How to Mix your Dyes : Preparation and Color Ideas

From using pure dyes to creating your own unique colors, the secret is in the recipe. It can be as simple as adding a spoonful of dye to a bottle. Or it can involve a precise mix of multiple dye colors. We’ll teach you how to get the exact hue and intensity you need. In this guide we’ll use:

  • Fabric Dyes
  • Dye Fixer
  • Squeeze Bottles
  • Plastic Spoon
  • Water
  • Scale (Optional)
  • Measuring Cup (Optional)

Basic tie-dye bottle mixing recipe

Mixing dye in a squeeze bottle is ideal. Once ready you can use it straight away. This is the basic recipe we use for all colors. It yields a strong dye solution.

  1. Add one teaspoon of dye powder to a squeeze bottle
  2. Fill up the bottle until 3/4 full (leave some space for shaking)
  3. Add one teaspoon of dye activator
  4. Shake the bottle well, mixing the powder evenly

1) Measure and add dye powder to a bottle

Measure and add one teaspoon (8 g) of dye powder to a squeeze bottle.

Using a teaspoon, reach into a dye container of your choice. Pick up a teaspoon of dye powder. Pour the dye into a squeeze bottle. There’s no shame in approximating your quantities. When inspiration hits, you don’t always have the time to sit down and craft perfect colors.

Alternatively, you can use a scale to precisely measure quantities. This method is recommended for perfectly recreating your favorite colors. In this case, measure 8 grams of dye powder and add it to your bottle.

Adjusting the intensity

We use a teaspoon (8 grams) of dye as a reference point. You can easily adjust this quantity based on your needs. The first thing you should try is adjusting the color intensity. Simply add more dye powder to get a stronger color or add more water to dilute your solution.

Color intensity (imperial)

Pastel1/20 tsp1 tsp1 cup
Soft1/8 tsp1 tsp1 cup
Medium1/2 tsp1 tsp1 cup
Strong1 tsp1 tsp1 cup
Powerful2 tsp1 tsp1 cup

Color intensity (metric)

Pastel0.1 g12 g250 ml
Soft1 g12 g250 ml
Medium4 g12 g250 ml
Strong8 g12 g250 ml
Powerful16 g12 g250 ml

2) Fill up the bottle with water

Measure and add a cup (250 ml) of water.

The dye powder should now be inside the bottle. Next we need to add in some water. The amount of water you will add depends on your bottle size. You can scale the recipe up or down according to your bottle size.

To make things easy we calculate using a standard amount of water which is one cup (250 ml). This amount fits nicely inside a 12 oz (355 ml) bottle. In any case, I recommend only filling the bottle up to 80% full to leave enough space for shaking the solution.

3) Add dye activator to the bottle

Measure and add a teaspoon (12 g) of dye activator.

This step is crucial to the good functioning of the dye. What we call dye activator is simply soda ash, an alkaline household product. You can read more about it in this post. The amount of dye activator you need is proportional to the amount of water in the solution.

The purpose of this activator is to increase the pH of the solution to around 10.5. Using a bit less or a bit more is not detrimental to the result. But not enough activator can result in seriously faded colors.

4) Shake well

Shake the bottle vigorously for 30 seconds to a minute.

Shaking the bottle is essential to get the dye to dissolve neatly and not leave clumps. Be sure to block the tip of the bottle with a cap or with a rag. Rotate the bottle with your wrist to swish the liquid around. Using lukewarm water helps you dissolve the powder more quickly.

After letting the bottle rest for 5 minutes, you should shake it around some more before using it. Some dye powder will have a tendency to fall out of solution if you wait long enough.

5) Apply the dye solution

There you have it, the basic process of mix simple dye colors. Your dye solution is now ready to be used. You’re now ready to start dyeing. Continue reading to learn how to mix multiple colors together.

Mixing multiple colors at the same time

Let’s try an exercise where we need three colors. We want a red, a yellow, and an orange. Since we are only dyeing one shirt, we’ll only need half a bottle’s worth of each color.

Let’s assume that:

– A standard bottle contains one cup (250 ml) of dye solution.
– A standard quantity of dye is one teaspoon (8 grams) per cup (250 ml).
– A standard quantity of dye activator is one teaspoon (12 grams) per cup (250 ml).
– We are mixing three colors (Red, Yellow, Orange).
– We are making half a bottle (125 ml) of dye solution for each color.

Mixing the red and the yellow are easily done by following the standard recipe and dividing the quantities by two. We’ll need 1/2 tsp (4 g) of dye powder for 1/2 cup (125 ml) of water and 1/2 tsp (6 g) of activator.

Mixing a secondary color

Sometimes single colors aren’t enough. To create our orange dye we will need to combine both the red and yellow dye. We will be combining two primary colors to create a secondary color.

There are many orange hues you can make but I’ve already chosen the one we’ll use. Let’s reference our color mixing chart to determine the color mix ratio for the orange I’ve chosen.

ColorNameYellow %Fuchsia %Turquoise %
Orange Agate9010
Purple Fluorite5050

As you can see on the chart, for this orange dye mix we will need a ratio of 90% yellow dye to 10% red dye. Assuming that we want our orange mix to have a total of 1/2 tsp (4 g) of dye powder.

– The quantity of yellow dye is equal to 4g x 0.9 = 3.6g
– The quantity of red dye is equal to 4g x 0.1 = 0.4g

Let’s start by measuring the yellow dye. Use a scale, measuring cup, and teaspoon. Scoop up and measure 3.6g of yellow dye powder. Leave the yellow dye in the measuring cup for now.

Gently add 0.4g of red dye powder to the yellow. Be careful not to overshoot. Our combined total is now 4 grams. All we need to do is to pour the powder into a squeeze bottle, add 125 ml of water, add 6 grams of dye activator, and shake well.

What we get:

Bottle 1 (Red): 4g red dye powder, 125 ml water, 6g dye activator
Bottle 2 (Yellow): 4g yellow dye powder, 125 ml water, 6g dye activator
Bottle 3 (Orange): 3.6g of yellow dye, 0.4g of red dye, 125 ml water, 6g dye activator

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.

Orange color recipes

ColorNameYellow %Fuchsia %
Sun stone955
Orange Agate9010
Brazil Agate5050
Red Jasper2080

Purple color recipes

ColorNameFuchsia %Turquoise %
Red Amethyst97.52.5
Purple Fluorite5050
Lapis Lazuli1090

Green color recipes

ColorNameTurquoise %Yellow %
Peruvian Opal2080

Brown color recipes

ColorNameYellow %Fuchsia %Turquoise %
Rutilated Quartz5037.512.5
Smoky Quartz404020
Desert Rose603010
Grillig Agate76168

How to mix urea in your tie-dye bottles

Adding urea to your dye bottles can be a great addition. It let’s you dissolve the dye more easily and also helps the fabric stay moist longer. While it’s not strictly necessary, it doesn’t take long to add to your bottle. When you’re going for that special tie-dye pattern you should use every advantage you can get.

  1. Start with a clean squeeze bottle
  2. Measure 1 teaspoon of dye powder and add it to the bottle
  3. Add one tablespoon of urea to the bottle
  4. Add one cup of lukewarm water to the bottle
  5. Add 1 teaspoon of dye activator to the bottle
  6. Screw the lid on and shake the bottle for thirty seconds
  7. Wait five minutes then shake again
  8. Apply the dye solution on the folded shirt

How to mix alginate in your tie-dye bottles

Sodium alginate by its full name, this ingredient comes from algae. Used in tie-dye, add this powder to your dye mix to thicken it up. Thickened dye let’s you color much more precisely. A viscous mix is easier to control and spreads less on the fabric.

  1. Measure 1 cup of warm water
  2. Add in 1/2 tsp of sodium alginate powder to the water
  3. Using a handheld blender, mix for one to two minutes
  4. Let the solution rest for one hour so it thickens up
  5. Transfer the solution to a squeeze bottle
  6. Add in 1 tsp of dye powder to the bottle
  7. Add in 1 tsp of dye activator
  8. Screw the lid on and shake the bottle for thirty seconds
  9. Apply the dye on a damp, folded shirt

How to make a tie-dye chemical solution

This is the ultimate recipe containingĀ  dye, activator, urea, and alginate. This is a all-around excellent dye mix for most intermediate and advanced projects.

  1. Measure 1 cup of warm water
  2. Add in 1/2 tsp of sodium alginate powder to the water
  3. Using a handheld blender, mix for one to two minutes
  4. Let the solution rest for one hour so it thickens up
  5. Transfer the solution to a squeeze bottle
  6. Add in 1 tsp of dye powder to the bottle
  7. Add in 2 tsp of urea
  8. Add in 1 tsp of dye activator
  9. Screw the lid on and shake the bottle for thirty seconds
  10. Apply the dye on a damp, folded shirt

How to make tie-dye paint

This recipe starts with chemical water. You then add in multiple ingredients and a large quantity of dye. This makes a thick concentrated dye solution that can be used like paint.

  1. Measure 1 cup of warm water
  2. Add in 1.5 tsp of sodium alginate powder to the water
  3. Using a handheld blender, mix for one to two minutes
  4. Let the solution rest for one hour so it thickens up
  5. Transfer the solution to a squeeze bottle
  6. Add in 1/4 cup of urea to the bottle
  7. Add in 1/8 cup of salt to the bottle
  8. Add in 3 tsp of dye powder to the bottle
  9. Add in 1 tsp of dye activator to the bottle
  10. Screw the lid on and shake the bottle for thirty seconds
  11. Wait five minutes then shake the bottle again
  12. Apply the dye paint on a damp, folded shirt

The result is a very thick solution that pours slowly. This thick and viscous liquid/paste can be used for making precise outlines. You can also use it to paint directly on the shirt.

How much dye do I need for my tie-dye project?

Use this calculator to estimate the amount of supplies you need to complete your project. Keep in mind that this is only an estimate as the values will change depending on the size, weight, and construction of your fabric.

What dye colors to buy first?

There are many different dye colors available for sell. But in reality you only really need three. Red, Blue and Yellow. 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. Alternatively, you can create your own black by mixing the three primary colors together. With these four dye colors you should be all set to start your tie-dye journey like a pro.

Basic dye colors

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

Tie-dye color theory

It’s important to know how different colors combine together. With this knowledge you’ll be able to mix any color you desire. Color theory follows simple rules that are easy to understand. Once you get them you’ll know which color combos to go for and which ones to avoid.

Primary dye colors

Tie-dye uses CMYK color model 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

Secondary and tertiary 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

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.

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 majority of what you will find online 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