How to Dye Clothing Very Bright

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Use acrylic paints in bright colors.
Use acrylic paints in bright colors. (Image: Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Most products available for dyeing cloth involve a dye and a fixing agent. They are expensive, complicated and sophisticated craft items that can be very satisfying to an experienced crafter. An easier way to get bright colors -- in a tie-dye shirt, for example -- involves simple tubes of acrylic paint that are thinned with water to get the color you want.

Things You'll Need

  • Tube acrylic paints in transparent colors
  • Rubber bands, cotton string or thin rope for tying, for tie-dyeing
  • Large bucket with a lid
  • Water
  • Clothing or fabric
  • Rubber gloves, if you use any pigments that are labeled toxic. Non-toxic hues of acrylic paint wash off with soap and water.

Decide what colors you want and whether you're going to do a pattern, solid color or a gradient. Look for colors that are transparent, rather than translucent or opaque. Pthalo Blue, Pthalo Green, Dioxazine Violet, Alizarin Crimson are all very transparent colors. Certain colors, such as deep true black, may take several dippings, but will be long-lasting and very brilliant when you are done. Overdye with deep purple and dark brown for a rich black, or deep blue and dark brown and black together for a jazzier black.

Put a bit of paint in a bucket of water and stir it. The result will be a solution of paint that's transparent but shows the color. For a flat color, do not roll, twist or tie the garment. Put it in, swish it around and make sure it's thoroughly soaked. Pull it out and let it hang dry. Rinse after it's dry. If it's too light, put it in the acrylic-paint dye bucket again and overdye it till it's dark enough to suit you.

To dye a sheet or garment in a gradient -- lighter at one end and darker at the other -- mix your color or colors. Do a very thin rinse of the color for the lightest part, followed by slightly darker ones. For example, dye fabric a gradient of yellow, green and blue-green. Make attractive knitted projects with yarn dyed in a gradient pattern.

For tie-dyeing, the process is pretty much the same as doing a gradient. Dye a section of your garment in the lightest color first, tying it first to get white streaks and circles. Bundle your T-shirt longwise to make stripes, or grab sections of the shirt and wrap a rubber band around them to make a circular pattern. For batik effects, drip melted wax or paraffin for a resist before dyeing. Rinse the fabric in hot water to melt and remove the wax afterward.

Using a paintbrush and thinned acrylic paint at ink consistency, paint designs on your fabric. This is a way to add details without soaking the entire garment after the basic dyeing is done. Try not to use thick applications, which may get stiff as the paint does. Use the least paint you can for the effect you want, and you'll have a spectacular piece of wearable art.

Tips & Warnings

  • Before dyeing any garment with this method, try the mixture on a scrap of fabric, like an old pillowcase. Different fabrics soak more of the color than others.
  • If in doubt, go lighter because you can always repeat the process to get it darker, but getting acrylic paint as dye out is nearly impossible.
  • Rinse the fabric thoroughly after it's dried, so that any loose paint does not stiffen the fabric.
  • Don't throw the bucket of paint-water away after you're done dyeing your first project. It's still usable because the water keeps the acrylic from drying out. Use a bucket with a cover so that you can keep it for the next use.
  • Use caution when handling toxic pigments. Dispose of the material carefully.

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