How to paint with dyes

How to paint with dyes?

There are multiple ways to paint with dyes, the most common ones are using a paintbrush with liquid dyes and another is to make a thick mixture of dye that can be spread like paint. We tested a number of different techniques and we have found the best ways to paint with dyes.

Simply put, painting with dyes can be can done by either using painting instruments like paintbrushes to spread the dye or by making a mixture of dye that has the consistency of paint. The way you would go about making your own tie-dye paint is to adjust the quantity of water in your mix, add bulk to it, and add viscosity. We will be discussing all of these points and more.

Using liquid dyes, you will want to use either a paintbrush or a sponge. You can simply prepare a container of dye water and dip your painting instrument to absorb a bit of dye to spread on the shirt. You will find that using this technique the dye water does not react like paint at all and you can find it difficult to make precise details. While this technique can still be used to make interesting effects, the water spreads quite easily and can be hard to handle.

You can certainly soak a paintbrush in a regular mix of dye water and apply the liquid dye that way onto the shirt, but you will find that this method has limitations and that there are other options to consider that take a little preparation but are way more consistent and useful.

Making a dye paint mix

A better technique is to create something we call a dye paint. We make it by mixing powder dye in a small quantity of water and adding additives depending on the need. The goal here is to make a mixture that gives you better control and that spreads less on the fabric. We will show you exactly how to mix a dye paint mixture and then we’ll see how we can use it effectively.

The first thing you want to do is to use a smaller quantity of water. Better to start with a small amount of dye powder and add drops of water until all the dye is dissolved. A standard recipe for a good quality dye paint mix also contains multiple additives. The most common are sodium alginate, soda ash, and salt. We have read and researched all the available information to find how to create the best tie-dye paint.

You can control the spread of the dye with a variety of different products and methods. What you want to do to create the ultimate dye paint mix is to have a  high concentration of dye in a small amount of water, and then add your additives. We need bulk and viscosity to keep the water from spreading and we want our paint to stay in place. The less it spreads, the more details we can paint.

The way we recommend is to start with sodium alginate, which is algae powder and has interesting characteristics. When mixed in water it will dramatically increase the viscosity and the stickiness of the water solution. Sodium alginate is the absolute best way to see concrete changes in the spread of the dye. Using this thickener is so useful that we also commonly use it in our regular liquid dye mixes.

Using the dye paint

We have explore some ways to make paint for tie-dye, but how exactly do we use them in a real situation? The trick is to practice with your ingredients to find what works best for you. For the dye paint, do not get confused by the name, it is still dye and will still color in the same way that dye does in liquid form. It still has the same properties and will still mix with other dye colors.

A nice way to better control the dye is to increase the bulk of the dye water. This can be easily accomplished by using soda ash and salt. You need soda ash anyway to activate the dye, use is in equal proportion to the dye powder. Use regular table salt if you want to add even more mass to you dye mixture. Try different combinations in varying amounts of water to determine what you need for your project. You can make a paste with the ingredients that let’s you place you dye exactly where you need it and will prevent it from spreading.

Everything depends on what you want to accomplish. What we find works the best is to simply use a small paintbrush to spread your paint mixture on the shirt. Alternatively, depending on the specific type of paint you have made, you can use a small bottle to squirt precise lines. The trick here is to take your time and really get into the details.

How can I paint better details?

If you want to paint better details and make something that is very precise, you can use a very special trick to isolate exactly what you want to color.  What we found is that you can combine the painting technique with the traditional batik technique which consists in using molten wax to isolate fibers under a waterproof layer. Simply melt and spread the wax according to your needs.

You can make forms, images, and letters. This technique allows you to liberate yourself and create exactly what you want at the cost of tacking more time to execute. You can use a combination of batik and painting to create a real piece of art that you’ll want to hang in a frame.

Can you use other types of paints?

You can use other paints, but be aware that they might not be a suitable option for everyone. If you want to go with paints we recommend that you get paints that are made specifically for fabric and that have advantages over less specialized paints.

We absolutely recommend that you use regular tie-dye fiber-reactive dyes instead of paints. Dyes are cheaper and more efficient, they will leave no texture or stiffness on the fabric. They are better in almost every way and you can even customize them to your need by modifying its viscosity.

Once you let the dye set and you rinse it, you have the excess dye that is washed of and nothing is left behind, the color is bonded chemically with the fibers and there is no residue, nothing you can feel on the shirt. With paints, on the other hand, you will be left with a raised edge where there is paint. Paints can also cause stiffness in the fabric and can also crack over time. Making a paint with dyes will give you the benefits of both world and will open up the world tie-dye for you.

About us

We are Samuel and Francis. About two years ago we bought our first tools and supplies for tie-dyeing. Ever since then we’ve been learning the skills of folding and dyeing in intricate ways. We’ve learned from our experiences on the field about what techniques works and what doesn’t. This is the site were we share everything we’ve learned.

Samuel and Francis

We are the sole owners of this site, we live in Canada where we work everyday on making tie-dye more accessible to everyone. We are always looking forward to teaching you something new.