Category Archives: fabric paints and pigments

Dye or paint to cover a grease spot on a formal dress?

Name: Raquel
Country or region: Illinois
Message: Hello Paula,
As I was reading through your website, I believe the answer is fabric paint; however, I am still unsure. I have a beautiful dress I wore as a wedding guest and somehow grease from a chair got on the back of my dress. The dry cleaner did all that they could to get it out but it left a grey mark on the back of my very light pink dress. The fabric shell is 54% polyester, 38% viscose, and 8% elastane. The liner is 97% polyester and 3% spandex. Should I use polyester dye or fabric paint?

Polyester dye is not an option with spandex-blend fabrics. To dye polyester with polyester dye (also known as disperse dye), you must boil the fabric in the dye for a minimum of half an hour at a hard boil. Spandex (also known as elastane or Lycra) must never be exposed to high heat, over 140° F. The heat required to dye the polyester would ruin the spandex. The viscose rayon is a form of cellulose, which must be dyed with an entirely different type of dye that is easier to use, but it’s not enough to dye just the viscose.

Fabric paint will be great if you try to produce an entirely different look. For example, you could sponge an irregular design of pearlescent colors onto your dress, or block-print butterflies in metallic colors, or brush on swirls in a darker shade of opaque pink fabric paint—just to give you some ideas. However, there is no possibility of simply restoring the gray mark to blend in with the pale pink of the rest of the dress. Even if you happen to find an exact match for the pale pink, or manage to expertly mix opaque white fabric paint with pink to get an exact color match, the painted spot will always be perceptibly different in reflectiveness and opacity. Make this look intentional by creating a design, whether it is striking in contrast or very subtle, that covers the entire garment.

It is important to use an opaque paint, not a transparent paint, because transparent paint will not cover anything up, as the problem will show right through it; metallic and pearlescent fabric paints are opaque, so they are fine for covering. One brand of good metallic and pearlescent fabric paints is Jacquard Products’ Lumiere fabric paint, which comes in a wide range of very sparkly colors that leave only a very slight feeling on the fabric; they are not thick and rough like some types of fabric paint.

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What dye can I use for airbrushing handmade wool teddy bears?

Name: Heidi
Country or region: South Africa
Message: Hi Paula :)
I would really appreciate some help with a project I am working on please. I am knitting (and felting) artist teddy bears (made from pure non-superwash merino wool). I would like to know if there is a thin dye that I can use to airbrush parts of the bears? I cannot heat set it, so it would need to be set in some other way. The process is to make the bear, then felt it in the washing machine and dryer, then sculpt the eye sockets etc, then airbrush, then add eyes and other bits. So basically, the airbrushing takes place when the bear is completely dry after felting. I am also hoping to use this technique for non felted bears (simply knitted). I have considered a permanent fabric pen but I don’t know if these are really permanent or if they will run if the bear gets wet. Thank you for your time and help :)

Hi Heidi,

What you want is not, in fact, a dye, but instead a very thin fabric paint. These can be used without simmering in water, which seems important for your method. Remazol dyes, which are available in South Africa from Melanie Brummer, work well on wool, but the process of setting hand-painted dyes on wool is more complex, as it requires moist heat. Fabric paints will be permanent if you follow the manufacturers’ instructions. You can thin the fabric paint with water, but dilute it no more than the manufacturer says to; for even more thinner colors, you can dilute a fabric paint with a transparent medium sold in the same line of fabric paints. Some fabric paints need to be set with dry heat, using an iron or a heat gun (which is like a hair dryer without the fan), or a commercial clothes dryer, while others are permanent without heat-setting; again, check the manufacturer’s instructions.

For example, Jacquard Dye-Na-Flow fabric paint, which has been created to be thin enough to simulate the effect of dye, can be used for air-brushing fabric. Add up to 25% the volume of water to thin it; for thinner colors that still have enough binder to be permanent, dilute with any quantity of Jacquard Colorless Extender. To avoid the heat-setting step that this paint otherwise requires, buy Jacquard Airfix, which contains an acrylic catalyst that can be mixed into fabric paints before use so that they do not need to be heat-fixed.

There are many brands of airbrush inks that will work on fabric. Jacquard Airbrush Paints are made by the same manufacturer as the Dye-Na-Flow paints I described above. Again, they either require Air Fix to be mixed in before use, or a heat gun to set the paint. Dr. Ph. Martin’s Spectralite is used with a catalyst similar in function to Jacquard Airfix, called Dr. Ph. Martin’s Spectralite Catalyst; it can also be used with a Heat Set additive, but if used without either additive will not be permanent on fabric that is washed. If you cannot find any of these paints locally, they can be ordered online from Dharma Trading Company in the US.

Fabric markers will work well for your purposes, and many of them require no heat-setting at all. Like airbrush inks and other thin fabric paints, they contain pigments, rather than dyes, mixed with a binder to hold the pigment to the fabric. They are usually thin enough to leave very little feel on the fabric. Practice on scrap material first to get a feeling for blending colors. Some brands are easier to blend than others. Be careful about buying a permanent marking pen which is marketed for use on materials other than fabric. For example, ordinary Sharpie permanent markers can be used to color fabric, but, whether they are heat-set or not, they tend to wash out of the fabric after only a few washings. For an item that will not be washed, they are adequately permanent. They do not run when fabric colored with them is dampened with water; the only problem is that they tend to gradually disappear when laundered repeatedly.

There are many brands of fabric markers which are very permanent on fabric, including a relatively new line of Sharpie brand fabric markers which I have not tried yet. Just make sure that the label of whatever marker you buy specifically says “permanent on fabric”. If your brand has “fabric” in the name, it should be fine. My favorite markers are the fat Marvy broad point fabric markers, because they produce bright long-lasting colors, and they do not tend to dry up in the drawer. They do not require heat setting. Many other brands of markers tend to dry out by the next year, no matter how tightly they have been capped.

Even though you will be probably buying your fabric markers locally, you might want to take a look at Dharma Trading Company’s page of Fabric Markers, just to get a look at a number of different brands and their whether they have any heat-setting requirements.

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trying to dye lichen for model foliage purposes

Name: John
Country or region: NZ
Message: Hi Paula
I am trying to dye a type of lichen for model foliage purposes. Because the lichen itself is known to produce a browny dye, when I try using a hot water dye the lichen turns brown instead of the desired green. Do you know if there is a suitable cold water dye that would work?

Hi John,

I think you probably don’t want to use dye at all, but instead a very thin transparent paint. There are only a few types of dyes that will work in cool water, and there’s not a lot of information on which of them work well on the material of which lichen is composed.

This is an interesting question, because lichens are not composed of the same material as plants or animals. Lichen is not made primarily of cellulose, like plants, nor of protein, like animals; instead it is made of chitin, the same long-chain substance used as a structural material by mushrooms, insects, and crabs. Chitin is a carbohydrate, a polysaccharide, made, like starch and cellulose, from many subunits of glucose sugar derivatives, hooked together in a long chain. The subunits in chitin are held together by the same sort of molecular linkage as cellulose, but each glucose has an additional amine group attached to it, which means that some protein dyes work on it. Unfortunately, protein dyes require heat, so they’re not useful for your question.

Cold water dyes work by chemically reacting with the substrate. Procion MX dyes, for example, which unlike other fiber reactive dyes work well at a room temperature as low as 21°C (70°F), react with cellulose or proteins at a high pH; a chemical such as soda ash is used to produce the high pH that is needed. The high pH might alter the color of your lichen just as the heat did. Of the three fiber reactive dyes I know of that have been tested on purified chitin, two worked at various pH levels, but one of them, the only Procion MX dye that was tested, did not perform well. I expect that some other colors of Procion dye might work better, but finding out which would be more trouble than I think it would be worth for you.

Chitin, unlike cellulose and protein fibers, has a positive molecular charge, so you can’t use basic (cationic) dyes with it. That’s just as well, as I do not like to recommend basic dyes, for reasons of toxicity.

I expect that you will want to use a particularly thin paint, so that it will be more like dye, and not change the texture of the lichen. A good thin fabric paint would probably be your best choice, as it is designed not to much change the texture of the fabric on which it is applied. In choosing a fabric paint, consider whether you want the paint to be opaque or transparent. Transparent paint will be thinner and give a more natural look, but, like dye, it will not be able to cover a dark color with a lighter one. If you need to lighten the color of the lichen you are painting, you must choose an opaque fabric paint, such as DecoArt SoSoft Fabric Paints, the opaque colors of Pebeo Setacolor Fabric Paint, or Jacquard Products’ Neopaque. If you do not need to lighten the color of your lichen, then you should choose a transparent paint that is very thin. Jacquard Products’ Dye-Na-Flow would be an obvious good choice–as the name implies, it is designed to be thin, to give an experience similar to using dye–as would the transparent colors of Pebeo Setacolor.

Both Setacolor Transparent paints and Dye-Na-Flow are available in several different greens, or you can alter the provided colors by mixing with other colors such as blue or yellow. For an even more transparent, lighter color, you can dilute Dye-Na-Flow with up to 25% added water, or you can dilute the Setacolor with Setacolor Lightening Medium. For a more realistic effect, you could start by painting with a light green, then paint unevenly over part of the surface with a darker shade of green; the results will be different if you apply the second color while the first is still wet than when the first color has already dried. Experiment to see what works best. All of the paint colors can be mixed with any other color in the same brand name of fabric paints.

When used on fabric that will be washed, both Dye-Na-Flow and Setacolor fabric paint are made permanent after drying by heat-setting them, but for model foliage that will not be touched, simply letting the paint dry will be sufficient. You won’t need to bother with the heat-setting step.

You can order Dye-Na-Flow or Neopaque fabric paints in New Zealand from ZigZag, which is located in Christchurch. If they have availability problems, you can order Setacolor Transparent fabric paint from Kraftkolour, or Dye-Na-Flow and other Jacquard Products paints from The Thread Studio, both of which sources are in Australia.

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