Also see Dyeing Polyester with Disperse Dyes.
Disperse dyes are for non-water-loving fibers, all of which are synthetic.
Disperse dyes were first developed to dye the new synthetic fiber acetate, because none of the existing dyes of the time were satisfactory. When other synthetic fibers were introduced, disperse dye proved to be the answer for dyeing them, as well.
Disperse dyes are dyes that are only slightly soluble in water. They are mixed with water in a fine dispersion so that, as some of the dye penetrates into the fiber, more of the suspended disperse dye dissolves in the dyebath, replacing the dissolved dye as it is used. Their hydrophobic nature allows them to essentially dissolve into hydrophobic textile fibers. They disperse well in an aqueous suspension thanks to their preparation, being finely ground with sodium lignin sulfonates; without this treatment, they would only be solvent dyes, impossible to apply in water.
Disperse dyes can be used to dye most synthetic textile fibers, including polyester, nylon, acetate, elastomeric polyurethane fibers (spandex), Ingeo®, and acrylic. They are not suitable for dyeing natural fibers: neither cellulose-based fibers such as cotton or viscose rayon, nor protein-based fibers such as wool or silk, should be dyed with disperse dyes.
Disperse dyes have been recommended as well for various hard plastics, including nylon buttons, acetate eyeglass frames, high density polyethylene, polyurethane, and polyvinyl chloride.
When more than one type of dye will work on a given fiber, disperse dye is not always the best choice. For example, disperse dye produces only pale to medium color intensities on acrylic; basic dye is more frequently used for commercially-dyed acrylic clothing. Disperse dye is used for some nylons, such as in hosiery, but acid dyes are usually preferred for their higher washfastness on nylon. Disperse dyes are always the best choice for acetate, and particularly for polyester, which will not satisfactorily accept any other dye.
Disperse dyes are applied with high heat; they cannot be applied in hot tap water or at room temperature. The individual disperse dyes vary in how suitable they are for different synthetic fibers, and in what dyeing methods they work best with. The disperse dyes with lower Color Index numbers were developed first and are preferred for dyeing acetate or nylon. The later-developed disperse dyes tend to be more suitable for polyester. There are four basic ways to apply the dyes: transfer printing, high temperature immersion, carrier dyeing, and thermosol application.
Transfer printing is a wonderfully easy way to use disperse dyes on polyester, nylon, and other synthetic fibers. It's based on the fact that, unlike other types of dye, disperse dye will evaporate at high temperature (around 500°C) and deposit on a nearby synthetic fiber.
Create your design on paper, using disperse dye crayons or disperse dye paints (mix the latter yourself with disperse dye, water, and, optionally, a thickener such as sodium alginate); let it dry, then use a hot iron or a t-shirt press to transfer the design to fabric. The colors look dull on paper, but brilliant after transfer. You can reuse the design several times for a repeating design; recolor it as needed as the dye gets used up. Do not use the dye carrier that is supplied for use in immersion-dyeing polyester.
Dyes that are labeled as being more suitable for transfer printing sublimate at a faster rate. Other disperse dyes take longer to transfer, but are still capable of it. In an instructional video, Jacquard Products recommended allowing six minutes in a heat transfer press for transfering their iDye Poly dyes to fabric from paper.
Most synthetic fibers, other than polyester, can be simply boiled with the disperse dye. Temperatures below boiling may be adequate for lighter colors on acetate or nylon.
Dyeing polyester (without special added carrier chemicals) requires high temperatures, at least boiling; colors obtained at boiling temperature are paler than those that can be obtained at higher temperatures or with carrier chemicals. Disperse dye works best on polyester at temperatures above the normal 100°C boiling temperature of water, up to 130°F; in order to reach these high temperatures, high pressure (as from a pressure cooker or autoclave) is required, since at ordinary pressures boiling water cannot exceed 100°C.
Small scale dyeing of polyester at high temperatures could be possible in a pressure cooker, which reaches up to 120°C (250°F) at 15 pounds of pressure. However, a home pressure cooker is not suitable for dyeing solid colors, because stirring is impossible in a closed pressure cooker. Achieving a smooth solid color requires frequent stirring. Experiment with pressure-dyeing polyester only for methods that do not aim for a solid color, such as low water immersion dyeing. (Don't plan to reuse a dyeing pot for cooking, later on; use a pressure cooker for dyeing only if you don't need it for food preparation.) Keep in mind that most polyester dyeing recipes call for a pH between 4.5 and 5.5, that is to say, a mildly acid pH, in order to protect the dye molecule; acid is not good for aluminum pots, because it tends to react with them. You might be able to use a heatproof non-aluminum container as a liner inside an aluminum pressure cooker.
Carrier dyeing provides a practical alternative for dyeing polyester at ordinary atmospheric pressure, with no need for a pressure cooker, and allows the creation of brighter, more intense colors than dyeing without a carrier. You can mix your disperse dye with water and boil your polyester fabric in it, adding the dye carrier chemical.
Carriers are not needed for fibers and plastics other than polyester.
Some of the dye carrier chemicals that have been used include biphenyl, o-phenyl phenol, butyl-benzoate, methyl naphthalene, dichlorobenzene, and N-alkylphthalimides, as well as many others, according to Aspland's book, Textile Dyeing and Coloration. I have no idea what chemicals are included in any particular brand of dye carrier. As a rule, dye carrier chemicals are more noxious and hazardous than the disperse dyes themselves, and they usually smell truly horrible. I myself have resolved to never again use a polyester dye carrier inside my house, but only under a fume hood or outside in my back yard. Be sure to check the MSDS for any dye carrier you are using; request it from your supplier when ordering.
Names under which various dye carrier chemicals are sold include PRO Chemical & Dye's PRO Dye Carrier NSC, Aljo's Hi-Conc Polydeveloper, Jacquard Products' iDye Poly Color Intensifier, and Kraftkolour's Polytex NOC.
The thermosol method is used only for polyester/cotton blends. The dye is applied to the fabric and allowed to dry, then fixed in a dry oven at 200°C to 215°C (390°F to 420°F). At this temperature, the dry dye sublimes, that is, it evaporates, and then deposits in the fiber, using the same property of disperse dye as heat transfer dyeing.
Disperse dye became much easier for hand dyers to find when Jacquard Products introduced their line of low-energy disperse dyes called iDye Poly (not to be confused with the sister line of iDye dyes, which are direct dyes to be used for natural fibers only). Dyes made by Jacquard Products are widely available from better craft stores and art supply stores such as Blick Art Materials, as well as many dye retailers such as Dharma Trading Company and George Weil. iDye Poly is available in eight colors: yellow, orange, red, violet, blue, green, brown and black. A color intensifier packet is included in each envelope of dye for use with polyester; when ordering bulk quantities, order the color intensifier separately.
Aljo Mfg (in Manhattan and for online ordering) sells two different selections of disperse dyes, a higher-energy range that is better for polyester, with twenty-two colors, and a lower-energy range that is better for acetate and nylon, with twenty-three colors. Their dye carrier chemical for polyester is called Hi-Conc Polydeveloper.
PRO Chemical & Dye (in Massachusetts and for online ordering) carries twelve colors of PROsperse disperse dyes for immersion dyeing synthetic fibers. Their dye carrier chemical is called PRO Dye Carrier NSC. They also carry nine colors of Transperse transfer printing dyes, whose higher sublimation rate allows for faster heat transfer, though they can also be used for immersion dyeing.
In Australia, Kraftkolour carries fifteen colors of transfer or disperse dye and Polydiol polyester dye carrier, as well as eighteen colors of Transprint Liquid Transfer dyes. They sell both Polytex NOC as a dye carrier, and Polytex PES-60 as an additional auxiliary chemical additive.
In the UK, George Weil carries both iDye Poly and their own brand of Fibrecrafts disperse dyes in eight colors. They recommend the use of Dispersing Agent WS powder "to help prevent specks forming on the fabric", but do not appear to carry a color intensifying dye carrier chemical for polyester. Kemtex has twenty-two different colors of disperse dye.
Some other dye sellers carry disperse dyes, sometimes labeled as transfer dyes, but no dye carrier chemical; without the dye carrier chemical, colors obtained by immersion dyeing are much paler, though transfer printing produces intense colors without it.
Disperse dyes are also available in crayon form, for use in transfer printing. Look in a sewing store, or even a box box retailer such as Walmart, for Crayola Fabric Crayons or Dritz Fabric Crayons. You can also find them online; for example, Dharma Trading Company carries them.
Disperse dyes are considered safe enough for home use. Use normal safety practices: wear a dust mask while handling dye powders, wear reliable waterproof gloves, cover all surfaces with newspapers or a dropcloth, wipe up any spills immediately, and never use food preparation equipment for measuring or heating the dye.
A few disperse dyes are listed on their MSDS pages as having limited evidence of a carcinogenic effects, including disperse yellow 3 and disperse red 15. Most are not carcinogenic, but many can irritate the skin and eyes, while others are not classified as hazardous at all. Check the MSDS for each individual disperse dye you use (request a copy for each color when you order your dyes), or just be careful and treat even the safer ones as though they are hazardous.
As an example, an MSDS for Colour Index Disperse Yellow 3 includes these instructions on first aid measures:
Unfortunately, the color intensifier dye carrier additives, which are needed for dyeing polyester but not other materials, are more noxious. They require excellent ventilation and the use of a respirator with organic vapor cartridges. For home users, I advise boiling the dyebath with the dye carrier additives outdoors, not in your kitchen or a studio attached to living quarters, because the color intensifier smells horrible and is probably not healthy to breath without respiratory protection.
Occasionally, people develop contact allergies to dyes in clothing. Both disperse dyes and basic dyes are less tightly bound to clothing fibers than are fiber reactive dyes, and are therefore more likely to cause allergies, as loose dye molecules are more likely to contact the skin. In contrast to basic dyes and disperse dyes, allergies to fiber reactive dyes in clothing are almost unknown; the only case published involved clothing that had not had unattached dye washed out properly, although there have been many cases of allergies to the powdered form of fiber reactive dyes among textile workers.
Disperse dyes can be more-or-less arbitrarily classified into groups, with the members of one group having more similar properties, and being more suitable for the same situations, than the members of the other groups. Some dye manufacturers separate disperse dyes into three classes: L, M, and H, for low-energy, medium-energy, and high-energy. Other dye manufacturers classify disperse dyes into four groups, A, B, C, or D, with D containing higher-energy dyes than A. The lower-energy dyes transfer more quickly to the fiber from a dyebath, and tend to have less need for a carrier or super-high temperatures, but the correspondence between the energy class and the recommended dyeing methods is not perfect. Kent and Riegel's Handbook of Industrial Chemistry and Biotechnology simplifies matters (possibly oversimplifying) with the rule that low energy disperse dyes have molecular masses below 300 and sublimation temperatures below 150°C; medium-energy dyes have molecular masses between 300 and 400 and sublimation temperatures between 150°C and 210°C; and high-energy dyes have molecular masses greater than 400 and sublimation temperatures above 210°C.
Looking at the table below, you can see that the disperse dyes with lower numbers in their Color Index names (which indicates that they were developed first) are more likely to be low-energy or group A dyes, while the higher-numbered Color Index names are more likely to be higher energy or class C or D dyes. The lower Color Index numbers are also more likely to be recommended for use on nylon or acetate, though they can be used on polyester.
None of the eight Jacquard Products disperse dyes are listed below; they are all described as color mixtures, and the contents of pre-mixed dye colors are always a trade secret. The dyes listed below include Aljo's Acetate-Nylon Disperse dyes, Aljo's Polyester disperse dyes, and some of PRO Chemical & Dyes disperse dyes.
|Aljo Acetate-Nylon||Aljo Polyester||ProChem||classification||chromophore|| molecular|
|yellow 3||lemon yellow||-||-||A class dye; low energy||azo||MW 269.3||same dye molecule as C.I. Solvent Yellow 77 (chemnet); |
Limited evidence of a carcinogenic effect (Sigma) MSDS
listed as carcinogenic on EU Oeko-Tex list; possible allergen4
|yellow 42||-||-||-||C class dye; medium energy1||nitro||MW 369.3944||Greenish Yellow - Automotive Yellow3|
|yellow 54||-||Poly yellow 2GW||-||B class dye; medium energy2||quinophthalone||MW 289.28||same dye molecule as solvent yellow 1141 |
Bright Yellow - Workhorse Yellow Dye3
|yellow 64||-||Poly yellow 3GW||-||B class dye||quinoline||MW 368.18|| same dye molecule as solvent yellow 1761 |
|yellow 82||-||Poly fl. yellow 8G||-||C class dye;||coumarin||MW 333.38||fluorescent! same dye molecule as solvent yellow 1851 |
Xn Harmful Xi Irritant
Fluorescent Greenish Yellow Dye3
|yellow 211||-||-||-||C class dye; medium energy2||azo|| MSDS [PDF] Non-irritant |
Bright Greenish Yellow3
|yellow 218||-||-||D118 bright yellow||PC||quinophthalone dye|| hazardous diazo component p-Chloroaniline |
Bright Greenish Yellow3
|orange 3||orange||poly orange||-||azo||MW 242.23||skin and eye irritant. possible allergen4|
|orange 25||poly bril. orange RL||-||D225 clear orange||B class dye; high energy3||azo||MW 323.35||Bright Reddish Orange3|
|orange 30||-||-||-||C class dye; high energy2 3||azo||MW 450.27|
|orange 53||-||Poly bril golden yel.||-||-||azo|
|red 1||Scarlet||-||-||A class dye||azo||MW 314.34|| possible allergen4|
Workhorse Bright Red3
|red 4||Baby pink||poly brilliant pink RY||-||anthraquinone||MW 269.25|
|red 11||Lavender||poly Lavender 3B (cerise 3B)||-||anthraquinone||MW 268.27|| same dye molecule as solvent violet 261 |
|red 13||Magenta||-||-||B class dye;||azo||MW 348.78||Skin and eye irritant.|
|red 15||Rose||-||-||anthraquinone||MW 239.23||R68:Possible risk of irreversible effects. R65:Harmful: May cause lung damage if swallowed. R40:Limited evidence of a carcinogenic effect. R33:Danger of cumulative effects.|
|red 17||Red||-||-||azo||MW 344.369|| used in semi-permanent and oxidative hair dyes. |
Red Bluish Red3
|red 55||-||Poly Cerise YL||-||anthraquinone||MW 299.27812||Bright Bluish Red3|
|red 60||-||Poly Bright Red FB||D360 Bright Red||B class dye; low energy2||anthraquinone||MW 331.32|| same dye molecule as solvent red 1461; Not expected to present significant skin/eye/ingestion hazards under anticipated conditions of normal use. |
Bright Bluish Red - Workhorse Red Dye3
|red 73||-||Poly Rubine KF||-||medium energy2||azo||MW 348.36|| Warning: C.I. disperse red 73 has been found to be positive in mutagenicity testing with salmonella bacteria (Ames test). Avoid contact with eyes and skin. Avoid inhalation of dusts. (included in ProChem Cool Black disperse black 650)|
Bright Bluish Red3
|red 82||-||-||-||high energy2||azo||MW 439.42134|
|red 137||-||Poly Brill. Cerise 2B||-||azo||MW 429.5159|
|red 153||-||Poly Brill.Scarlet RK||-||C class dye;||azo|
|red 167||-||-||-||D class dye; high energy2||azo||MW 505.90826||Bluish Red3|
|red 277||-||Poly Luminous Red G||-||D class dye||MW 381.43|| fluorescent! |
Fluorescent Orange shades 3
|red 325||-||-||D350 Flame scarlet||azo|
|red 356||-||Poly Brill. Red SBN||-|
|violet 1||-||-||TP09 Violet Transperse Dye||anthraquinone|| same dye molecule as solvent violet 111|
Bright Violet Bright Bluish Violet3
|violet 4S||-||Poly Violet 6B||-||-||anthraquinone||MW 252.29|
|violet 26||-||Poly Brill. Red Violet RC||TP09 Purple Transperse Dye||B class dye||anthraquinone||MW 422.43|| same dye molecule as solvent violet 591 |
|violet 33||-||-||D333 Fuchsia||medium-high energy2||azo||MW 369.37|
|violet 57||-||Poly Brill. Violet 4BL||-||medium energy type2|
|blue 3||Sky blue||-||-||A class dye;||anthraquinone|| possible allergen4|
Bright Blue - Workhorse Hosiery Dye3 (nylon)
|blue 56||-||Poly Royal Blue RL||D459 Bright Blue||B class dye;||anthraquinone|| listed as both low energy type2 and high energy3 |
"Workhorse Bright Blue Dye"3
|blue 60||-||Poly Turquoise blue G||D426 Turquoise||high energy type1||indanthrone||Bright Greenish Blue; Turquoise3|
|blue 87||-||-||-||high energy2|
|blue 281||-||Poly Navy Blue DN||-||high energy navy3||Navy - Good Fastness to Press Finishing3|
2Town End Leeds
4Oeko-Tex 100 listing
Many disperse dyes are also solvent dyes, which are soluble in oils and other hydrophobic liquids. For example, the dye in Colour Index disperse yellow 3, available as Aljo's Acetate-Nylon Lemon Yellow disperse dye, is also known as Colour Index solvent yellow 77. C.I. disperse violet 26, available as ProChem's TP09 Purple Transperse Dye and as Aljo's Polyester Brill. Red Violet RC, is also known as solvent violet 59. The difference between a disperse dye and the same dye sold as a solvent dye is that the disperse dye is finely ground with sodium lignin sulfonates, so that they will disperse well in an aqueous suspension. Solvent dyes do not require dispersing agents in order to be dissolved in organic solvents.
Last updated: May 14, 2012
Page created: January 25, 2012
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