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Books on dyeing with fiber reactive dyes
(There are also fiber reactive dyes that react specifically with wool; some are found within the Lanaset grouping of dyes for protein fibers. However, this page specifically deals with fiber reactive dyes that are suitable for cellulose fibers—including ways to use these dyes with protein fibers.)
Cool water fiber reactive dyes can be used with the recipe given on the How to Dye page. It can also be used according to the recipe on the Low Water Immersion page, or even in a washing machine.
They work especially well on cotton, rayon, and silk, and also work well on linen, lyocell (Tencel), hemp, and any other cellulose fiber.
Alternatively, fiber reactive dyes can also be used as acid dyes on protein fibers, including wool (which cannot tolerate the high pH of the cotton recipe) and silk (which can be dyed either way).
For information on individual Procion MX type dyes, see my chart of Names of Pure Procion MX type dyes at various dye suppliers. For directions on how to dye cotton and other cellulose fibers such as rayon, linen, lyocell, etc., as well as silk, with Procion MX dyes and soda ash, see How to Dye.
Procion MX dyes are the easiest of fiber reactives to obtain in North America, being found in "tie dye kits" in many crafts stores and toy catalogs. The best places to obtain them, however, are the companies listed on my Sources for Dye Supplies, via mail-order; they respond quickly, and charge far less, per garment, for the dyes that they sell. Many of these companies also sell other types of dye. Procion MX dyes may also be purchased in the form of Tulip One Step Fashion Dye (with soda ash already mixed in), and as Dylon Cold Dye, though the color mixtures in both of these dye lines are less satisfactory for expert dyers than the dyes that are actually sold under the Procion name. (Note that this applies only to "Dylon Cold"; other types of Dylon dye, such as Dylon Permanent or Dylon Machine dye, do not contain Procion MX type dyes.)
Note that the patent on Procion MX dye has expired, so generic versions are now available; this is why it is more correct to say "Procion MX type" dye, rather than just "Procion MX" dye. (More precise still to use the true generic name, dichlorotriazine, but only chemists seem interested in doing so.) Most suppliers are still using the same or very similar MX codes, but to be quite sure of exactly which dye you are buying, it is best to order by Colour Index name (e.g. 'reactive red 2'). Colour Index names for MX type dyes are given on the pure MX dyes page.
Optimum reaction temperatures for Procion MX dyes are between 95° and 105°F = 35° to 41°C (except for turquoise, which prefers up to 130°F = 55°C). Do not use at temperatures below 70°F; if your studio temperature is lower than that, pop each piece into a separate plastic bag or bucket and take them to a warmer place overnight to react.Cibacron F. Another very good fiber reactive dye for artists and crafters to use is the Cibacron F line. (Don't confuse Cibacron F with just plain Cibacron! They can be completely different types of dyes; be sure you get the type with the "F" suffix.) Like Procion MX dyes, Cibacron F dyes can be used in warm water, instead of extremely hot water like some dyes. Its advantages over Procion MX dyes are that it 'keeps' better in solution, so you can store and possibly even buy it already in solution (liquid form), avoiding the safety hazard of breathing dye powder; it is also easier to wash the excess unattached dye out of the fabric when using Cibacron F dyes than when using Procion MX. However, the Cibacron F line has one major drawback when compared to the Procion MX line: there is not as wide a choice of colors, whether you buy primaries to mix your own, or buy pre-made mixes from your dye supplier.
Note that Cibracron F dyes are sold under the name Sabracron F, in powdered form, by PRO Chemical & Dye, which also provides some instructions for their use. (See Sources for Supplies.)
Cibacron F dyes can be used according to the exact same recipe as Procion MX dyes, and even mixed freely with them. In fact, one or two of the "Procion" mixtures sold by Dharma Trading company appear to contain some Cibacron F dye in mixture with Procion MX dyes. However, Cibacron F dyes are slightly less quick to react than Procion MX type, which is why they can be stored so much longer after dissolving them in water than the Procion MX type dyes; this also means that slightly higher temperatures are needed.
Optimum temperatures for Cibacron F dyes are slightly higher than for Procion MX dyes. Ciba said 55° to 65°C (130° to 150°F); ProChem (Sabracron F) says 45 to 55°C. (113° to 130°F)
Drimarene K. This is the more of a "warm water" dye than a "cool water" dye. It requires higher temperatures still than Cibacron F, but does not require steaming. Instructions for Drimarene K dyes can be found at Batik Oetoro; they are very similar in action to MX type dyes, except for requiring a minimum temperature of 35°C (or 95°F). Drimarene K dyes may be more commonly available in Australia than Procion MX or Cibacron F dyes. The greatest drawback, besides the need to find a warm place for the dye reaction to occur, is the lack of a truly rich red. This is, however, another excellent line of dye for home or studio use. Drimarene K dyes can be commonly found in North America under the name Dylon Permanent, and in Europe under the name Dylon Machine Dye, not to be confused with Dylon Cold Water dye, which is mostly Procion MX dye, nor to be confused with Dylon Multi-purpose dye, which is the less commendable sort of dye known as all-purpose dye.
Drimarene K has optimum temperatures around 60°C (140°F) for most colors, 80°C (176°F) for turquoise and a couple of others.
Remazol or vinyl sulfone dyes are usually used for silk painting and fixed by steaming, but, like Procion H dyes, may be fixed to cotton using a high-pH solution such as sodium silicate at room temperature, or by moderate heating. They work well between 104°F and 140°F (40°C-60°C). I have used them quite a bit on cotton, with TSP instead of soda ash, in low water immersion dyeing, with just a little heating, by floating the buckets in a sinkful of hot water, or by using a microwave oven to heat the dyebath. Vinyl sulfone dyes are particularly useful for chemical resist dyeing (PDF), in which two different types of fiber reactive dyes are used to print foreground and background in different colors. Remazol dyes are more suitable for dyeing for later discharge (bleaching) than are other fiber reactive dyes. For a large amount of additional information, see Vinyl Sulfone Fiber Reactive Dyes.
Levafix. I've heard that these dyes are sold under the name "Furian" in Finland, at least, but I do not know of a source for these dyes, made by Dystar, for small-scale users. Their temperature optimum is around 50°C (122°F). This is lower than the optimum temperature of 60° to 80° C. for the Drimarene K dyes, which can be used in "cold" dyeing, but higher than the optimum temperature of about 35° to 40°C (95° to 105°F) for Procion MX. As with all of these dyes, it is not necessary to get quite as high as the optimal temperature in order to have acceptable results.Procion H and H-E dyes are hot water dyes. They are usually used for silk painting; they require steaming or simmering to fix to cotton or silk. Procion H dyes are chemically similar to Procion MX dyes, being monochlorotriazines, but they are far less reactive, and will not work at all well at room temperature. They can be purchased in the form of powdered dye or dissolved in water; the latter removes the dangers associated with breathing dye powder. PRO Chemical & Dye says that their Procion H dye powders (which they call 'PRO H-Reactive Dyes') "are an ideal alternative to French Dyes for traditional silk painting because they need less steam time and are concentrated." Jacquard's retailers sell their Procion H dyes in liquid form, while G&S Dye sells theirs not only in liquid form, but prediluted and with all auxiliary chemicals already added. Although you can find instructions for setting Procion H dyes at room temperature with sodium silicate solution, expert dyers say that steam-setting these dyes results in richer, more brilliant colors. Immersion dyeing works best at 175°F (80°C). For more information about Procion H and H-E dyes, including Color Index names and a comparison of these dyes at different retailers, see my page on Which Procion H dyes are pure unmixed colors, and which mixtures?.
Summary of ideal reaction temperatures for different fiber reactive dyes
John Shores' Cellulosics Dyeing (a book I much recommend for the serious dyer who understands chemistry), lists the relative reactivities of the different fiber reactive dyes, highest to lowest, with a recommended reaction temperature in degrees Celsius, as follows:
Chemical names for classes of fiber reactive dyesNames such as Procion, Cibacron, and Drimarene are trademarks of the companies that first patented the dyes. The following table, from John Shore's Cellulosics Dyeing gives the actual chemical names of the different fiber reactive dye classes.
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