Disc golfers love custom discs and place a great deal of sentimental value on disc golf equipment. It should come as no surprise that many of us have attempted to dye our discs ourselves. Most of us end up with a mess of mis-colored discs and stained shirts, but a few of us press on and go searching for the best way to die a disc golf disc.
I’m with most of you, I’m not good at custom dying discs. The good news is that you can learn from my mistakes! This post will go over some basics of dying discs that I’ve experienced and address some important components of each step in the process. Later we’ll publish a few additional posts that go into more specific and advanced methods.
Disc Dying Process Basics
Like all good processes, the disc golf disc dying process begins with planning. Planning will help achieve optimal results as well as save you from humongous stains on your clothes and counter tops. You’ll want to plan everything from your desired design to your dying set up. Here’s my typical arrangement, but depending on the method of choice I’ll switch it up sometimes.
The pie tins under the discs catch the dye that spills off the edges to help avoid a mess. Pie tins are also my container of choice when I’m doing a shaving cream dye. I always have a bottle of clean water for quickly rinsing spills as well as extra towels. It’s also a good idea to keep a knife or pair of scissors handy for projects like these.
What Discs Are Best To Dye?
Before dying your selected disc I’d recommend practicing on a water disc (one you don’t care much about). If you don’t have any that you’re comfortable test dying, then you could pick up some cheap x-out discs, Infinite Discs usually has a good x-out stock. I set up a full experiment for the purpose of this article. Keep in mind that different plastics hold dye differently and as I’ll show you later, here are the 4 primary plastic.
- Opaque Premium Pastics (Innova Star, Discraft ESP, Dynamic Discs Fuzion)
- Overall best for dying, soak up dye well and don’t fade or bleed too bad over time
- Translucent Plastic – Innova Champion, Discraft Elite Z, Dynamic Discs Lucid
- Don’t soak up dye as easily, but hold op the best over time with very little bleeding or fading
- Just above Base Plastics – Innova Pro, Discraft Elite X
- Soak up dye quite well, but start bleeding sooner than premium plastics
- Base Plastics – Innova DX, Discraft Pro D, Dynamic Discs Prime
- Very difficult to get a deep color and fade and bleed within weeks
Also remember that the more curved your disc’s flight plate, the more dye drips you’ll experience and the more difficult it will be to place a template or design cut-out.
Select your Disc Dyeing Method
This is one of the most crucial steps. The method you chose should be based on what sort of design you’re creating on your disc. There are more possibilities than I can cover here and as you can see by the images above and I’m nowhere near mastering the design types yet. Here are a few dye types that you may consider, and I’ll cover some in greater detail in another article. This article covers prepping dye for the first four methods and we’ve written a separate article for shaving cream dye jobs.
- Adhesive Vinyl Decal/Stencil Dye – one of the most popular and allows for very personalized designs and images.
- Hot Glue Design – unsophisticated and may result in a high school art project, but can offer neat designs if you know what you’re doing
- Spin Dye – one of the most elegant design types, requires a steady hand and spinning equipment
- Splatter/Drip Design – Literally squirting or dripping dye on a disc to get a cool pattern
- Cloth design – soaking a cloth or other material then letting it sit on the disc and leave a pattern
- Shaving Cream Dye – (dry powdered dye is usually best for this method)
In the featured image, the first two discs in the top row were dyed using adhesive vinyl contact paper, unfortunately it was cheap and I experienced a large amount of bleeding. The disc in the top right was dyed using gauze to create a bloody zombie look with a splash of watery color in the middle (I should have used red instead of pink). On the bottom left discs I applied hot glue prior to the dye job then peeled it off afterward. The Challenger in the middle came out cool, but the spiral disc would have probably received a D- in elementary art class.
When selecting your method you need to consider how you’re adding a design. If you’re using hot glue, spin dying, or splatter dying then you don’t need to worry as much about the application, but if you’re using an adhesive vinyl decal then you’ll need to carefully consider your options and you may want to run a few tests.
My preferred method is to use a paint brush to cover all the exposed areas of the disc, especially when I’m using multiple colors. The risk here is that the dye could pool up and bleed under the decal and we’ve had some readers report that the acetone can compromise the adhesive. One solution is to use a submersion dye where you simply mix water and iDye Poly, heat the solution and submerge your disc. The advantage here is that there is no acetone involved so you often don’t experience bleeding under the stencil. I’ve had moderate success with this method by submerging my disc for 2-3 minutes. I personally don’t prefer this method because the heat breaks the disc in and I often end up with light spots where bubbles were trapped, but you should be able to make adjustments to mitigate these problems and there are many people who prefer this submersion method.
A second option is is to simply pour the water/acetone solution right on top of the disc and stencil and wash off immediately so the acetone has less time to compromise the adhesive. When I use the 3:1 mixture that I describe below, I can usually get a good dye within about 10-15 seconds. The downside to this is you may go through more dye since you’re literally pouring it out and it can get messy. iDye Poly mixed with acetone can stain counters and some types of flooring, so be careful.
There are a few other things you’ll want to think about when trying a stencil dye such as using high quality contact paper and using a credit card to flatten the stencil and remove all air pockets. Above is the result of using cheap contact paper, and while this disc design is cool in its own right, it was meant to be a clean and crisp slash design.
Soaked fabric can prevent the dye from running off or bleeding through and it can create some neat textures and designs. This method is also great for tie-dying a disc. Of course here you’ll need to make sure the fabric is touching all areas of the disc that need to be dyed and that the fabric is fairly evenly soaked. Shaving cream can also help prevent run-off, but again you need to make sure it’s evenly mixed and it can be a little more messy to work with.
Squirt bottles are best used when you’re interested in an abstract splash or drip design and can be messy if you’re careless. However, they can be useful if you’re concerned with ensuring an even distribution of dye over a decal because sometimes a paintbrush will leave brush marks. You may choose to adjust your concentration of acetone if you need it to soak in more quickly or if you are using plastic bottles and the acetone is damaging them. Here’s an example of a very basic, and also not well crafted, drip design.
If you want to completely change the color of your disc then go with a bucket or large bowl and submerge the disc as I mentioned above. Submerge the disc and make sure that none of the edges are sticking out which can lead to an odd looking dye job; I know from my experience with an old Champion Coyote. You could also place the disc face down so that only the top of the disc is dyed leaving the underside as is. You may not need any acetone for this method unless you’re dying difficult-to-dye plastic.
Getting Ready to Dye Your Disc
Maybe I don’t need to say it but I will just in case… clean your disc first! Dirt and grease will result in imperfections in your dye job.
Since the dye usually won’t hold on the stamp, you may wish to remove it. There are a few ways to do so.
- Rubbing Alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) – one of the safest methods as it won’t eat away at the plastic, but it’s also not as effective as other chemicals
- Acetone – pure acetone usually removes the stamp easily, but be careful because that will burn the plastic if you don’t remove it quickly. You can try nail polish remover but it doesn’t work as effectively and it may make your disc smell fruity.
- Brake Cleaner – recommended by Tim at Mind Body Disc, stronger than rubbing alcohol and great at removing dirt, grease, and sticky substances but won’t burn the disc as quickly as acetone
When you’re done, make sure you rinse off all the chemicals so that they do not affect the dye job.
One word of precaution: Use cotton balls and don’t scrub or scrape hard on soft plastics. This may sound like a no-brainer but when you’re in the middle of scrubbing it’s easy to forget and leave scratch marks. Specifically Innova Pro and G-Star, Prodigy 400G, and other soft and gummy types of plastics are susceptible.
What is the best disc golf dye?
I’ve tried a number of dyes including Rit Dye and Indigo but I prefer iDye Poly above all others. Fishing lure worm dye is also a good choice if you’re trying to achieve bright or neon colors. Make sure you’re using Poly otherwise it will be difficult to get the dye to hold. Jacquard Products was kind enough to send me a sample of each of their iDye Poly colors for testing and we’ll discuss some other ways to use the dye in additional articles.
I’ve learned the hard way that simply mixing dye and water is not sufficient (unless your heating water for a submersion dye), especially when dying translucent plastic like Champion. Heating the water before you add the iDye Poly helps the powder to dissolve even when you’re not using the submersion method. It’s helpful to use a mixture of water and some chemical for the dye to set in, I recommend using acetone. Acetone is flammable so be careful with it. I devised an experiment to determine exactly how much acetone to mix with water and tested different rations. I’ll spare you the details and tell you that a 3:1 mixture of acetone to water works best across all plastics. You can see the lines with the 75% label are darkest on all the discs in the image below.
The best mixture I found contained 1/4 cup of liquid and 3/4 tablespoon of iDye Poly powder. I’ll post more about colors and different amounts of dye powder in another article.
Dyeing Your Disc Golf Disc
On to the fun part, actually dyeing a disc golf disc. I’ll expand on each of the methods in other articles and share some awesome videos and resources on each method later, but right here I’ll focus on the basic process.
Apply Dye Using Your Selected Dye Method
You’ve prepped your iDye Poly solution and it’s time to dye your disc. I highly recommend that you wear gloves (I prefer latex) and either go outside or completely cover your surface. I’ve made the mistake of getting dye on my corian counter top and I had to scrub it with a magic eraser for quite a while to remove it. Hopefully you’ve planned your application method, here’s a review of what you can use:
- Paint brush – Not very elegant and can leave brush strokes, but is fairly precise
- Soaked fabric – More work but helps prevent bleeding and good for creating other neat designs
- Squirt bottle – Cool splatter patterns but can be more work or messy, also useful for a quick stencil dye
- Bucket – In case you want to completely change the color of your disc
I like to leave the dye on the disc for a few hours, but if you’re using the 3:1 acetone mixture that I’ve described above, you may be able to rinse more quickly. You can increase the amount of acetone in the mixture if you are using a stencil dye and need to get the dye off quickly to avoid bleeding.
If you’re experiencing difficulties with bleeding then you can soak a cloth in this solution and simply press the cloth lightly on the disc. This should allow the dye to soak in with less chance of bleeding. This method is messier and you will probably want to throw the cloth away when you’re done.
Cleaning Your Dyed Disc
This phase is simple, just make sure you’ve let the dye sit for long enough.
Rinse in cold water for a few minutes. then remove all vinyl, fabric, or hot glue and rinse again. Scrub the disc lightly under running water. I let my discs air dry for 15 minutes after this then wash with dish soap to make sure no dye will rub off later, but this may not be necessary.
Disc Golf Dyeing Conclusion
Given the materials and time you’ll spend on dyeing discs, it’s probably more efficient to simply buy a sweet custom from places such as Disc Golf Swag or join the Infinite Discs VIP program. But for those of us who feel the need to create and leave our own prints on discs, it will take a lot of work but can be rewarding.
If you decide to dye a disc, it’s clear from the experiment that the softer plastics take dye the best, specifically Pro or Elite X type plastics. Champion and Elite Z are the most difficult to dye and don’t hold dye as well so you’ll need to leave the dye on longer and possibly heat the dye mixture first. However, one important thing to keep in mind is that the softer plastics tend to bleed and fade over time at a much higher rate than the the firm or Champion like plastics. This means that if you’ve chosen an intricate design or a custom stencil, those designs may become fuzzy after a few months on your cheaper plastics.
We’d love to hear about your process and see your custom dye jobs that you’re proud of. We’d also love it if you shared this article with your friends who have potential to create some beautiful custom dyes!
Check our our newly published article on how to dye a disc with the shaving cream method!
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