How to Dye Disc Golf Discs

Ken and I have both played around with dyeing disc golf discs and thought we’d put our two cents in on the subject, as well as post some photos.  Neither one of us has done much more than simple designs and we tote our dyed discs around on the course instead of hanging them on a wall.  We have not done spin-dye disc jobs yet, but I’m intrigued.  So why do people dye discs instead of painting or colouring them? 

A couple of reasons – first, PDGA won’t allow it. You can’t paint or put stickers on a disc golf disc as that would alter the flight characteristics and be considered a “post-production” modification.

There is information scattered all over the internet and everyone has their personal preferences on how to dye disc golf discs.  Here is the general method we use to dye discs as well as our individual tips and tricks on how to dye disc golf discs.

The Plastic

Jesse – I’ve read that Innova Star plastic dyes the best, but I haven’t found that to be the case.  Star plastic makes a great solid colour canvas on which to work, but my blacks have not been rich deep black.  Here are the types of plastic I have dyed on:  Innova Champion; Innova Star; Whamo (the one disc I dyed was the best by far to take a dye job); Millennium Sirius; Millennium Quantum (good stuff); Discraft Elite Z (the good stuff).  I’ve read over and over that Innova DX plastic will not dye, so I haven’t even tried it. UPDATE: Innova Pro plastic consistently dyes the best.  One word of warning:  KC Pro plastic is a different plastic and will NOT take a dye.

Ken – Don’t waste you time trying to dye DX, it just won’t take a clean dye. I’ve also dyed the Discraft ESP and Gateway SRP with some success.

The Dye

Jesse – I’ve used Rit dye and Dylon.  I wound up trying the Dylon dye because I wasn’t smart enough to look on the laundry aisle at the Walmart and was in the craft section.  Rit is the standard dye everyone uses, although I can say that the scarlet Dylon I used was very vibrant.  I haven’t used red Rit so I can’t compare.  Powder versus liquid – everyone says don’t use the liquid Rit, but I suspect they’ve never tried it.  I sent my wife out for some dye and she came back with the liquid. 

I moaned about it like a little whiny preschooler, but then I tried it and it worked fine.  It is not as cost-effective as the powder, though.  Some people recommend mixing the powder with acetone or vinegar, under the theory that the dye will set faster or deeper. 

Personally, I don’t need the dye to set faster and you absolutely run the risk of the acetone dissolving the glue on your contact paper, leading to the dye creeping up under the edges and giving your design soft feathered edges instead of clean lines.

Ken – I like the Rit powder. Here is a tip, get some containers to put your used dyes in after you are done. I’ve seen on the web where people use air tight storage containers… meh, I just use milk jugs. (I use my wife’s canning jars – Jesse).

The Tools

Jesse – I use a regular Xacto blade (you have change the blade often – like once every disc or once every two discs).  I freehand some stuff when I’m cutting the design so I want to get a compass that holds a blade to cut circles.  As far as contact (shelf) paper, I use white and clear. 

I like white for two reasons – when you hold a disc up to the light you can see through the white (to find the centre of the disc, or see the stamp if you left it on), but it also shows clearly where you’ve cut, and you can sketch on it.  I use clear contact paper when I do two different colours on a disc.  I use clear for the second colour so I can see exactly where I need to cut. 

Many people recommend using vinyl from a sign shop.  Ken’s tried it, but I haven’t.  I also use a roller that came out of my wife’s craft room to make sure the contact paper is good and down on the disc after I cut.

Ken – I’ve tried sign vinyl (got mine from Ebay) but contact paper is great and cheap. With sign vinyl, there will be a substantial amount of adhesive residue that will need to be dealt with. It is best to let the dye set for a day then use a 75/25 water/acetone dilution to remove the residue. Rub gently and rinse often or work under running water.

The Method

  • Find a design somewhere and print it out.  Tribal tattoo designs transfer really well to discs, as well as cartoon characters and logos.  If you use the Google and search images, add the word “vector” to your search.  Vector art has been converted to clean lines already.  Discs are about 8.5″ across.  Print your design between 5.5″ and 7″ – I’ve done designs out to the very edge of the disc, but it’s tricky. 
  • Prepare your disc.  If it’s not a new disc, clean it.  Also, decide if you want the stamp on the disc or not.  If you don’t want the stamp, remove it with acetone.  Not fingernail polish remover, which contains acetone, but full-strength acetone.  You find it at the hardware store along with paint stripper and mineral spirits.
  • Cover your disc with contact paper.  I cut out a square about 10″ X 10″.  I peel the backing off, then put the contact paper over half the disc, starting in the centre.  If I did a good job and there aren’t huge bubbles, I put the other side down.  Next, smooth all the bubbles out of the paper, peeling it back where necessary and re-sticking it.  If your design doesn’t go out to the edge, it is fine to have bubbles at the edge of the disc.  Update – I learned from Ken that you can lay the contact paper, sticky side up, on the table and place your disc on it.  Then start pressing the disc onto the contact paper, starting in the centre and working your way out.  Flip the disc over and finish from the top.  If you have any large bubbles or creases that won’t come out, peel up the edge and restick.
  • Put your design on the disc.  I trim the paper my design is on so there’s about a half inch of paper around the design – this is so that I have some room to tape the design to the disc.  I use a low adhesive tape like painter’s tape to tape the design to the disc/contact paper.  To help center the design, I’ll put a dot on the white contact paper in the center of the disc before I tape the design down.
  • Cut out your design.  Use the blade of your preference to cut through the design paper and also through the contact paper.  Don’t press too hard or you’ll cut into the disc.  It sounds tricky and foolish to cut right on the disc, but it really works.  I tried cutting the design off the disc and then applying the contact paper and it was a bitch.  If you use sign vinyl with transfer tape, it would be easier, but still not as easy as cutting right on the disc.  When you cut your design, start in the center of the disc and work your way out to the edges.  Also, if you have a complicated design and you need to remember which pieces get peeled off and which stay, you can just get a ballpoint pen and mark X’s on the pieces.  Another advantage of white contact paper.
  • Final disc prep.  After you cut and peel your design, make certain all your edges are down on the disc firmly and there are no bubbles.  And here is where I need some advice.  There’s always some contact paper residue on the exposed potions of the disc.  This gives a slightly grainy pattern to my dyes.  I wonder what’s the best way to get the residue off without peeling up your contact paper? Update – if you are very careful, you can remove any residue where you peeled before you dye disc with mineral spirits or fingernail polish remover.  Do not use straight acetone or goof off.  The stronger removers will peel up your design.  You still have to be careful.
  • Mix your dye.  I use just dye powder and hot water.  I have a shallow wide metal disc I mix it up in.  You can also use a regular frisbee turned upside down.
  • Float your disc.  Put your disc upside down in the dye bath, but slide it in at a very slight angle to hopefully push any bubbles out from under the disc.  The disc should be floating freely in the bath.  Update – Add a “handle” to the back of the disc with a strip of what ever you are using to cover the disc. This makes floating the disc at an angle much easier and reduces the chance of a “Splash down!” incident that will get you banned from the kitchen.  Leave it there for 10 – 20 minutes or so.  Get some hot water running in your sink, rinse the disc and paper off, wipe it with a paper towel, rinse it again.  Then with the disc under the running hot water, peel the paper off.  While you’re doing this you can scrub at the residue and get it all off.  If you don’t get it all off, don’t mess with the disc until it has sat for 24 hours.  The best thing to take the gummy residue off is hot water and elbow grease, but if you are allergic to hard work, you can use mineral spirits or fingernail polish remover (not straight acetone).