Ice dyeing and tie-dyeing are both very popular hand-dyeing methods that can give you beautiful and whimsical results. Both techniques create beautiful patterns and designs, but there are some key differences between the two methods.
What are the differences between ice dyeing and tie-dyeing? While traditional tie dye uses a liquid dye that you can apply directly to the fabric, ice dye actually uses powder dye with ice cubes. When the ice cubes melt, the colors will bleed into the fabric in unexpected ways to create a unique design.
Want to learn more? In this post, we’ll take a look at those differences and help you decide which method is right for you.
What Is Ice Dye?
Tie-dyeing is so popular that it doesn’t require an introduction, but are you familiar with ice dyeing?
Tie-dyeing uses a liquid dye that is sprayed directly on the fabric. The liquid dye is a mixture of water and powder dye pigments, usually all-purpose dyes or fiber-reactive dyes that can work well with cotton.
There are two components to dyeing fabric: dye pigments and water.
Rather than combining these two elements together before applying them to the fabric, which is what happens with tie-dyeing, ice dyeing actually separates the two elements by using dye powder and ice (water in its solid form).
As the ice melts away, the powder will be slowly activated and seep into the fabric’s fibers. Since this process is slow and steady, the resulting design is an organic pattern that’s super unique every single time.
The result of ice dyeing often resembles an abstract watercolor painting. If you are a fan of experimentation, or if you would like to be surprised by the result every time, ice dyeing is definitely a method to try.
Here’s a great tutorial from Jescia Hopper on YouTube.
Ice Dye Vs. Tie Dye
Now that you know the basic principles of ice dyeing, let’s compare how ice dyeing differs from tie-dyeing.
Soda Ash Soak
If you have ever tie-dyed anything before, you know how important soda ash is for the dyeing process.
Soaking the fabric in a soda ash bath before dyeing is a necessary step because it makes the solution less acidic and allows the fabric to absorb dye better. Without a soda ash treatment, the fabric may not absorb or hold the dye very well.
For tie-dyeing, soaking the fabric in a soda ash bath is always the first step you need to take before applying the dye, so you may think that ice dyeing is the same.
However, with ice dyeing, you can combine the steps into one! You can sprinkle the soda ash powder over the fabric and the ice and then sprinkle the dye colors over the entire tub of fabric.
Although the steps are combined, the results won’t be affected at all. The soda ash will still do a great job at activating the fabric fibers, and you can still produce a brilliant result without all the cumbersome steps.
When you compare the colors produced by the two methods, you will see a very distinct difference.
When tie-dyeing, the liquid dye is applied very deliberately on the fabric to produce even blocks of colors. The patterns are produced by the rubber bands that fold and scrunch the fabric strategically, but the colors will still look even because of how they are applied.
With ice dyeing, the process is much more organic. When the ice slowly melts, it will activate small particles of dye, which will seep into the fabric to create patches of colors with varying depths and shades.
The colors produced by ice dyeing are a lot like the result of painting with watercolor, with the colors blending together organically and seamlessly with no beginning or end.
While the colors produced by tie dyeing are quite consistent and predictable, the colors produced by ice dyeing are never the same.
Since the process of melting ice and sprinkling dye powder is so free-flowing, the result is always quite whimsical and unpredictable, which makes experimenting even more fun!
Tie-dyeing patterns are created by twisting and folding the fabric and applying the rubber bands to hold the fabric together in strategic places. The rubber bands will keep the dye from entering strategic places in the fabric so that colors will create intricate patterns.
Tie-dyeing does have formulas that you can follow to create basic patterns like stripes, swirls, twists, and starts. The results are always quite predictable as long as you use the rubber bands in the right places.
Similarly, the design in ice dying is created by lifting and binding the fabric in different ways. However, we have to account for the unpredictable way that the ice melts, making the dye look like watercolors on the fabric.
You have the option of using rubber bands to create distinct patterns, but you can also go without rubber bands too. Simply lifting and folding the fabric and arranging it organically in the dye tub will be able to help you create organic shapes and patterns.
Because of this, the design in ice dyeing always looks a bit more organic and natural. The dye will bleed and blend in different ways, and the pattern will look a little bit different every time.
Think of it this way: tie-dyeing produces results that look like painting with acrylics, while ice-dyeing produces results that look like painting with watercolor.
Because of the way that the dye is applied, tie-dyeing is more expensive than ice dyeing.
When you tie dye, you have to mix and use more liquid dye. The dye is often applied in excess to allow it to soak through the fabric, which means you are actually wasting a lot of dye with this method.
With ice dyeing, you can produce a great result just by sprinkling a little bit of pigment powder over the ice. As the ice melts, it will distribute the dye powder all over the fabric without wasting anything, which means you can use less dye while still producing a great result.
Since you don’t have to mix dye or do a separate soda ash bath before dyeing, ice dyeing is actually less time-consuming as well.
It’s essentially a three-step process: arrange your clean fabric inside a tub, place ice cubes all over the surface, and sprinkle soda ash and dye pigments over the ice. Then, just leave the tub overnight and let room temperature do its job to activate the dye pigments.
Once the dye is properly bonded with the fabric, you can rinse the water until the water runs clear and wash it to reveal the ice dye pattern.
This process is super simple and straightforward while still producing quite an artistic result. This is why many people love to experiment with ice dyeing.