A beginner’s guide to dyeing discs

By Kevin Morrow — For Rattling Chains

In my original post about dyeing discs on Rattling Chains, I wrote about how I got into dyeing discs and gave some other thoughts on the process.

I’ve been dyeing discs for a couple of months and have received a lot of feedback on how good the discs look. I’ve also had people who are interested in doing it ask a lot of questions about the process.

I’m going to explain my process with a step-by-step look.

First, you need some specific tools to make it easier.

A light source, such as a light table, and an Xacto knife with No. 10 blades are needed. I use a new blade for each mask I cut. (Sometimes, however, I will use the same blade for multiple small designs).

My light source is something I have left over from my pre-digital photography days — a Logan desktop light box I used to edit negatives. You might be able to find these pretty cheap as most photographers who went digital could have them sitting in a closet collecting dust.

Another way to get a light source is if you have a glass table, put a lamp under it.

Other items needed include a black Sharpie marker, a roll of simple masking tape and an old credit card.

For supplies, I use Orcal 651 clear vinyl, which I get from U.S. Cutter. I use the clear vinyl because it’s easier for me to see through. I also use iPoly Dyes (iDye for polyester fabrics), which I get from Dharma Trading. I don’t use Rit dyes because they changed the formula, meaning one has to find certain lot numbers and that can be a hassle.

I do my design work with Photoshop.

With everything you need in hand, it’s time to get your art ready. I do all my designs in Adobe Photoshop. But use whatever art program you are most comfortable with.

I have a base file that is an 8-inch circle because most discs are about 8.5 inches in diameter. I started with a full color album and worked it to black-and-white line art. Once you get it the way you want, print it out and tape it to the backside of a square of the vinyl.

Then cut the vinyl at least an inch larger than the print on each side. I usually like to have about two inches extended from the edge.

Now comes the fun part — cutting the design.

My bad vision helps me with detailed cuts.

Everywhere there is black needs to be cut out. This is where my bad vision finally pays off. I can get super close to what I’m working on and make really detailed cuts.

But, if this is your first dye, start simple.

You need to use a soft touch. The vinyl cuts very easily and it’s real easy to cut all the way through. You will also need to try and keep cuts continuous without lifting the blade. This prevents over cuts that could bleed through when soaking in the dye.

Weeding is removing the cuts that you want the dye to get through. I weed as I go so I don’t miss anything. Some cut the whole design and then weed out the cuts.

As I finish areas, I cover them with masking tape, which keeps me from messing up other cuts.

Tip: When cutting block text, such as “Impact,” I use a steel straight edge to get a nice, clean cut.

I have also found when cutting lines or details, I try and cut from the inside out. This makes it easier to keep the cuts from popping up. An example would be cutting a small circle. If you cut the outside edge first, you will need to hold the vinyl down when you cut the inside edge of the line, which can be very difficult.

Once finished with the cutting and it’s covered in tape, I use the Sharpie to outline the art and then draw a circle around it, so it can help me center the art on the disc when I stick it on. I also run the old credit card over the tape so when pulling the backing off the vinyl, it sticks to the tape for a later step.

Now you have to get the disc ready.

I use left over paint reducer to removed the stock stamps. Generic acetone you get at any hardware store works fine. Do this step outside, however.

I like to use paper towels for this part. I use a circular motion and keep my other hand behind the disc to counter the pressure. Don’t stop until all of the stamp has been removed. Pay close attention to the edges as sometimes the stamp goes into the plastic a little and it can be hard to get out.

Now comes the time that can make or break the entire project.

Place the mask vinyl side down and peel the backing off from one corner as you hold down the vinyl with the other hand.

I do the next step a little different than others. But it helps keep air bubbles out from between the vinyl and the disc. This is where the Sharpie outline comes in handy. I have the mask on my light table sticky side up. I position the disc above the mask while I press down on the center of the disc. I press the disc down on the mask just enough to get the center to stick and then lift the disc up. This is what you get:

Now I use the old credit card and start in the center and work my way around the artwork. I do this because it’s easier to work out air bubbles with the vinyl hanging than to work them out with the mask mask on top. This is the hardest part because it’s a make-or-break procedure. If you mess up the mask, it’s all wasted time. So take your time and practice a few times before pulling the backing off.

Be careful pulling the tape off.

I put the backing back on the sticky side of the vinyl for the next step of pulling off the tape.

Pull the tape off slowly watching for any small pieces of vinyl that didn’t stick to the disc. If you get a renegade piece of vinyl use the Xacto blade to peel it off the tape and place it on the disc. When all the tape is off check the cuts closely to make sure there are no missing elements. Like the center of a letter or a small cut in a design that will leave a large black area.

Now it’s time to get the dye ready. I recommend using an old frying pan that you don’t need anymore. I use an old beat up baking pan, which works fine. I keep my unused and mixed dyes in Mason jars.

Mix the dye — one-half ounce packet per quart of dye. Pour the dye in the jar and fill with hot water and mix it well. But be careful, Mason jars don’t seal well if cold and if you shake it, you could spill dye all over. Also try and keep your hands clean from dye or you can get it all over furniture, floors and anything else you touch!

I have a gas stove and set the flame as small as possible. A good reference is to heat the dye at the same temperature you would warm a baby bottle. Warm it to touch. You should be able to touch the side of the pan while it’s on the heat. Don’t get it too hot or the heat will loosen the adhesive on the vinyl and the dye will bleed where you don’t want it.

As the dye heats up, it’s time to work out any air bubbles. The ones to worry about are those near the edges of the cut. Use the backside of the credit card to work them out. Be careful not to bind up the vinyl. You can also use your thumbnail. Work around the edges of the disc, checking for vinyl that isn’t quite stuck to the disc.

Making a bowl with the extra vinyl.

Once the mask is ready and the dye is warmed, the next step is to make a bowl with the extra vinyl. This is where the larger square of vinyl comes into play. Start at the corner and pinch the vinyl together to make a fold. This also gives you something to grab.

Set the disc in the dye. The time depends on the plastic, temperature and strength of the dye. Star plastic, which takes just a few minutes, dyes faster than Champion.

You can grab the disc by the vinyl and lift it out just a few inches and look through the disc. Don’t lift too high, though, or dye can splash. Be careful to keep dye from spilling over the vinyl to the backside of the disc.

It will be done when you can’t see through the dye on a Champion disc.

Using a paper towel to hold under the disc, run the disc under cold water.Run the water on both sides of the disc to get any dye that has dripped on the vinyl.

Now comes the fun part — pulling off the vinyl.

Peeling the vinyl off can be done a few different ways.

Some people use warm, soapy water. I use my fingernail to peel it off a little at a time. You’ll also want to wash your hands a few times really well so you can get any dye off your hands.

The final step is to remove any adhesive from the disc after pulling the vinyl off. I personally use Goo Gone and a paper towel.

Congratulations!

You are now done and you’ve dyed a disc. A nice piece of easy art is the way to go for a first try. A simple design with very few intricate cuts are the best type to learn with.

I hope this helps anyone interested in dyeing a disc. It might be worth using and old beat up disc for a first try. I’ve only been at this a short time, but I’m having a blast.

(Editor’s note: This story originally ran on Kevin Morrow’s personal blog. This goes with his first story about dyeing discs, which appeared on Rattling Chains).

Kevin Morrow is a disc golfer based in Virginia. You can see more from Kevin at his blog.

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