Dye mixing can be as simple as taking a spoonful of dye and mixing it with water. Fiber-reactive dyes can be used right out of the box. Still, most of the fun is to mix them together and create new colors.
Measure two teaspoons of dye powder and add it to a squeeze bottle. Add in a teaspoon of soda ash. Fill up the bottle with lukewarm water and shake well.
Whether you’re using premixed dyes or mixing your own, there’s a world of colors awaiting you. From using simple colors to creating complex hues, there’s something for everyone.
What You’ll Need
In this guide we’ll be using the basic tie-dye supplies. These include the fiber-reactive dyes themselves, as well as bottles, and dye fixer. Using a scale is optional, but can be a good idea for more advanced mixtures.
- Fiber-reactive dyes
- Soda ash
- Squeeze bottles
- Scale (Optional)
The dyes, soda ash, and bottles can all be bought by purchasing a tie-dye kit.
How to mix a bottle of dye
The simplest dye mix is one which contains only a single color. Mixing dye in a squeeze bottle is ideal. Once ready you can use it straight away.
- Add two teaspoons (8 g) of dye powder to a squeeze bottle
- Add in one teaspoon of soda ash
- Fill up the bottle until 3/4 full (leave some space for shaking)
- Shake the bottle well, mixing the powder thoroughly
This is the basic recipe we use for all colors. It yields a strong dye solution. These instructions work for all fiber-reactive dye colors. This goes for premixed dye colors as well.
How to Mix Primary Colors
Primary colors are used straight out of the container. Add a teaspoon or two of a given color into a bottle, then add soda ash and water.
How to Mix Secondary Colors
Mix two primary colors together to get secondary colors. Add different dye powders together or mix liquid dye solutions.
|Color||Name||Yellow %||Fuchsia %||Turquoise %|
How to Mix Custom Colors
Three primary colors are needed to create any color you can dream of. Mix them together in varying amounts to make new colors.
Tip: these mixing charts are based on the percentage by weight of each respective primary color.
How to make Orange hues
|Color||Name||Yellow %||Fuchsia %|
How to make Purple hues
|Color||Name||Fuchsia %||Turquoise %|
How to make Green hues
|Color||Name||Turquoise %||Yellow %|
How to make Brown hues
|Color||Name||Yellow %||Fuchsia %||Turquoise %|
When inspiration hits, you don’t always have the time to sit down and craft perfect colors. Like cooking, you can approximate quantities. Sometimes it’s enough just to eyeball it.
Guidelines are a great way to improve your art. Repeatability is essential to help you learn faster. Keep these simple rules in mind and you’ll become a pro in no time.
How much dye powder to use
First, figure out what color strength you want to achieve on your garment. The more dye in the bottle, the stronger the color will be as a result.
Use two teaspoons (8 g) of dye powder in a cup (250 ml) of water for a strong dye solution. Use as little as 1/8 of a teaspoon (0.5 g) of dye per cup to get soft colors. Three teaspoons (12 g) of dye in a cup of water will produce intense colors.
Use a digital scale to precisely weight your dye. After this, it’s only a matter of experimentation until you find your favorite colors to use.
Color intensity (imperial)
|Vibrant||3 tsp||1 tsp||1 cup|
|Intense||2 tsp||1 tsp||1 cup|
|Strong||1 tsp||1 tsp||1 cup|
|Medium||1/2 tsp||1 tsp||1 cup|
|Soft||1/4 tsp||1 tsp||1 cup|
|Pastel||1/8 tsp||1 tsp||1 cup|
|Light||1/32 tsp||1 tsp||1 cup|
Color intensity (metric)
|Vibrant||12 g||5 g||250 ml|
|Intense||8 g||5 g||250 ml|
|Strong||4 g||5 g||250 ml|
|Medium||2 g||5 g||250 ml|
|Soft||1 g||5 g||250 ml|
|Pastel||0.5 g||5 g||250 ml|
|Light||0.125 g||5 g||250 ml|
How much dye solution to prepare
We base our dye formulas on a standard amount of water which is one cup (250 ml). You can easily scale your mix up or down depending on your needs.
It takes about a cup (250 ml) of dye solution to dye a large t-shirt. Thick fabric like hoodies need about two times more dye per item. A small, thin fabric will need less dye.
Prepare enough dye to complete your project. It’s better to have leftover dye than running out in the middle of your session.
|Dye Solution||Large T-Shirts|
|1 cup (250 ml)||1|
|2 cups (500 ml)||2|
|1 quart (1 L)||4|
|2 quart (2 L)||8|
How much soda ash to use
Unless you use the bucket method, you’re going to put soda ash dye fixer directly in the bottles. Fixer is necessary for the reaction between dye and fabric to take place.
Add a teaspoon (5 g) of soda ash fixer per cup (250 ml) of water. The amount of soda ash is proportional to the quantity of water used. Add it in your bottles just before dyeing and shake well.
Ideal pH for reactive dyes
Adding soda ash is crucial to the good functioning of the dye. 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 forgetting it altogether will result in extremely faded colors.
How long does the dye stay good for?
Dye powder, when properly stored will not go bad, at least not for a few years. Dye solutions, on the other hand can go bad rather quickly, depending on the additives it contains.
A typical dye solution containing only water and dye will stay good for up to a month in the refrigerator. When soda ash is present, the solution only lasts for a few hours.
Dye solutions containing soda ash will exhaust rapidly in a matter of hours. The dye reacts with the water itself over time. This reaction is accelerated when the pH and temperature re increased.
|Preparation||Room Temperature 68° F (20° C)||Refrigerated 40° F (4° C)|
|Dye powder||2-5 years||5 years+|
|Dye mixed with water||1 week||1-2 months|
|Dye mixed with water + soda ash||8 hours||24 hours|
Refrigerating your dye solutions will keep them more than twice as long. As it ages, a solution progressively loses its strength. It may not be obvious while still in the bottle, but an exhausted dye solution will leave you with poor results on the fabric.
How to prevent clumps in your bottles
Clumps happen when a mass of dye powder or additive doesn’t fully dissolve. This can have unwanted consequences. Clumps can block your bottle’s spout. They can also be deposited on the fabric, causing areas of concentrated color.
Always put the dye powder first in the bottle and then add water. Use lukewarm water when mixing dyes. Shake the bottle vigorously for 30 seconds to a minute. Let it rest for a few minutes before shaking it again.
Shaking the bottle is essential to get the dye to dissolve neatly and not leave clumps. Rotate the bottle with your wrist to swish the liquid around. Dye powder can have a tendency to fall out of solution if you wait long enough. It’s a good idea to shake the bottle just before using it.
Add urea to your bottles to help the powder dissolve even more.
Testing and adjusting your colors
When mixing your dyes, you can test the color before using it on the fabric. This can help pinpoint the exact hues you’re going for.
Pour a few drops of dye on a paper towel or a white rag. Wait a few minutes for the dye to spread. Add in more dye powder to increase the saturation and strength. Add in water to dilute the solution.
Tie-dye Color Theory
Dyes work on a principle of subtractive coloration, meaning that adding all three colors produces black.
Three primary colors are needed to create any color you can dream of. Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow are all that’s needed. They offer more possible combinations than plain red, blue, and yellow.
Primary colors mix and combine to form new colors. When two primaries are mixed together they produce a secondary color.
- Magenta + Turquoise = Purple
- Yellow + Magenta = Orange
- Turquoise + Yellow = Green
Next are the tertiary colors which combine a secondary color with either one of its constituent color.
- Purple + Magenta = Fuchsia
- Orange + Magenta = Vermilion
- Orange + Yellow = Amber
- Green + Yellow = Chartreuse
- Green + Turquoise = Teal
- Purple + Turquoise = Violet
All colors can be described using a combination of three attributes: “value, chroma, and hue”. To get the best color characteristics you might need more than the basic set of primary colors.
Relative attributes of all colors :
- Value – How light or dark the color is (white vs. black)
- Chroma – The saturation, intensity, strength of the color
- Hue – What family the color belongs to (red, yellow, blue)
What dye colors are pure
While you can technically create just about any color with a mixture of the three primaries, additional dyes can help you make richer combinations. This is especially true for darker colors.
Always mix your own dyes by starting with pure, single-hue dyes. These produce rich, dependable colors. Starting with premixed dyes can make for poor results, rarely giving you what you hoped for.
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.