Color Mixing

Basic color mixing

Starting with a white shirt, let’s consider the three primary colors ; red, yellow, and blue. Mixing different amounts of the primary colors enable you to create many different colorĀ  combinations. Secondary colors are obtained by mixing two of the primary colors together. Next are the tertiary colors which combine a secondary color with either one of its constituent color.

Secondary colors :
Red + Blue = Purple
Yellow + Red = Orange
Blue + Yellow = Green

Tertiary colors :
Purple + red = Magenta
Orange + red = Vermilion
Orange + Yellow = Amber
Green + Yellow = Chartreuse
Green + Blue = Teal
Purple + Blue = Violet

Primary, secondary, and tertiary colors

Primary dye colors

Tie-dye uses slightly different primary colors which gives you the advantage of being able to create many more different hues. Instead of using the typical primary colors we use cyan, magenta, and yellow. Dyes work on a principle of subtractive coloration, meaning that they each filter out a specific color.

Cyan is the complement of red.
Magenta is the complement of green.
Yellow is the complement of blue.

Adding these three colors together will filter out the whole spectrum of visible light, leaving you with black.

Cyan + Magenta + Yellow = Black

CMY color model

What colors to start with?

There are many different dye colors available for sell. It can be dizzying trying to figure out which ones to buy if you’re just starting out. Something to know is that only a few dyes are pure, unmixed, single-hue colors. The vast majority of them are dye mixtures made by the manufacturers.

We recommend that you get the three primary dye colors at the very least. The primaries are pure, unmixed dyes and combine well together. You should also get a black as you can mix it with other dyes and even use it by itself. With these four dye colors you should be all set to start your tie-dye journey like a pro.

Primary Colors

ColorColor nameTrade nameColor index no.
Lemon YellowMX-8GYellow 86
Fuschsia RedMX-8BRed 11
TurquoiseMX-GBlue 140

Getting the basic colors is always a good idea, but you can find that mixing colors is too much work for you. If that is the case you can easily get premixed combinations. Mixtures work well on their own and can save you precious time, but they don’t combine well with each other since they are combinations themselves. There are hundreds of dye mixtures available commercially so we won’t list them here.

Color strength

The dye concentration makes a huge difference in the final result. The more dye you have in your bottle, the more your color will be bold and vibrant. Use the chart below to help you in mixing just the right amount of dye for the color you desire. Anything is possible from pastel to powerful colors.

StrengthDyeSoda ashWater
Pastel1/20 tsp (0.1g)2 tsp1 cup (250ml)
Soft1/8 tsp (1g)2 tsp1 cup (250ml)
Medium1/2 tsp (4g)2 tsp1 cup (250ml)
Strong1 tsp (8g)2 tsp1 cup (250ml)
Powerful2 tsp (16g)2 tsp1 cup (250ml)

Color recipe ideas

Here is a list of color recipes that is based entirely on the three primary colors. You can make any of these colors simply by mixing your basic set of dyes. These recipes approximate the color of most popular gemstones. Quantities are written as a percentage of dye powder mass. Be sure to use a precise scale to measure your dyes in order to get the full effect.

Gemstone color recipes

ColorNameYellow %Fuchsia %Turquoise %
Sun stone955
Orange Agate9010
Brazil Agate5050
Red Jasper2080
Red Amethyst97.52.5
Purple Fluorite5050
Lapis Lazuli1090
Peruvian Opal8020
Rutilated Quartz5037.512.5
Smoky Quartz404020
Desert Rose603010
Grillig Agate76168

Colors that work best together

As you can see, even three colors can get you pretty far. What you need to know is that not only can you mix your dyes in a bottle, but you can also mix them on the shirt as you dye. This allows for infinite color combinations as the dyes spread and mix into each other. Some colors seem to work so well together that they merge seamlessly, leaving you in awe.

Choose a theme and stick to it. Using too many colors can leave you with unpleasant effects if you’re not careful. Plan out your project depending on the colors you want to use. Begin by choosing a single color and build around it. The two easiest color schemes to begin with are warm and cool colors. You can go in either direction and make something truly unique without too much effort.

Warm colors

Red, yellow and orange make you think of something warm and fuzzy. They evoke feelings of exhilaration, heat, and sunlight. They look hot and fast and will illuminate just about any design. Play with these colors, combine them any way you like and create something that makes you want to get up and run. Warms colors are motivating and will lift your mood just by looking at them.

Cool colors

Green and blue will bring you calm and peace. These cool colors have a relaxing effect and are more passive than their counterparts. Use them to create a sense of harmony that can bring any design together. They are just like the gentle motion of the waves, able to cool off any temper and bringing balance.

Neutral colors

White, gray and black can lean on either side of the spectrum depending on their context. Combine them with another color scheme to intensify or dull their effects. Neutral colors can also be used on their own, perfect for sharp and highly geometric designs.

Psychedelic colors

Warm and cool, all in one package. Psychedelic colors are attained by combining highly contrasting colors in quick succession. Think of a rainbow with solid bands of vivid colors screaming at you. Make your tie-dye steal the show with trippy effects that dominate the field of view. Neon psychedelic explosions of colors will melt your brain and send you to another dimension on a wild cosmic ride.

Color combo ideas

The trick to any successful tie-dye project is to achieve a fine balance between saturation and spread. By this I mean you that you need to be careful how much dye you put on the shirt so it doesn’t spread uncontrollably and mix with other colors. Check out our collection of tie-dye patterns if you want to get a view of all the color combo ideas you could make.

Preventing bad color combinations

Just about any color combination can work if you know how to place them properly on the shirt. The most common mistake for beginners is to rush the dye placement. Train your ability to
place colors next to each other without mixing them.

Take your time and place your dye gently and slowly, especially when placing complementary colors next to each other. Bring your bottle close to the fabric and squeeze lightly. You want to achieve a slow and consistent dye flow. Don’t flood the fabric, leave enough time for the dye to penetrate the fibers. Be careful not to combine complementary colors directly.

Three primary colors together :
Red + Blue + Yellow = Brown

A primary color with its complementary color :
Yellow + Purple = Brown
Blue + Orange = Brown
Red + Green = Brown

Any combination of secondary colors :
Purple + Orange = Brown
Purple + Green = Brown
Orange + Green = Brown

Making color swatches

The best way to learn about color mixing and see how different colors react when applied to fabric is to make color swatches. Making a collection of swatches is a great way to compare and contrast different colors. It let’s you test all the combinations you wouldn’t try on a shirt. With proper labeling of the swatches you will be able to create your very own collection of colors and will be able to recreate them with ease.

Begin by cutting small squares or strips of white fabric, preferably all from the same type of fabric. Think about what colors you might want to test. Each of the swatches will receive it’s own dye mixture. Be sure to label the dye mix you used to create the swatch. Write out the relative concentration of each dye in the mixture. A common approach to making swatches is to start with the primaries colors and then the secondary colors. Save your swatches in a book for future reference.

Advanced color mixing

Once you get the hang of it you can start experimenting with more varied color mixtures. To do so you may need to purchase additional dye colors. While you can technically create just about any color with a mixture of the three primaries, additional dyes can help you make richer combinations.

Relative attributes of all colors :

1) Value – How light or dark the color is (white vs. black)
2) Chroma – The saturation, intensity, strength of the color
3) Hue – What family the color belongs to (red, yellow, blue)

All colors can be described using a combination of these three attributes. To get the best chroma value you might need more than the basic three primary colors.

Pure, unmixed, single-hue dyes

Only a few dye colors are pure and unmixed. The vast majority of all the dyes you can buy are combinations of at least two colors that have been premixed by the supplier. Trying to combine two colors that are themselves combinations can make for poor results, rarely giving you what you hoped for.

Always mix up your own colors by starting with pure dye colors only. Single-hue dyes create dependable mixtures of which you can reliably predict the color. This way you can stay clear of any pitfalls and will be able to create true beauty.

Reactive Dye MX standardized colors

ColorColor nameTrade nameColor index no.
Lemon YellowMX-8GYellow 86
Deep OrangeMX-2ROrange 4
Light RedMX-5BRed 2
Fuschsia RedMX-8BRed 11
TurquoiseMX-GBlue 140
CeruleanMX-GBlue 163
Medium BlueMX-RBlue 4
Cobalt BlueMX-2GBlue 109
VioletMX-GViolet 14