How much less black can they be?
August 31, 2007 6:58 PM   Subscribe

I have 40 black t-shirts with a screenprinted design. I would like to make the shirts lighter -- less black, that is -- without screwing up the screenprinting. What would you recommend?

We ordered a bunch of shirts with a black-and-white design screenprinted on them. Some of the shirts were advertised as "faded black" and the picture of the shirts on the site looked closer to charcoal. When we got those shirts, they turned out to actually be black black black, so the black screenprinting doesn't show up at all. This is slightly more subtle than we were hoping.

I would like to lighten these shirts a shade or two -- without messing up the screenprinting. I am considering a light bleach solution -- have you tried this? Is there a proportion you would recommend? What will it do to the screenprinting? Any tips for doing 40 shirts at once? Would powder bleach be better than liquid?

We need these shirts ready to go by Tuesday, so getting them re-printed isn't an option. They are 100% cotton.
posted by Karlos the Jackal to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (11 answers total)
As someone who's been printing shirts for years, I'd say you're probably out of luck. Some kind of bleaching might help a little, but unless someone else has some really specific instructions on how to do so successfully, I'd be far more worried about turning the not-perfect shirts into totally trashed messes. If its quality printing the ink should be alright, but bleaching is a lot harder than it would seem.

You should defiantly get some restitution from the printer for them misleading you. I know I certianly would try to work something out with a customer who was so unhappy they were resorting to trying to bleach the shirts.

Also, depending on the shipping times, they could very well get them reprinted in time. 40 shirts would take less than an hour to actually print and they already have the screen made up.
posted by teishu at 7:20 PM on August 31, 2007

I think you have a legitimate gripe with the printer if the "Black" black in your design is not visible on a "Faded Black" black t-shirt. Did they just print on black shirts anyway instead of maybe making a special order for a special color?
posted by rhizome at 7:27 PM on August 31, 2007

Another printer here saying you're probably out of luck..
posted by bradbane at 7:29 PM on August 31, 2007

If they gave you a different color of shirts than what you ordered, I'd petition for redress. My customers don't let me get away with that crap.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:31 PM on August 31, 2007

Rit dye has a color remover sold along with all those boxes of dye, not as harsh on fabric as bleach.
posted by hortense at 7:35 PM on August 31, 2007

Can you not put the design inside a plastic bag sealed with an elastic band and then wash/bleach/colour remove the rest of the t-shirt?
I have done this a long time ago when i wanted to dye a light shirt darker, the design on my shirt had a circle around it with the original colour, but I thought it looked ok.
posted by djstig at 6:01 AM on September 1, 2007

This sounds like an error on the part of the printer to me. I'd ask them to do it again and get the shirt color right.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:14 AM on September 1, 2007

Have you tried washing one of the shirts, in case the complete blackness is just due to dye that will come out in the first wash? Sometimes "faded" style shirts work this way.

I've lightly bleached an overblack shirt once, and it turned out OK, although the shirt continued to change color over the next several washes. It was a long time ago, so no advice on the proportion of bleach to use.
posted by IvyMike at 9:09 AM on September 1, 2007

You can use bleach to lighten the color, but you won't be able to entirely predict or control what lighter color you will end up with. It almost definitely will not be black, some blacks bleach to blues, greens, or oranges. If you are careful you can get a blackish shade of these. Do not do this if you are fussy about the exact shade you want, return the shirts to the printer. Do not do this if you are fussy about all the shirts being the same exact color.

Test this on one shirt first and see what you get. Turn shirt inside out, put into washer on warm setting, agitate the washer with water and shirt in it to make sure shirt is evenly wet. Add bleach, start with about double what you would normally use for a wash and add more if you need to, but keep in mind that you don't want the bleach to work too quickly. Look at the shirt often, once you get a color or shade that you like, drain washer, run the rinse cycle, and do a regular wash with detergent to get rid of the smell.

If you like the result and try it on the rest of the batch, be sure to examine the shirts during the bleaching and to use the agitator on the washer (don't just let it sit). Do not use a laundromat washer, you need the control over the process that a home washer gives you. This should not cause any more wear to the shirts than they will have after 5 or so ordinary wash cycles.
posted by yohko at 11:49 AM on September 1, 2007

Hot wash and hang them 'right side out' in the sun for a few days?

Thinking about this happening by accident or as a result of too much love. Bleach can be streaky, but if you did it on purpose you might get a better result though. Throw them in the pool maybe? That always seems to dull black effectively.
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 3:49 PM on September 1, 2007

OP here.

We tried powder bleach and Rit color remover first, neither of which did anything at all to these particular shirts. Finally we followed the directions in the response that I've marked as best answer, and this turned the shirts a pleasant sort of dark chocolate color. Thanks!
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 12:36 AM on September 4, 2007

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