Why do some dye color mixtures bleed a different color around the edges?

Name: Nate


150 different colors from one kit!

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Procion mx fiber reactive cold water dye

Procion MX Dye

ideal for cotton and rayon

When mixed with soda ash, Procion dyes are permanent, colorfast, and very washable. You can easily create a palette of brilliant colors ranging from light pastels to deep, vibrant hues.


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Synthetic Dyes for
Natural Fibers

By Linda Knutson


Country or region: USA

Message: Hi, I have been dyeing for several years now and have been working on mixing my own colors for a little over a year now. I am trying to figure out why some colors I mix will bleed or leach another color—like my browns always have green or yellow around them, and some reds have yellow run from them, for a few examples. Have you ever heard anything like this? Could I be doing something wrong? Any suggestions you have would be greatly appreciated.

Yes, I know exactly what you're talking about. It's caused by the fact that the different dye colors are each produced by a different chemical, with different properties. To avoid this separation of colors, you can choose different colors to use as mixing primaries.

Some reactive dyes react almost instantly with the fiber you're dyeing, almost as soon as they hit it, assuming that the pH is high enough (thanks to the soda ash presoak). This means that they do not have time to creep around on the fabric. As soon as they come into contact with the fiber, they become permanently attached to it. In contrast, some other reactive dyes are much slower to form a chemical bond to the fiber. This means that they have plenty of time to spread out, and end up moving farther on the fabric.

If you make a purple by mixing fast-reacting Red MX-8B, which is commonly known as Fuchsia, with slow-to-react Turquoise MX-G, then the fuchsia molecules will start bonding to the first fibers they come into contact with. Fewer of the turquoise molecules will form bonds in the first few minutes; since they don't bond immediately, there's plenty of time for them to soak along the fiber. The result? A blue halo around your purples. Sometimes that's a very nice effect, but other times you just want a solid purple, without any bleeding of the blue around it.

The color separation happens only in direct application of the dye, such as tie-dyeing or dye painting; if you do immersion dyeing with a high water ratio, all of the parts of the fiber get exposed to all of the dye colors, so you get only a single solid color.

Fortunately, you have more than one choice of a red Procion MX type dye, and more than one choice of blue. If you want less in the way of blue halos around your purple, then use Red MX-5B (called light red, magenta, or mixing red) instead of Red MX-8B (fuchsia). Red MX-5B happens to react more slowly than Red MX-8B, so you will experience less trouble with halos. Another alternative is to use an unmixed single-hue purple dye, the lovely Violet MX-2R, which is sold as Grape from many dye suppliers.

If you mix a bright fire engine red by mixing Red MX-8B with Yellow MX-8G, you will end up with yellow halos around the red sections of your tie-dyes. This can be a very nice effect, but it won't always work for you. For a red that doesn't separate, it's better to mix Red MX-5B with Orange MX-2R.

Your browns that end up with yellow or green around them are probably based on fuchsia. Let me suggest that you obtain some orange dye, and make browns by adding a navy blue dye to it. The best orange for mixing dark dull colors, such as dark brown and black, is the terracotta orange whose generic MX code is brown MX-GRN. As it happens, Dharma Trading Company does not sell this dye, but lots of other dye suppliers do. PRO Chemical & Dye sell it as 515 Burnt Orange, while Jacquard Products sells it as 016 Rust Orange. There are several good navy blue dyes for mixing dark colors. Blue MX-2G is a good one, sold just about everywhere that you can buy Procion dyes; Dharma and Jacquard sell it as Cobalt Blue, while ProChem sells it as Mixing Blue. For different shades of brown, try the medium blue colored Blue MX-G, known as Cerulean Blue at Dharma and Jacquard, and as Intense Blue at ProChem, or the bright orange Orange MX-2R, which is called Deep Orange, Strong Orange, or Brilliant Orange, depending on the supplier.

Many of the Procion MX dyes that you can buy are mixtures, made of two or more different colors of dyes already. There are only about a dozen pure unmixed single-hue Procion MX dyes readily available. To see which ones these are, and what their names and catalog numbers are at several of the major dye suppliers, see my page, "Which Procion MX colors are pure, and which mixtures?".

Several years ago, I posted some data about how quickly some of the Procion MX dyes react, whether with a textile fiber or with water, in the Dye Forum; see "reactivity of Procion MX type dyes". Unfortunately, some of our favorite dyes are missing from the list. If there's a particular dye whose performance you'd like to know more about, posting on the Dye Forum is an excellent way to get different dyers' experiences.

You will also see less color separation if you use a thickener in your dyes, such as sodium alginate; see "Sodium alginate, Superclear, and other dye thickeners". Some tie-dyers always use sodium alginate, while others don't like to use thickeners at all. Give it a try sometime and see how you like it.

As a curiosity, you will see entirely different results with the same dyes when you fix the dyes only after they had a chance to soak into the fabric for a while, because then the dyes that travel farther will be the smaller and lighter dye molecules, rather than the ones that are the fastest to react. Instead of pre-soaking in soda ash, you can apply dye to shirts that are either dry, or dampened only with water, let the dye dry completely (don't use urea in mixing the dyes, for this method), then paint on the sodium silicate solution that is called either Water Glass or After Fix. It's an impractical method for fixing multiple tie-dyes, but sometimes a good choice for dye painting. Similarly, most of us prefer to add soda ash after the dye when doing low water immersion dyeing, though some do it the other way around. See "How to Do Low Water Immersion Dyeing".

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Posted: Thursday - June 02, 2011 at 12:44 PM          

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