It’s no secret that the sport of disc golf is thriving. For example, our 2020 Growth Report showed that the numbers of disc golfers increased by about 250% over that year. And as the population of disc golfers has grown, so have the numbers of those interested in customizing their equipment through disc dyeing.
We previously released an article about disc dyeing artists and received a huge response, both from dyers and those intrigued by the art form. That made us want to help those curious about dipping their discs into the dyeing waters by creating an easy-to-follow beginner’s guide to creating spectacular, unique disc dyes.
You'll find that guide to disc dyeing below, complete with a list of needed materials and where to find them, step-by-step instructions, and video examples for many steps.
Why Should I Trust This Disc Dyeing Method?
The instructions here were created in close collaboration with Ethan Williams of Cellular Dyes, whose dyes are vibrant and full of unique cell-shaped patterns like you can see below:
The reason you can trust the method you'll learn about here is that it's one Williams himself follows.
We’re aware there is a vast community of disc dyers with many different methods, and we want to make sure readers know the method described here is just one of many options. We chose to feature this method because...
- It's fairly simple for anyone to follow and relatively forgiving of small mistakes.
- It will produce interesting and beautiful results without the need for someone to have a talent for drawing or graphic design.
For more examples of Williams' work, check out his Instagram. If you're interested in purchasing or commissioning a disc, you can contact him via his Etsy Store.
Williams wanted to give thanks to Brandon of Bubs Brews and to Jeff from Darroj Dyes for their help and support with his own disc dyeing journey.
Materials: What You Need to Dye a Disc
Here's everything you'll need to dye your first disc golf disc:
1. A disc
- White discs are best when first starting disc dyeing as they take the color of the dye most easily.
- You can also use colored discs. However, the more color is present in a disc, the more your dyes have to fight against, and the more unpredictable your results will be.
- Your disc doesn't have to be new. In fact, it's probably a great idea to experiment with a used disc you care little about. Just make sure the disc is clean.
- The discs that work best are the gummier premium plastics, such as Innova's Star, Discmania's S-Line, Latitude 64's Opto, Discraft's ESP, Prodigy's 400, and others.
- Harder, see-through premium plastics like Innova's Champion, Discraft's Crystal, and Discmania's C-Line hold dyes but are not likely to be as vibrant as those mentioned above.
- Baseline plastics like Innova's DX, Discraft's Pro D, and Discmania's D-Line are poor choices for dyeing, and we don't recommend trying them if you're looking for the best results.
2. Soap, water, and a sponge
- Having a clean, smooth disc is imperative for great dyes.
- For sponges, Mister Clean Magic Erasers work very well, but most any sponge should do.
3. Measuring cup + measuring spoons or milligram scale
- In order to mix your dyes, you'll need something to measure liquids and dye powder with.
- Most standard measuring cups (or anything that lets you precisely measure ounces or milliliters) and a normal set of measuring spoons will work just fine. Your measuring cup should allow you to see amounts as small as 2 oz. (about 60 ml), and you'll need a 1/4 teaspoon measuring spoon.
- If you want to get really precise, you could purchase a scale that can measure in milligrams (basic versions are around $20). Getting this means you wouldn't need measuring cups or spoons.
- This is the dye medium – what the dye will be placed in to transfer it over to the disc. You can find it at many home improvement stores or online retailers. One quart is available for $7-$8 on retail websites like Lowe's or the Home Depot.
- Important: Do not dump Floetrol down the sink or into the sewer when you finish your dyeing. It not only hurts the environment but clan clog drains. One possible way to to dispose of Floetrol more safely is to dump the unused water into kitty litter and then dispose of it as solid waste. For other options, call your local environmental regulation agency.
5. Dye powders
- PRO Chemical & Dye makes a dye starter set specifically for disc golf that includes six colors for $12. The dye comes in powder and will be mixed with the Floetrol. Beyond the starter set, they currently offer over 30 additional colors.
6. Optional: Silicone oil
- This substance is lighter than Floetrol. When added to a dye and Floetrol mixture, it will cause the color it's mixed with to "bubble up" (see next bullet for explanation).
- Here's what we mean by "bubble up": If you mixed a red dye with Floetrol and silicone oil and then poured a blue Floetrol-only dye over it, the red dye would come up through the blue dye, creating a cell that is blue on the outside and red on the interior.
- This technique is more advanced. You may want to try your first dyes without silicone oil and experiment with it once you've had success without it.
- You should be able to find silicone oil from the home improvement retailer where you find Floetrol. To start out, you won't need more than a 4-ounce bottle (about 120 milliliters), which you should be able to find for under $10.
7. Plastic squirt bottles or plastic cups
- Any plastic cup can be used to mix the Floetrol and dye, but squirt bottles like those used for condiments allow you to be more precise with your designs.
- Each different color dye will need its own bottle/cup, so make sure you have enough containers for each color you'd like in your dye before beginning.
8. Dyeing tray or pan
- This is where you will create your dye pattern and later place your disc to soak it up.
- You'll need a shallow, leak-proof, heat-resistant dish. It being circular and just a bit larger than your disc is ideal.
- A Teflon-coated frying pan larger in circumference than a disc is a good option if you have one to spare.
9. Plastic wrap
- Just your normal plastic wrap used to cover bowls of leftovers around the world.
10. Small blow torch (culinary/crème brulée torch, butane torch, or propane torch)
- This is more optional than a heat lamp, but still recommended to achieve the best results. It is also essential to creating cell patterns in your dyes.
- A torch pops air bubbles that form in your dye so you don't get unwanted blank spots or air bubble patterns in your dyes.
- Look at your favorite retailer that sells kitchenware or home improvement supplies for either a culinary torch, butane torch, or propane torch. You should be able to purchase a basic torch and fuel for $20-$25 maximum.
11. Heat lamp
- Heat is instrumental in speeding up the dyeing process and assuring vibrant colors.
- Heat lamps are more affordable than you probably think. For around $20, you can get a suitable lamp and bulb from tractor supply stores or from online retailers. Look for 250 Watt brooder lamps, which are typically used to keep chickens warm.
- Know that you can use an oven instead of a heat lamp. This is what Williams did when he first started. However, there are serious downsides. Using an oven will create a lot of chemical fumes in your oven and kitchen, is less precise, and can result in your dyes burning. Heat lamps are safer and likely to give you better results and so, in our opinion, are well worth the price of one high-end plastic disc. For these reasons, we don't explain in this guide how to do this method with an oven, but if you watch Williams' instructional video in full that we incorporate clips of throughout the piece, you can see how it's done.
Step-by-Step Disc Dyeing Instructions
Note that we highly recommend you read these instructions and the next section about common beginner mistakes thoroughly before you start dyeing.
STEP 1: CLEAN YOUR DISC
What to do
- Scrub both sides of the disc with a sponge and soapy water until you feel no particulate and all dirt has been removed. Then rinse your disc and dry it completely.
- New discs have different mold-release agents from the factory and old discs can have dirt or debris – both of which can cause dye absorption issues. No matter what disc you use, make sure it's clean before you start.
- The video below is set to start and end at the relevant sections on the first play. If you need to watch multiple times, know that the relevant section begins at 15:40 and ends at 16:27.
STEP 2: PLAN YOUR PATTERN
What to do
- Before going any further, you'll want to have at least an idea of how you want your disc to look. What colors do you want and where, roughly, on the disc do you want them?
- A big bonus of this method is no particular skill at drawing or graphic design is needed to produce interesting results. Still, you need to keep in mind one technical thing as you plan your dye pattern – the color wheel:
- In your planning, avoid putting opposite colors on the color wheel next to each other as they have a tendency to create unwanted color mixtures.
- A good rule of thumb is to put similar colors next to each other. The example above is a pattern of Williams' that fades through red, purple, blue, and yellow.
STEP 3: READY THE DYES
What to do
- Measure out 2 fl. oz. (60 ml) of Floetrol in your plastic squirt bottle or cup.
- Add in 1/4 teaspoon (1.5 mg) of dye powder of one color you plan to use.
- Stir the Floetrol and powder together until all dye powder has been entirely blended into the Floetrol medium with no remaining clumps (typically about one minute).
- Repeat to create every color you'd like to use in your pattern.
- If you want an area on the disc to remain the original disc's color, make a cup/bottle that is Floetrol with no dye mixed in.
- A common error in this step is undermixing the dye. This leads to lumps of dye powder in the bed, which stick to the disc and leave a sandpapery texture on the plastic. This can be scrubbed away afterwards but can also lead to unwanted dyeing results.
- You can always use the ratio 2 oz. Floetrol to 1/4 teaspoon powder (or roughly 60 ml Floetrol to 1.5 mg powder) to create more dye if desired.
- If you're interested in the "bubbling up" effect discussed under #4 in the Materials section, just add a few drops of silicone oil to the dye/Floetrol mixture and mix.
- The video below is set to start and end at the relevant sections on the first play. If you need to watch multiple times, know that the relevant section begins at 3:28 and ends at 4:25.
STEP 4: READY THE BED
What to do
- Pour plain Floetrol (not your dyes) into the dyeing tray or pan to a size slightly bigger than your disc's diameter. Try to avoid any air pockets or bubbles in the first layer.
STEP 5: POUR YOUR DYES INTO DESIRED PATTERN
What to do
- Keeping in mind the guidelines discussed in STEP 2 , pour the pre-prepared dyes into the Floetrol bed you've made in your dyeing dish or pan.
- To create cells like you can see in the images in the Why Can I Trust This Method? section, colors must overlap, so make sure to overlap the dye pours as one color transitions into the next.
- For his dyes, Williams tends to pour a pattern, splatter it all over with plain Floetrol, pour colors in a similar pattern as before over the new Floetrol, and repeat this process until all dyes have been used up.
- Remember that plain Floetrol can be used if you want an area to remain the original color of the disc.
- If you're using any dyes with silicone oil to create the bubble effect, pour them in first and then pour the color(s) you'd like them to bubble up through on top of the silicone oil dye(s).
- The video below is set to start and end at the relevant sections on the first play. If you need to watch multiple times, know that the relevant section begins at 5:47 and ends at 8:33.
STEP 6: PULL THE DYE
What to do
- Lay a sheet of plastic wrap over the dyeing pan and gently push it down until it rests lightly on the surface of the poured dyes. The plastic wrap should touch the entire surface of the dye bed.
- Very slowly drag the saran wrap across the dye, causing smooth ribbons of color to form on the bed.
- You can also gently move the entire tray/pan around to encourage swirls and curves to form within the dye if you want.
- The video below is set to start and end at the relevant sections on the first play. If you need to watch multiple times, know that the relevant section begins at 9:40 and ends at 11:35.
STEP 7: BLOWTORCH DYE SURFACE
What to do
- Run the flame over the dye in quick passes to pop air bubbles near the surface.
- As you pop bubbles, move the tray around to cause any remaining air pockets to rise and to create swirls in the dye.
- Do not linger with the flame over the dye as it can burn the Floetrol mixture.
- You can still produce very nice results if you skip this step, and but you won't have cell patterns in your final product, according to Williams. The flames heat the Floetrol, which rises to the surface and causes cell-like patterns to form.
STEP 8: PLACE DISC IN DYE BED
What to do
- Hold the disc by the underside rim without wrapping your fingers onto the top flight plate (see visual example later).
- Before you start putting the disc in the dye, know that it is really important that you don't press the disc down into the dye. This will cause smearing and muddiness.
- Position the disc over the dye bed with stamp color in mind: If the stamp is light in color, place it in a darker colored area of dye, and if it is dark, place it in a lighter colored area.
- Slowly lower the disc face-down into the dye bed by starting at one end and tilting it continuously downward until it is flat in the dye bed.
- Let go of the disc as gently as possible.
- If the entirety of the top of the disc doesn't quite touch the dye, don't panic or press it down. The disc's weight will eventually settle its entire top into the dye.
- The video below is set to start and end at the relevant sections on the first play. If you need to watch multiple times, know that the relevant section begins at 16:39 and ends at 19:04.
STEP 9: HEAT THE DISC
What to do
- Move the dye tray with the disc still in it under the heat lamp and lower the lamp to be about 18 inches/46 cm over the disc.
- For best results, let the heat lamp warm the disc for about four hours. Heating your disc for any longer can cause the dyes to burn, turning them brownish.
STEP 10: WASH THE DISC & ENJOY!
What to do
- Use water and a sponge to wash and scrub the Floetrol and remaining dye off the disc. Please don't do this into the sink but into a large bowl or container as putting Floetrol down the drain is an environmental hazard and can also clog pipes. One possible way to to dispose of Floetrol more safely is to dump the water into kitty litter and then dispose of it as solid waste. For other options, call your local environmental regulation agency.
- Bask in the enjoyment of your art and do your best not to throw it straight into a tree.
Common Beginner Disc Dyeing Mistakes
In disc dyeing, like any art form, there are mistakes common among beginners. While we’ve covered some during the instructions of the individual steps – like undermixing the dye, smearing the bed, or not cleaning the disc – we wanted to highlight a couple of other common mistakes here:
- Avoiding Brown: Though some disc dyes do use brown, a majority of them stay away from this tone as it is difficult to see on the ground and it doesn’t work well with a majority of other colors. Brown is most easily avoided by not mixing complementary colors together or overlapping contrasting colors too heavily.
- Reusing Dye Beds Too Often: Once a disc has been removed from the bed, there’s still life left! It can be reused on another disc with the same heating process. However, after multiple discs the bed can start looking less vivid and be full of muddled colors. At that point, it is best to start the process from the beginning.
Let Us See!
We hope these instructions lead to some incredible results, and we’d love to see what you create! You can reach out to this piece's author, Ian Cleghorn, at firstname.lastname@example.org with photos of your dyed discs.