When we think of tie dye, a bright white shirt with colors splattered all over it instantly comes to mind. This is usually the foundation for tie dye because it’s a blank canvas, ready to take on whatever colors we want to add.
But only ever using a white shirt for tie dye can get boring. It produces similar results every time, and you don’t get the contrasting effect of certain colors to really make your dye pop.
It’s also more difficult to get a single-color palette tie dye right. With a white shirt, you have to try and distribute the dark and light shades of a single color in a way that properly saturates and looks natural.
Instead, what if you tried to tie dye a colored shirt? Is that even possible?
So, can you tie dye colored shirts? Yes! There are a variety of methods to use when tie dyeing colored shirts. For grey shirts, it’s best to only use black dye. For colored shirts, stick to light colors or primary colors for best results. For black shirts, you can reverse dye with bleach and add dye after.
If you thought the colorful possibilities were endless with white shirts and tie dye, just wait until you try tie dyeing a colored shirt. You’ll be amazed at the fun and vibrant results you can get from tie dyeing a colored shirt!
How To Tie Dye A Colored Shirt
When you tie dye a white shirt, you’re adding color dye to white fibers. The dye soaks into the fibers, changing the color of those fibers and turning into whatever color you added.
With fibers that have already been dyed, the process is a little different. The dyes still soak into the fibers, but now they’re mixing with the colors that have already been added to the shirt in production.
The results will vary depending on the color of the shirt you use, as well as the type of dye.
In the sections below, we’ll go over the different types of dye you can use, the best color shirt to use per dye, and the results you can expect to get when combining the two.
Tie dye is generally loved because of the way it adds bright, bold colors to clothing. Naturally, it would make sense to grab bottles of colorful dye first. However, when working with a colored shirt, there are basic principles you have to understand regarding color theory.
There are three primary colors: red, yellow, and blue. When you combine two of these colors in different variations, you get the three secondary colors: orange, green, and purple.
Tertiary colors are made when mixing a primary color with one of its two possible secondary colors, such as mixing blue and green to make a shade of blue-green, like teal. Knowing the way each color interacts is going to directly impact the results you get when dyeing a colored shirt.
1. Primary Color Shirts
With this color theory in mind, our top recommendation when tie dyeing a colored shirt is to start with a primary color shirt.
This means searching for a shirt that is already red, yellow, or blue. From there, you can choose a color dye that will produce a secondary or tertiary color that you enjoy.
Try adding purple dye to a blue shirt to create a nice blue-purple tie dye effect. Or, try adding red dye to a yellow shirt for an orange tie dye effect.
2. Secondary Color Shirts
It’s best to avoid using shirts that are already secondary colors, like green. Adding any dye to green, other than more green, will result in a muddied brown color.
However, that doesn’t mean secondary colors are totally out as tie dye options. You can still start with a shirt that’s a secondary color if you only plan to add more of that color to the shirt.
Shirts that are green, purple, or orange, work great for monotone tie dye. You can add a darker shade of the shirt’s natural color and create a fun ombre tie dye effect.
3. Light Color Shirts
Finally, an option for using color dye with a colored shirt would be to find any color shirt, as long as it’s light/pale in color.
You’ll want to keep the color theory in mind, so avoid adding red dye to a pale green shirt. Keep color families together to prevent unwanted brown or muddied results.
Light shirts have the ability to take on more color, so you’ll get more vibrant results when adding colorful dye to a light colored shirt.
Although black dye may seem an unconventional choice for tie dye, it’s the best option if you want to tie dye a grey shirt. Grey shirts won’t take color dye well, because the colors will simply get lost in the grey color of the shirt.
Grey as a color is achieved by adding a small amount of black, and mixing black with any other color just makes it a darker, muted version of that color.
Since grey naturally has a black base, adding more black to it will be the only way to get a nice tie dye effect.
It’s best to use a light grey shirt so you can add more depth with the black dye. Adding black dye to a dark grey shirt, like charcoal, is likely to make very little visible change to the shirt. Try using a light heather grey.
Rather than using any color dye at all, you can try a technique called reverse tie dye by using bleach.
This technique is generally only used on black clothing, but it can also be tried on any very dark colored clothing such as navy, violet, maroon, etc.
We have an article all about tie dyeing a black shirt that you can find here for more information, but the basic principle is simple.
Wrap the shirt as you would with any other shirt for tie dye, but instead of using colorful dye, you’ll squirt the shirt with a 1:1 mixture of bleach and water.
The bleach will start working immediately, so keep a close eye on your clothing. You can stop the process at any time by taking your shirt to the sink for a rinse.
Some people like to use a partial bleach effect, as seen in the video below by TheDanocracy. You can use his partial bleach method, or allow the bleach to soak for a little longer to leach as much color away as possible.
When working with bleach, it’s important to remember that safety is paramount. Wear gloves, work in a well-ventilated area, and have a pair of safety goggles or glasses to protect against any bleach splashes.
It’s also vital that you stop the bleach once the tie dye is done. Bleach will remain active even after you rinse it out and can start to eat away at the material, causing holes or tears in your shirt.
To prevent this from happening, soak the shirt in distilled white vinegar after you rinse it. Vinegar will deactivate the bleach and prevent it from causing damage.
After the vinegar soak, you can wash and dry as usual. Then your reverse tie dye shirt is ready to wear!
Bleach + Color Dye
A fun way to change up the look of reverse tie dye is to add color afterwards!
You’ll follow the same steps as you normally would for reverse tie dye, but after the vinegar soak and wash, wrap your damp shirt again for more dye.
Try to wrap it the same way you did when you applied the bleach to ensure the color dyes will saturate all of the bleach areas.
Apply your desired colors to the bleached areas of the shirt. Rinse and wash as usual, then take a look at the results. If the colors are more faded or pale than you would like, wrap and dye again!
Don’t get discouraged if the results aren’t exactly what you want on the first try. You can continue working with the shirt until you get your desired effect.
The DIY Designer has a great video below showing three different ways of reverse tie dyeing with color. Using one of her methods, you’ll be able to achieve bright colors on your black shirt reverse tie dye.
Best Colored Shirts For Tie Dye
Overall, the best color shirts to use for tie dye are light colors or primary colors. Grey and black shirts can be used, but they’ll need different dyes and steps to get the desired results.
Try several different color shirts to see which colors give you the best results. It’s also a great idea to try different brands. One brand’s red shirt may be dyed differently from another brand’s red shirt, and one of them may take new dye better than the other.
Play around with the possibilities to find the method and style that works best for you!
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