Vocational Vocabulary:

Dye Migration

Dye Migration - what is it? why does it happen? how do you stop it?

What is Dye Migration?

Dye Migration (also sometimes called bleeding) is when the dyes or inks from a fabric (like a t-shirt or jersey) migrate or move from the fabric into something else, like heat transfers or screenprint inks.

Why Does Dye Migration Happen?

Dye migration is usually caused by exposure to heat. When decorating a garment, heat causes the dye to release from the fabric and bleed through the transfer or print. But even if you don’t see any dyes bleeding through immediately after you heat the garment, wait 24-48 hours. Sometimes it takes a day or two for dye migration to happen. You don’t want to send a decorated garment to a customer, just to have them bring it back the next day because the shirt color has bled through.

Although it can occur in other synthetic fabrics, polyester garments are where you see dye migration the most. Bright and dark colored polyester like black, blue, and red, are the most noticeable and likely to bleed. Another kind of polyester garment guaranteed to bleed are sublimated shirts or jerseys. See the picture below.

Notice this jersey has many colors on the outside, but the inside is white. That’s how you know this jersey was sublimated and will give you problems when decorating.

How To Avoid or Stop Dye Migration?

Look at fabric content.
If you can avoid 100% Polyester or blends with high Polyester content, this greatly reduces, if not eliminates your chances of dye migration. Another option is using a performance fabric like cationic polyester, which is made to keep its rich color without a risk of bleeding. However you can’t always avoid Polyester. So...

If you cannot avoid the troublesome polyester garments, use a special Ink or Transfer that will block dye migration.
Dye migration isn’t a new problem, so manufacturers have formulated specialty Ink and Transfers that will stop the dyes from bleeding through. Generally these are described as ‘dye blocking’ or ‘bleed resistant’.

INKS - When dealing with ‘bleed resistant’ inks, generally you’ll need to apply a white base coat first. There are also other options like ‘silicone’ inks and ‘dye block base coat’ inks.

TRANSFERS - As for heat transfers, the vinyls that are made to block dye migration have a special layer in them to prevent the dyes from coming through. Here are some dye block vinyls that Wellington House carries:

Use a lower temperature.
As mentioned before, heat is usually the culprit behind dye migration. Generally speaking, polyester dyes start to bleed at around 280ºF. So if the temperature you use to cure inks or apply vinyl can be reduced, your risk of dye migration is reduced as well. Though this technique generally goes hand-in-hand with the aforementioned specialty inks and vinyls, sometimes you can make it work with standard inks and vinyl. But always do a test before producing the entire quantity.

Always Perform a Test

An easy way to test if heat will cause the dyes to bleed is, if you own a heat press, put the garment under the heat press with a piece of kraft paper on top. Then press like you normally would. If you see any inks or dyes on the kraft paper, that tells you either the heat is too high or the dyes are too unstable and you need a special ink/vinyl.

Since sometimes dye migration can happen over time, it’s often good to apply your design to just one garment and let it sit for 24 hours. If it hasn’t bled, you should be good to go!



Have you experienced dye migration? Do you know some helpful tips not found in this article? Have any questions about garment bleeding? Tell us in the comments below.


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