tradeshows. This is just one of the benefits of growing your heat printing network and attending in-person events.
5. Test before printing
Even with transfers that have a dye-blocker, there are times that dye migration can’t be avoided.
When this is the case, testing is your friend.
Even though testing may not be an actual answer to prevent dye migration, it will prevent you from giving your customer a bad batch of decorated apparel.
It is always good to test beforehand so you don’t ruin a large run of shirts and get an unhappy customer.
We offer samples of all of our heat transfer types that you can use to test your specific apparel and colors that you are printing your design on.
Not all apparel and brands are manufactured the same way, so it is tough to say what will work and what won’t work when fighting dye migration.
However, all of the tips above give you a great chance to avoid the bleeding.
Remember, in order to ensure that you don’t ruin an entire order of shirts, it is best to test your specific garment that you have.
Not only will the brands vary, but the different colors may also vary in the results that you get.
Tip: Keep notes of what you have tested to know what works and what doesn’t work for future reference.
Once you get familiar with the apparel you offer and the transfers you know you can use, the process will get easier as you gain experience.
After printing on several types of polyester and blends of fabrics, knowing the brands and colors you’ve used, along with the transfer types, you will be a pro in no time, combating dye migration and bleeding.
If you follow our tip above and keep notes, you will always have a reference when you go to order apparel or are meeting with a customer to make recommendations on apparel offerings.
Even when new brands and offerings become available on the market, you’ll have a 6th sense of what will have a greater probability of bleeding and what to use to stop the dye migration.
Having problems with dye migration? Request a free heat transfer sample pack to use for testing.