Tie dyeing is a fun activity that can allow people of all ages to let their creativity run wild. Not only do you get to enjoy the craft process of tie dyeing itself, but you have a new piece of clothing to wear that expresses your artistic mind!
Regular tie dye can often have disappointing results, though. Sometimes the dye doesn’t set right, and the colors aren’t as vivid as they could be. With a piece of fabric that’s supposed to be bright and colorful, fading can ruin the effect.
This is where you might consider using paint instead of tie dye. Paint can often produce more vivid results in a larger variety of colors.
So, how do you tie dye with paint? To tie dye with paint instead of dye, use acrylic or soft fabric paint. Dilute the paint using either water or textile medium, then apply to folded fabric. Allow to dry completely and remember to heat-set the colors for the best results.
If this sounds more like the type of tie dyeing you’d like to do, keep reading. We’ll go into all the details of which paints are best, how to prepare your paint, and how to tie dye using paint instead of dye.
Grab your favorite colors and let’s get started!
Which Paints Are Best For Tie Dye?
Ideally, the best two types of paint to use for tie dye are acrylic and soft fabric paint. Acrylic paints are a great option that work well for getting truly vivid, deep, permanent colors.
If you’ve used acrylic paint before and have gotten it on your clothes, you’ll know it tends to dry hard. It’s so hard to get out that we even recommend it for painting clothes, with the right modifications and preparation.
This stiffness is mitigated by diluting your paint with either water or textile medium. When acrylic paint is watered down, it won’t dry as stiff and will instead leave your fabric brilliantly dyed and still soft to the touch.
Soft fabric paint is your other option for tie dyeing with paints. It’s important that you find fabric paint specifically labeled soft. There are fabric paints that dry stiff, like puff paint, and you want to avoid those when it comes to tie dye.
You’ll also need to dilute the soft fabric paint for best results. Both types of paint are readily available in a large variety of colors, so the choice is up to you.
If you’re unsure which to choose, we recommend dyeing two shirts, one with each type of paint, and see which method gives you the best results!
Which Fabric Is Best For Tie Dyeing With Paint?
Traditional tie dye is best done on 100% cotton fabric. Cotton is a natural fiber that is more ready to accept new color into its strands than others. If you choose to do a cotton blend, it’s recommended that cotton is still the predominant fiber (at least 51%) to maintain best results.
Paint works differently than dye, laying a colored coating on top of the fiber rather than allowing the color to soak into the fibers. This means that if you use a slicker fabric, like microfiber, the paint won’t be able to bind as well onto the fibers and will wash away more easily.
For this reason, we still recommend using pure cotton or a majority cotton blend for your fabric when tie dyeing with paint.
You can try experimenting with different fabrics to see how the paint works, but be aware of the possibility that your paint dye may run in the washing machine and bleed into your other clothes.
What’s The Difference Between Tie Dyeing With Dye Or Paint?
Dye is a type of chemical that soaks into the fibers of a piece of fabric. It then becomes part of those fibers, binding to them completely. Paint, on the other hand, won’t bind with the fibers. It will instead lay on top of the fiber, creating a coating or layer of color that rests on top of the fibers.
The dyes in tie dye tend to give a more subdued and muted color scheme, whereas dyeing with paint tends to provide more vivid results.
Neither of them will take much work to set up. You can use dyes directly from the bottle, which may be just a tiny bit easier, but diluting the paints doesn’t take much time or work at all. One advantage of using paint instead of dyes is that you have a larger variety of color options.
Another advantage is that the paint won’t run as much as dye does, so your lines between colors will be more crisp and you won’t have as many blended colors as you would with dye.
However, if you’re going for a blended, soft, watercolor look, then dyes may be the better choice for you.
Both of these methods can work to bring beautiful colors to your piece of fabric; it just depends on which you want to do and your vision for the project.
How To Prepare Your Paint For Tie Dye
As we mentioned before, you’ll need to dilute your paint prior to using it for tie dye. This doesn’t just help it bind on the fabric better, but also prevents your fabric from simply being painted on rather than dyed.
The two best methods are using water and textile medium. There is also a method where you use rubbing alcohol, but we don’t recommend this, as it takes several steps and more time to complete.
You can use both water and textile medium, or you can use water on its own. The textile medium will need water as part of its mixture, but you can also choose to just use water.
The goal is simply to dilute the paint to make it more liquid and less stiff. Be sure to mix your paint with your preferred medium completely before starting. It’s important that your paint and water or textile medium are thoroughly combined, or it won’t set correctly.
1. Dilute With Water
The first method is to dilute with just water. To do this, we recommend using a spray bottle or squeeze bottle for your paint mixture.
When only using water, make sure not to add too much or your paint will be too runny and look like colored water. It also won’t leave colors that are as vibrant as you may be hoping for.
You can always add more water to your paint, but you can’t remove water once you’ve mixed it in. Try adding a small amount of paint, around a tablespoon, and filling the bottle halfway with water. Shake the bottle to fully incorporate it.
If your mixture seems too runny and the color seems too muted, add a little more paint. If it seems too thick, add a little more water. The actual ratios for mixing water and paint vary by person and by paint, so give it your best shot and see what works best for you.
2. Dilute With Textile Medium
Textile medium is a liquid that works to thin paint and make it more flexible and ready to penetrate fabric fibers. When using textile medium, make sure you remember to add in some water as well.
Just as with using water alone, the ratios can vary based on the products used and the desired effect. Certain people swear by certain ratios, but there’s a lot of leniency in the amounts of each liquid you put in.
One recommended ratio involves one part textile medium, two parts paint, and six parts water. Another recommended ratio is half part textile medium, one part paint, and three parts water.
Your exact measurements will vary depending on the amount of paint dye you want to create. If you’re only making one shirt, you won’t need nearly as much paint as you would if you plan to have a whole tie dye party.
As with any craft product, be sure to consult your package directions before using it. The label on your bottle of textile medium may have recommended usage instructions that will help you achieve the best results.
Supplies For Tie Dyeing With Paint
Before you start your tie dye project, there are some supplies you’ll need to gather to make sure you’re ready.
Use the following list as a guideline to making sure you have the right products on hand:
- Paint (either acrylic or soft fabric)
- Textile medium, if you’re using any
- White fabric (shirt, socks, pillowcase, etc.)
- Spray bottles or squeeze bottles
- Protection for your work surface
- Disposable gloves
- Rubber bands
For the protection of your work surface, you may want to lay down a thick layer of newspapers, cardboard, or a plastic covering.
It could be a good idea to invest in some arts & crafts trays. These plastic trays are useful not just for tie dye, but for any type of messy craft that can ruin your furniture.
Remember when choosing your fabric to look for 100% pure cotton or a predominantly cotton blend.
Tie Dyeing With Paint
Once you’ve decided whether to use acrylic or soft fabric paints, just water or water with textile medium, and gathered all of your supplies, you’re ready to get started.
How to tie dye with paint:
- Gather all supplies on your work surface.
- Prepare your paint, mixing in your desired ratio of paint to textile medium and/or water in your spray or squeeze bottle. Shake the bottle until all parts are incorporated completely.
- Help your shirt accept the paint dye by getting it damp first. Try soaking in water, then ringing it out.
- Fold your shirt into whatever desired fold you’d like for your tie dye design. Secure with rubber bands.
- Apply your paints. You can either spray or squeeze the paints onto your shirt, following whatever pattern or design you choose. For the best results, stick to only 2-4 different colors.
- Allow to dry for anywhere between 1-3 hours, then remove the rubber bands. Leave laying flat or hanging up to dry for additional time, until the shirt is dried completely.
- Heat set your shirt in the dryer or with a hair dryer.
- Wash and wear your newly tie dyed shirt!
While this technique tends to have your shirt ready to be worn a little faster than traditional tie dye, the heat-setting step is especially important.
Let’s go over the details of properly setting your tie dye done with paint so that your colors don’t fade or bleed into the rest of your laundry.
How To Properly Set Tie Dye With Paint
When using paint to tie dye, you’ll need to go through the additional step of heat setting it. This step goes before you wash it. Be sure to hold off on washing or rinsing your shirt until you’ve done this step.
Heat setting your fabric will help the paint-based dye to retain its vibrancy and permanency on your clothing. You can choose to either use a hair dryer or a drying machine.
If you use a drying machine, you’ll want to wait until the fabric has naturally dried completely. Putting the shirt into your dryer before it’s dried completely runs the risk of your paint dye getting on the drum of your dryer.
Set your dryer for 20 minutes on a high heat setting and let it run. Once the dryer is done, your shirt is now set and ready to be washed and worn! If you use a hair dryer, your shirt can still be a little damp from the dyeing when you start the heat setting process.
Simply plug in your hair dryer and aim it at the shirt. Make sweeping motions with the hair dryer and make sure to dry the entire shirt evenly, not focusing too long on just one section. Your shirt will be finished with the heat step process once it’s fully dried from the use of the hair dryer.
We recommend washing the shirt, or other dyed fabric, on its own for the first couple washes before adding it in with the rest of your laundry, just in case of any excess paint runoff.
What Are The Best Folds For Tie Dye With Paint?
You can use the same folds for tie dyeing with paint as you would for traditional tie dye. There are several options out there, but some of the most common ones include bullseye, spiral, crumple, sunburst, and stripes in different directions.
Check out this video below from Belen Tutorials on YouTube that includes six different techniques for doing tie dye with acrylic paint. You’ll even get some suggestions on how to do a reverse tie dye with bleach.
Another option is to do a splatter pattern instead of a fold.
To do this, you’ll need to lay your shirt out flat. We recommend sticking a piece of cardboard or plastic inside your shirt to prevent bleed through of your paint dye.
Using squeeze bottles, squeeze the paint out at your shirt in sweeping motions, creating a splatter effect. Spray bottles won’t work for this method. Make sure to turn your shirt over when one side is complete to add paint to the other side.
For more tips on successfully using tie dye with acrylic paint in a splatter pattern, check out this video from Corinne Blackstone on YouTube. She goes step-by-step and reviews exactly how to prepare your acrylic paints for best tie dye results in a splatter painting pattern.