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The do’s and don’ts of disc dying

July 16, 2011

Whenever you’re out on the disc golf course, disc selection is important. You got to think about molds — drivers or mid-range, stability, how beat in the disc is and in some cases, the type of plastic is important as well. Setting yourself apart from other players on the course can also factor into the selection process.

You could always just write your name and phone number on the disc (which is never a bad idea, in case you lose it in the woods or the creek). But a much better way to say “Hey, this is MY disc!” is to do a custom dye.

Dying discs can seem daunting at first, but if you start with a simple design and practice a little patience, you’ll get the hang of it.

The first thing you have to do is get yourself a blank disc. Innova will sometimes bottom-stamp a disc, but if you don’t have one, you can make one.

All you need to get the stamp off the disc is some acetone and a paper towel. Make sure to get the acetone from a hardware store like Lowe’s or Home Depot. The acetone in fingernail polish remover isn’t 100% and won’t work as well. A good rule of thumb is, If it’s sold in a plastic container, don’t use it.

Just put a little acetone on the paper towel and gentle move it in small circles across the stamp. It should disappear quickly. Then just toss the paper towel in the trash, rinse off the disc and wash your hands. If you want to use a little soapy water to wash off the disc that’s fine. I usually keep an S.O.S. sponge next to the sink for this purpose.

Another trick I use is wiping multiple discs at a time. If I know I’m going to be doing a few dyes, I’ll go ahead and wipe all the discs at once, even if I’m not dying them all that day. The dye process can be time consuming, so any steps you can save yourself only help you in the long run.

Now you need a design. You basically need an outline of something or a one-color stamped vector image. There’s a bunch of free programs online that can do this for you. Or you can just learn how to use Photoshop. I suggest the latter.

I’ve found the if I keep the design no bigger than 6.5 inches at its widest part, it seems to fit the disc pretty well.

After you print out your design, there’s a couple of different ways to transfer it to the disc.

If you’ve got a lightbox you can either trace the design onto contact paper or simply make all the cuts at this point. If you go ahead and cut the design, you’re going to need some transfer tape to keep it together when you pull the backing off the contact paper.

After removing the backing, lay the contact paper face-down (sticky side up) on the table. If you already traced or cut out your design, you should have outlined the disc on the paper with a sharpie. That way you can line up the design easily. I’m still working with blank contact paper at this point of the process, but either way, once you stick the disc to the paper, flip it over and  slowly smooth the contact paper to the edges of the disc with a squeegee, drivers license or credit card. Fold the edges around the rim of the disc as tight as possible, and form some makeshift handles out of the corners. These will com in handy later.

What I do at this point is tape the design to the disc with painters tape. I then work from the center of the disc, cutting through both the printout and the contact paper with an X-acto knife … trying not to cut into the disc.

Now just weed the parts of the design that will be dyed.

There is more than one school of thought about the next step. What works best for me is to use powdered Rit dye (mix with 5  – 6 cups of water) in a an old pot (not an aluminum pie tin) and set the electric burner to the lowest setting. Once the dye is heated, the pot should feel warm to the touch, but you should be able to palm the sides of the pot without burning yourself.

Holding your disc by the handles you made, gently set it in the pot at a slight angle until it floats freely. Pull it back out after 30 – 45 seconds and make sure there are no bubbles trapped under the disc. Let the disc float for 15-20 minutes (depending on what color you’re using and how dark you want it), then transfer it to the sink using a paper towel to catch the drips, rinse it under warm water and remove the contact paper. I give the disc another once over with the sponge at this point.

Some things I’ve figure out along the way are:

Champion and Elite Z plastic take the dye best.

Both these discs were only in the bath for about 15 minutes, and the black is dark.

These plastics tend to bleed under the contact paper a lot less the the others as well.

Star, ESP and similar plastics take dye pretty well too.

The disc on the left is Sirius plastic from Millenium, which is similar to Discraft’s ESP.

The disc on the right is Innova’s KC Pro plastic. It doesn’t look bad, but that’s black ink and it was in the bath for over 20 minutes.

Pro, DX and Pro D plastics are easier to cut into with the X-acto knife too.

This is an example of the bleed I was talking about.  A little practice and this becomes easier to avoid.

On the bright side, the effect is so small the you don’t really notice it on the course. Plus, who else in your foursome dyed their own disc?

Tattoo flash is a great way to find designs that work well with one color.

There’s tons of flash online and if you slowly start cutting out more intricate designs, you get better with the knife.

Better yet, try drawing some of your own.

Dying multiple colors can be tricky.

I’m still experimenting with different methods trying to see what yields the best result. I plan on making a video of a two color at some point, but for now, look at how I messed up.

I cut out the red parts at the same time as everything else (and I might have cut into the disc a little), but the main problem seems to be that there’s no other color around the red.

When using multiple colors you dye from dark to light. Because this sat in the black ink before I weeded the red parts and then gave it a bath in red ink, there’s a thin black outline around the red words. As long as the second color is supposed to be outlined by the first color, you won’t end up with weird bleeds like this.

If the second color has to stand outside the lines of the first color, I’d suggest either cutting those pieces after the first bath or possibly even re-masking the entire disc and cutting again.

I’m still not sure what the best method for multiple colors is, and you might have a better way to dye single colors. This is just what’s been working for me as I’ve been learning.

If all this seems like way too much work but you still think you’d like a custom dyed disc, there’s a couple of options.

Dynamic Discs offers a wide selection of custom dyes, but it’ll cost you at least $30 plus the price of the disc.

Ask around. Chances are there’s someone in your area or online with more patience, knowledge and time on their hands than you. They might even cut you a deal.

Other homemade custom dyes can be found in the forums on dgcoursereview.com and discgolfreview.com.

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