How To Dye Discs – Disc Dyeing 101

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Chances are, you’re reading this because somewhere you saw a dyed disc, and you were like, “Whoa! That’s really cool! How did they do that?!” That’s how it started for me, anyway. Fortunately, dyeing a disc is really not that difficult! If you can follow directions,  learn from your mistakes, and be willing to get out of your comfort zone and try some new things, then you too can dye a disc! My goal is to try and compile as many resources as possible for a wide variety of methods, give you all the tools you need to be successful and eliminate unnecessary (and costly) errors, and help you get your discs to look however you’d like them to look.

Even if you don’t view yourself as an artistic person, I promise you that you too can dye discs! Before I got into disc dyeing, if you would have asked me if I considered myself an artistic person, I would have hurt myself from laughing so hard. I can barely draw a straight line with a ruler, let alone things like hand painting. However, I was willing to jump right in and make some mistakes and learn things, and now, I feel comfortable doing a variety of different techniques!

When it comes to dyeing discs, there are some fundamental truths that apply across the board, no matter what method you are wanting to use. One of my goals in writing this specific guide is to help give you some useful knowledge that is relevant, no matter if you’re wanting to do a lotion bed, a stencil, a shaving cream burst, a glue bed, or anything else.

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Safety First!

While we’re not dealing with a plethora of noxious, toxic chemicals, we are working with flammables sometimes, and we are dealing with dyes that can ruin flooring, countertops, tables, etc.. You should probably be wearing gloves, if for no other reason than to avoid staining on your fingers. If you’re using a torch (which is frequently done in lotion beds to remove bubbles, as well as floetrol beds to help create cells), be very mindful of the position of any containers of open acetone or denatured alcohol. Make sure to put down some sort of drop cloth if you’re working in an area where you can’t afford to make a mess.

Plastic Selection:

There are only a few absolutes when it comes to dyeing a disc, but let’s start with the most fundamental—you must dye premium plastic! Don’t waste your time and materials by trying to dye baseline plastics, or soft putter plastics. Either the dye will not take, or it will fade very quickly, and possibly even bleed onto adjacent discs in your bag. I don’t know who originally came up with this chart, but this is an excellent place to start when you want to know if a specific type of plastic will hold dye or not. I have seen some people dye some soft plastics with varying degrees of success.

The next fundamental truth we must face is that ALL DYES FADE OVER TIME! How quickly and how severe are dependent upon the technique used, and more importantly, the plastic type. In the time I’ve been dyeing discs, I’ve enjoyed trying to get a hold of as many different plastic types as possible, and seeing how they take and hold dye. In my personal experience, I’ve come to find some things to be true:

Hard plastics (Innova Champion, Discraft Z, Trilogy Opto/Opto-X Glimmer/Opto-X Chameleon, etc) fare the best over time, and will fade the least. They may not look quite as bright and eye-popping as some of the softer premium plastics (Innova Star, Discraft ESP, Trilogy Gold Line, Kastaplast K1, etc) initially, but the softer plastics will definitely fade more quickly.

Set Times:

This is a very common question for beginning disc dyers, and the short answer is, it depends on several factors. The method you’re using (shaving cream burst, lotion bed, glue bed, floetrol pour, etc) as well as whether or not heat is used is what helps you determine your set time. Heat is a catalyst for the chemical reaction taking place between the dye/medium and the plastic—the dye we use LOVES heat. However, the mediums (or sometimes, the colors we plan to use) may not love the heat. There is usually a balance to be made between heat and time. Methods like stencil/hot-dip require a short set time, but clear glue beds with complimentary colors (orange/blue, red/green) will need a longer set time without heat (that is, if you don’t want blending between adjacent colors in the bed—but that is something I will address in a different in-depth guide). You must also factor in plastic type when considering your set times. For softer plastics, I like to use a 24-48 hr set time for clear glue beds and lotion beds, but for harder, translucent plastics (Innova Champion, Discraft Z, etc) I like to go at least 72 hours.

While I certainly understand the anticipation of putting a disc into a bed, and the subsequent agony of having to wait until it’s finished to pull the disc, I want to remind you that your disc is going to spend the rest of its life NOT absorbing color. In fact, it’s going to start fading the moment you remove it from the bed. Give your disc the best chance to absorb as much color as it can, and don’t short-change by taking it out of its bed too early.

Cleaning the Disc:

No matter the method you plan to use to dye your disc, it is very important to properly clean your disc before you dye it! There are some manufacturers (Kastaplast, Trilogy, MVP, that I’ve noticed so far) that use a silicone-based release fluid inside of their molds before injecting them with plastic, and it helps the disc release cleanly from the mold. This fluid can be very stubborn to remove, and can ruin an otherwise great dye job. If you’re dyeing a disc made by one of the aforementioned manufacturers, I would strongly recommend using a well-saturated Magic Eraser under running hot water to scrub the whole disc—including the underside! I have had instances where I cleaned off the top of the disc, but not the underside, and ended up transferring that silicone fluid to the top because I handled it too much after cleaning the top side. Be very careful when using the magic eraser, if it is not fully saturated with water, and if you scrub too hard, you can scuff up the shiny surface.

After giving it the magic eraser treatment, I then scrub it with dish soap and a sponge, rinse it well, dry it off with a clean towel, and then set it aside until I’m ready to put it in my bed (affectionately known amongst disc dyers as “sending it”).

Method Selection:

There are a wide variety of methods available for you to use, which one you want is dependent upon the effect you want to achieve. All methods have pros and cons, I would advise you to choose one method if you’re a first-time disc dyer, and learn to do it well. You will certainly make mistakes—we all do! These are to be expected, so just do your best to learn from your mistakes, find out why they happened, and take our lessons learned on to the next disc. Remember—true learning only happens during moments of failure! Otherwise, you are only confirming what you already thought to be true.

Here is a list of some of the most popular methods that you see disc dyers use, as well as some pros/cons of each:

Shaving Cream Burst

Pros: Simplest method, minimal supplies needed

Cons: Limited stylistic opportunities, can damage delicate foil stamps.

Dyed Lotion/Lotion Pours

Pros: Most versatile medium (in my opinion), full spectrum of colors available, bright and vivid colors, can be used with or without heat

Cons: Avoid using complimentary colors adjacent to each other to avoid mixing to form brown, uses a significant amount of dye

Clear Glue Beds

Pros: Very economical from a dye/medium usage perspective, can use complimentary colors together without mixing to make brown (assuming you don’t put the colors on top of each other), old beds can be reused, pretty easy to get good results for beginners

Cons: Not all colors of dye work well

Floetrol Pours

Pros: Very cool cell effects can be achieved with this method, if using with a heat lamp (highly recommended) you have short set times, very vivid colors, can reuse beds multiple times

Cons: Easily the most expensive medium to use from a dye/medium cost perspective, not a beginner-friendly method

Stencils

Pros: If you’re wanting to “put a picture on a disc” this is the method you need to use, adding color to the disc is very quick, fairly economical cost once you get past the initial investment

Cons: Highest barrier to entry in regards to upfront cost and investment, very labor intensive, some working knowledge of stencil editor software is necessary to create your own stencils

Spin Dyes

Pros: Relatively quick (no set time is needed), if you don’t have a working turntable you can check a local pawn shop for one that doesn’t work right and pick one up cheaply that will serve its purpose for you just fine! 

Cons: A steady hand and patience is required. If you’re not careful when cleaning them up, you can smear and ruin the clean effect. 

Stamps: To Keep or To Wipe?

There are several factors to consider in regards to stamps. Do you want to keep the stamp in good condition? There are several methods (namely shaving cream bursts and any method involving a heat lamp) that will damage your stamp, so if you want to keep it in good condition, you may want to consider masking it. There are several ways to do this. You can either use a white glue mask, where you put white school glue over top of the stamp, and allow it to dry. However, I have even had this method damage some of the more fragile foil stamps (Innova, Discmania). The best method I have found for protecting stamps is to use Con-Tact Brand semi-transparent matte vinyl. Cut a piece big enough to cover the whole stamp, and then come in with an x-acto knife and carefully cut along the lines, and then use a pair of precision-tipped tweezers to remove the unwanted pieces. After you pull the disc out of the bed and clean it off, you can hold the disc under a trickle of hot running water, and SLOWLY peel the Contact paper off of the disc.

If you’re wanting to put a stencil on a disc (or otherwise just be rid of a stamp you don’t like), you can use a foam cosmetic sponge (typically used for putting on makeup) with a bit of acetone on it, and then wipe the stamp by pressing the sponge against the foil and moving it around in circles (think “Wax on, wax off” from Karate Kid). Some stamps (Kastaplast, Discraft) are typically quite hearty, and will require a lot of elbow grease to remove them. Be careful when taking the first few swipes if you’re removing a colored foil stamp, you can spread the color around the disc, be prepared to change sponge wedges as needed to absorb the color from the foil.

Choosing Colors:

There are a handful of things that need to be considered when deciding which colors to use on your disc. First and foremost is the disc color. White discs are obviously best, but colored discs can be easily dyed well if you take some things into consideration.

First, let’s talk about basic color theory. We have 3 kinds of colors—primary colors (red, yellow, blue), secondary colors (orange, green, violet), and tertiary colors (red/orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, red-violet). Mixing primary colors will give you a secondary color, mixing a primary color with a secondary color will give you a tertiary color, but MIXING 2 SECONDARY COLORS WILL MAKE BROWN. Also, THERE IS NO WAY TO DYE A DISC WHITE. If you want to incorporate white into your color scheme, you have to use a white disc and make use of negative space by leaving blank places in your bed for the underlying white to show through. Also, you need to know that you can ONLY dye a disc darker, not lighter. No, there is no way to bleach or otherwise remove color from a disc.

If you are starting with a green disc, you have to think of it like you’re wearing a pair of green-tinted glasses. Adding red dye to a green disc will not show up red, it will show up brown. Adding blue to a yellow disc will show up green. Adding red to a yellow disc will show up orange. Consider this when choosing the colors you want to use on a disc. I like to stick with closely related colors when dyeing colored discs. If I have an orange disc, I will probably stick with a mixture of red/orange/yellow/black. 

If you are unsure of where to start in regards to color selection, look at the color wheel above! Choose a color, then go directly across the color wheel from it. That is the complementary color. Red and green are complementary colors, blue and orange, or violet and yellow. These colors look great together, and are sure to create nice contrast for you. You can also look at the color wheel, choose a color, and count 8 colors to the left, as well as 8 colors to the right, and those 3 colors will work well together (yellow/magenta/turquoise, for example).  You will also want to take the color of the stamp into consideration. Try and choose colors that go well with the stamp, and the contrast will help it stand out. You don’t want to take a disc with a red stamp and use a lot of red in your dye design, because it will all blend together. 

What materials do I need?

The short answer to this question is, it depends on a wide variety of things. I will cover that more in my in-depth series of method-specific guides. However, there is one common denominator that all methods need, and that is dye. There are several different ways to go about procuring some dye, but not all dyes are created equal. Let’s start with the best.

Pro Chemical & Dye (PCAD) has been an AMAZING supplier to have! These folks have the best stuff for what we want to do, at a fair price. They have been amazing at developing new colors for us disc dyers, and they go out of their way to source pigments that are as economical as they can be. While there are other things you can use, I am proud to support this company and would highly recommend them above all others. If you are a first-time dyer, you can even visit the discdyeing.com DIYdye kits and supplies page and find some well-priced kits that let you dip your toes into the disc-dyeing waters. Should you choose to just buy individual colors from PCAD, the 2oz container is more than sufficient for a 1st time purchase. 

You can also use iDye Poly (it MUST be the IDYE POLY, for synthetic fabrics!), and there are a few shades of color that iDye has that I use (silver grey, gunmetal, violet, pink) that are great. When you look at cost per ounce, PCAD is the more economical choice, but if you happen to live somewhere that has a big crafting supply store (Michael’s, Joann’s, etc) you might be able to find some there. 

Worm dip is another popular choice amongst disc dyers, and it mostly works well, with some caveats. Although PCAD has made some UV-reactive colors for us in the last year, the biggest draw about worm dip is its UV reactivity, which makes it really pop under a UV/black light. If you want to try using worm dip in your dyes, be sure to use UNSCENTED WORM DIP (and be mindful to not get the garlic scented stuff). Thing is, I have found it to be inconsistent. There are some colors that work GREAT, but then I buy another bottle, and I have to add dye to it to get it to match the other dye colors I use in a bed. There are also some colors that react very strangely in clear glue beds (Spike-it Grape sinks to the bottom, Quick Coat blue reacts oddly and forms a coagulated blood sort of consistency). Quick Coat worm dip and Spike-It are what you need to get if you want worm dip. Please note, Quick Coat makes a clear UV worm dip, which you can then add any color dye you want to it and make it UV reactive! If you contact CSI directly, you can also purchase it by the pint and quart and save some money if you see yourself using a lot of it. Keep in mind, worm dip uses acetone, and acetone will damage stamps! There are ways to use it and mitigate stamp damage, though.

In regards to other supplies you’ll need, nearly all methods (lotion, clear glue, pours, shaving cream) require a “bed”. There are a variety of things that people have used successfully! I personally use white ultimate frisbees, as well as 9” deep dish pyrex pie plates (but make sure you have enough medium in your bed if you plan on dyeing a larger diameter disc!), but as long as it is big enough for you to put your disc in, it should work. Try to avoid using a bed that’s too big, as you’ll end up wasting medium and dye. Also, if you put down a piece of plastic saran wrap in your bed before you start, it makes cleanup a breeze! I prefer the white ultimate disc for clear glue beds because it allows you to see the bed you’re putting together in true color.

If you’re wanting to do lotion dyes, you need plastic bottles. I use 2 kinds–an 8 to 12oz condiment bottle to mix up my dyed lotions, and then I use that bottle to squirt my dyed lotion into precision-tipped squeeze bottles which I then use to make my bed. The dyed lotion you use is really all about personal preference. However, the good ol’ standby is Queen Helene cocoa butter which can be purchased in a variety of places. I like to use Queen Helene for my blank beds, and I use Suave cocoa butter for my dyed lotion mixtures because it is thicker. A butane torch is very useful for popping air bubbles in your lotion.

If you’re wanting to do clear glue beds, you’re going to need glass vials to store your dye/acetone mixtures, as well as some glass droppers.

If stencils are what you want to do, the most important thing is getting a stencil cutter. I have a Silhouette Cameo4, but I know of other dyers that have a Cricut and it does what they want it to do. You’ll also need transfer tape, Oracal 651 vinyl, some precision-tipped tweezers, extra cutting mats that fit your machine, as well as a skillet large enough to hold your disc if you plan to do hot dips (be sure once you use this skillet for a hot dip that you don’t use it for food again!)

Disposal of waste:

Once you’re finished dyeing a disc, you’re going to be left with an empty bed full of medium and dye (unless you’re only into hand-painting, or stencils), and you need to be mindful of how you dispose of it! I’ve dyed 800+ discs since I began dyeing, and I’ve yet to have any plumbing issues from cleaning off discs. DON’T POUR YOUR BEDS DOWN THE DRAIN! I don’t really have any concrete evidence of this, but I strongly suspect that pouring glue down your sink drain is not good for your plumbing system. Also, we don’t want the chemicals from that going back into our water supply. I save old cardboard fast food cups and pour my spent beds into those, and set them down in my trash can.

Time to dye a disc!

Now that you’ve read all of this, it’s time to pick something and go for it! Don’t be afraid of making mistakes, be afraid of making mistakes AND NOT LEARNING FROM THEM! You are going to make mistakes, that’s just the nature of learning a new task. Keep things simple! Don’t be afraid to reach out to me or other members of the disc dyeing community. It really wasn’t that long ago that I was new to disc dyeing, and I was constantly asking people questions that they were so kind enough to take time to answer. I’ve found the disc dyeing community to be very supportive and helpful. If you’re on Facebook, join the “Disc Golf Dyers” group. I am also available for one on one dye tutoring sessions via Zoom, if you’d like an in-depth, fully guided experience. Best of luck to you, YOU CAN DO THIS! 

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Bryan Eckert

Bryan Eckert

Bryan owns Pipedreamer Customs, LLC, bringing you deliciously filthy disc dyes since May 2020! He also offers one-on-one dye tutoring for aspiring disc dyers that would like lessons. Feel free to email him or message him on Instagram (@pipedreamer79) to discuss how he can help.

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